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I was sitting on the floor with my 4-month-old black lab puppy in my lap, sobbing. She was happily chewing a bone, oblivious to the fact that I was heartbroken because I was planning to give her away.
Scarlett, my puppy, was a bit of a hellion. She had a habit of attacking your feet when you weren’t looking, and she would bark at you for what felt like hours without stopping.
She didn’t care for kids, or scooters, or skateboards, or anything that darted around in an unpredictable fashion.
If you rolled her over on her back, she would shriek and fight like a chimpanzee being murdered (I swear I’m not exaggerating. I have witnesses!).
This dog was nothing like the sweet, loving, cuddly puppy I had imagined. She was completely unmanageable. So obviously I brought in professional help.
The dog trainer who came to my apartment only visited a few times before she pointed at Scarlett, who had been busy attacking my feet again, and said, “That is NOT normal. You will never be able to trust this dog. She’ll have to wear a muzzle around kids for the rest of her life.”
She suggested that I take my puppy to a shelter she knew of and then start over with a different breed; something more suited to me.
This woman’s advice broke my heart. I couldn’t imagine just giving my dog away, regardless of how difficult she was. But what else could I do? She was the expert, not me. If she said my dog was broken, then she was … right?
Well, not so much.
My parents encouraged me to get a second opinion. The new trainer rolled his eyes and said, “She’ll be perfect in 3 weeks. This is normal stuff for a smart, spirited lab.”
And he was right. After working with the right expert, Scarlett was a completely different dog than she had been the month before.
That was seven years ago. She still doesn’t love weird things with wheels, but she happily plays with babies and kids of all sizes, and she loves rolling over and getting belly rubs. No screeching necessary.
Sometimes I think about how I almost gave her away, and I shudder. Because how many people did take that terrible dog trainer’s advice? How many perfectly decent dogs ended up homeless (or worse) because of her?
The truth is, this kind of stuff happens all the time. We put our faith in experts, simply because we assume they’re more knowledgeable and educated, and dismiss our own intuition — often to disastrous ends.
SOMETIMES PARTS JUST “WEAR OUT”
A few years ago my mom was experiencing consistent knee pain. It wasn’t debilitating, but it was enough that she knew something was off.
She went to her general practitioner, who took a look at it (without bothering to give her an X-Ray), and said, “Eh, it’s just old age. Parts wear out! Take some painkillers.”
My mom, even though she’s in her fifties and I’m in my thirties, is probably in way better shape than me. She’s a lifelong athlete who plays tennis competitively. To be told that her knee was just “wearing out” was a huge blow. It might mean giving up something she loves; something that makes her who she is.
Even though she was worried that her doctor was right, she couldn’t dismiss the feeling that something felt wrong, so she went to an orthopedic surgeon who took an X-Ray and said, “You’ve torn your meniscus. We can do a non-invasive surgery and you’ll be recovered in no time.”
Today, her knees are fine. And she’s still playing tennis all weekend long — I’m pretty sure she’ll still be running circles around people on the court into her eighties!
YOU SHOULDN’T BE A HERMIT
Meg, one of our awesome former PPVE participants, recently sat down with a job coach, hoping for some advice about how to search for good employers and how to stand out to them when she does find a good one:
“When I brought up that I’d like to work remotely, the job coach suggested that because of my tendency to be a hermit and avoid people, I should work in an office with other people. Thing is, I’d really prefer to work from home or a public space and use my free time to socialize. BUT, I’m tempted to take the coach’s advice because now I’ve second-guessed myself.”
As a coach, there’s nothing that makes my blood boil quite like bad coaching. Actually, let’s be honest, what Meg experienced was not coaching. It was advice (and not very good advice, at that).
Advice is what happens when someone tells you what they think you should do, based on their worldview and experiences. It often doesn’t take your preferences, personality, values, or experiences into account at all.
Coaching is what happens when someone treats you as the expert on your own life, listens without an agenda, and asks you questions (often that you haven’t realized you need to be asking yourself) that help you tease out what’s right and aligned for you.
This job coach completely dismissed the fact that Meg is an introvert who feels genuinely good about the prospect of working remotely.
Instead of actually listening to Meg, she labeled Meg as a “hermit” and told her that her preference was wrong. All of which makes Meg unnecessarily question her own desires and feel ashamed of who she is. YUCK.
If Meg hadn’t been able to share this story with us, she might have ended up miserable in an office, feeling guilty and trying to ignore the fact that she’d rather be by herself. Crisis averted, thankfully.
IT’S SO EASY TO HAND OVER YOUR POWER
In a world where we’ve been cultured to always respect authority, bow down to degrees and job titles, and make decisions that are based in logic (rather than our intuition or feelings), it is REALLY easy to hand our power away.
And, to be fair, there’s an uncomfortable truth to all of this — it’s more convenient to dismiss your own intuition and trust experts, instead.
If we hand over our authority to an expert, we don’t have to think for ourselves. We never have to struggle with figuring out how we feel or what our intuition is telling us. We can outsource all of that messiness to someone who will just tell us what to do, which sounds way easier in the moment.
Except, if it isn’t clear by now, allow me to say:
No one is more of an expert on you than you.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve been to school for a decade, worked with thousands of people, or acquired huge fame and renown in their field — they will NEVER know you better than you do.
So, let’s not hand our power over to people who will never know what it’s like to be us. Let’s become our own damn experts. Let’s agree to the following:
- You don’t have to trust an expert, ever. Regardless of their accomplishments. Titles and degrees don’t say a lot about someone’s character (or their abilities, for that matter).
- If you get a vibe — you just don’t like someone, even if you can’t figure out why; or you feel something is off, even though there’s no “evidence” — then listen to it. Your gut instincts count MORE than someone else’s expertise.
- It never hurts to get a second opinion, particularly when the stakes are high.
- You don’t need to poll everyone in your life before you make a decision. You’re capable of making good choices all on your own (for more on this, read Kristen’s blog about making your own decisions)
- If it’s a choice between doing what feels good, right, and aligned for you versus listening to an expert who recommends the opposite of what makes you feel good — always do what makes you feel good.
When have you trusted an expert instead of yourself? What happened? Come share with me in the comments!
Rachel (& Kristen)
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