I used to scrounge the Internet for advice. I had looong stretches of time to fill at a job that never gave me enough to do (which is a BIG theme I’ve seen with my clients, too), so I was constantly looking for answers to my dilemmas.
The subject didn’t matter! I was bored, unfulfilled, and dying for a change, so I’d read anything. If there was an “expert” out there who had a proven system for getting a job you loved, or finding a great relationship, or having a magical social life … I’d read it and probably take it very seriously. I got to the point where I was so advice-obsessed that I thought, for a hot second, that I wanted to run an advice column of my own!
Now, that’s pretty much the last thing I’d ever want to do. (Which is funny because I imagine a lot of people think that what Kristen and I do is centered around advice-giving … it’s not.)
The trouble with advice is that it’s usually an over-generalized account of what someone else would do, if they were in your shoes.
But other people aren’t you! And what I didn’t really get, at the time, was that when you’re constantly looking to everyone else to tell you how to … organize your life, polish your résumé, get a significant other, climb the ladder, exercise enough, be more productive … you start to become very good at living other people’s lives and pretty bad at living your own.
I SEE THIS HAPPEN WITH ALMOST EVERYONE I COACH
I hear things like …
“Everyone says you’ve got to apply to sooo many jobs to find anything good.”
“I should probably be on Tinder … that’s where everyone is meeting these days.”
“I need to get to a certain salary level by the time I’m 30.”
“If I don’t get a Master’s Degree, I won’t be able to go very far in my career.”
I’m not sure where this notion comes from that there are “right” ways to do anything.
But wherever it came from, many of my clients took it seriously. They made an assumption that what other people say is right, they followed the traditional advice … and they found themselves just as confused and unfulfilled as ever.
WHY THIS IS ACTUALLY HEARTBREAKING
When we make assumptions about what’s “right,” when we conform to a standard that we’ve never thought to question … it’s usually out of fear.
Fear that if you don’t apply to every job (even the ones that sound awful), no one will want to hire you.
Fear that if you don’t get on Tinder, you’ll end up alone.
Fear that if you follow an untraditional career path, you won’t make enough money by the time you’re 30.
Fear that if you don’t get a Master’s Degree, you won’t be taken seriously.
Fear that, in some way or another, the reality of who you are isn’t enough to get you what you want.
This simultaneously breaks my heart and makes me a little queasy. Because the real truth is exactly the opposite:
ISN’T IT IRONIC?
We’re all trying so hard to do the “right” thing to get us closer to what we want, and all we’re really doing is pushing ourselves away from it. It’s a star-crossed tragedy the likes of which Shakespeare could probably have written!
And although it’s pretty ironic, the whole mess actually makes perfect sense:
You can’t alter who you are and expect to get what YOU want. Because in that case, you’ve become someone else. You are no longer … YOU. You’ll most certainly get someone else’s results. You just won’t get yours.
This is why blindly following advice can be so suffocating and depressing. It will often make you feel “weird” or “different” if you don’t want to follow it, or unfulfilled and let down if you do.
THERE’S NO RISK IN BEING WHO YOU ARE
This always seems to catch people off guard … but there really isn’t a risk to being yourself. Your likelihood of failure when being someone else is infinitely higher than when you act according to your own desires and aspirations, weird or different though they might be.
So, to be who you really are … you must begin to separate your beliefs from everyone else’s.
At first, this might be tricky. Have you ever actually stopped to ask yourself, “What do I believe that might actually not be mine?” Or, “What do I believe that I really don’t want to buy into?” Or, “What would be a relief if it wasn’t actually true?”
Maybe you’d breathe deeper if you knew that you could apply to a few high-quality jobs and still find what’s right for you.
Maybe you ditch Tinder because it’s not your style.
Maybe you stop caring about climbing the ladder or hop off entirely.
Whatever it is, the minute you give yourself permission to pursue what you want, and abandon the path that isn’t really yours … is the minute you move that much closer to getting what you want.
Does this strike you as heartbreaking and ironic, too? We’d love to hear what you think.
Rachel (+ Kristen)