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:

twitter-birdThe more you change who you are in pursuit of what you want, the further away you are from getting it.

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.

twitter-birdDon’t betray who you are in pursuit of a life that won’t actually be YOURS once you get it.

Does this strike you as heartbreaking and ironic, too? We’d love to hear what you think.

Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

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  1. It never fails that whenever I read your emails, you always, always say the most profound nuggets of truth. You truly have a gift in conveying truth wrapped in love. Keep up the great work! It’s always a huge risk to go against what you have actually thought to be a generalized truth in order to live your own but it makes you a much better and unique individual. I always look forward to receiving your emails!

    1. Thank you so much, Keisha! It probably seems like most of the time it doesn’t matter to us, but it’s always REALLY nice to hear feedback like yours. 🙂

  2. I love your writing style!
    Just wanted to point out – you use the word “actually” a ton. I think you have great content.

    Keep the clarity gems coming!

  3. I just wanted to say that this really helped me. Lately, that is all I hear and it’s great to know that I wasn’t alone in it all. That there are others out there dealing with what I am dealing with. It was very encouraging. I need to separate from other’s ideas of a good life and live my own the way I need too. Thank you!! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Rebecca! This is one of those issues that I think MANY of us do without ever realizing that we’re doing it, so I’m glad that I can point it out and hopefully bring some awareness to something that’s been unconscious for a long time.

  4. WOW. Although your articles usually resonate with me, this one couldn’t have possibly come at a better time! This is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing, without realizing that I was doing it. The bookmarks on my work computer are all something like, “10 ways successful people reduce stress” and “15 networking tips for your next event” and “8 ways to be a more persuasive public speaker.” I keep reading articles like this, hoping to find the golden nugget that will make me more successful – while ignoring the fact that I’m trying to become a better networker at events I’d rather not attend in the first place, and getting public speaking tips when my ideal job would require minimal (preferably no) public speaking!

    I’m in the process of building a side business, and putting a lot of pressure on myself to meet these imaginary deadlines that NO ONE besides me is holding me accountable to. And the whole point of creating my own business was to get back to the passions, goals and values that define MY life. How could anyone else script those for me?

    This was a great reminder, and something to keep in mind moving forward. Thank you!

    1. Andy, your descriptions of the articles you’ve bookmarked had me legitimately laughing out loud. That is EXACTLY the sort of thing I used to do, too. You definitely have my permission (not that you needed it, but for moral support!) to stop trying to become a better networker if you don’t like networking (or public speaking) in the first place. There is NO rule that says you need to be good at either of those things! 🙂 Glad that this helped you out!

  5. I am facing a tough decision and have been reading so much advice and it’s all contradicting, this really helped. I need to just step back and figure out if I want it, if it makes me truly happy. Thanks!!

    1. Karla, you make a really good point about advice always being contradictory! Ask anyone, and you’ll get a different answer. There are even “experts” out there who specialize in the same thing, and would STILL give you opposite answers. Yes, definitely take a step back and make a decision for YOU.

  6. Oh god I couldn’t agree more with this – we are constantly bombarded by ‘advice’ well -meaning usually, but sometimes not. I took my current job based on my Mother’s recommendation, and that of a tarot reader! (i love stuff like that haha!) I wish I could firstly hear what my intuition says and secondly, follow it more! I think I’m getting better, but it is so hard to take leaps of faith when logic and everyone else is telling you otherwise.

    Having said that, would you not agree that sometimes this sort of advice does make sense? i.e. getting experience for something you want to do- it might not always be what you want to do but it’s necessary in order to get what you want? I mean, how do you distinguish between what is good advice that you should follow and what isn’t? Thanks!! Love your posts!

    1. Hey Maria! Excellent question about telling the difference between good advice and bad advice. I think the first step is to ALWAYS do what I’ve talked about in this blog, first. So, get clear on what YOU want to be doing and what your desires are, separate of other people. And THEN, if someone has some good advice that aligns with the path you’ve already chosen, then you’re obviously free to take that. It’s always OK to take well-meaning, educated advice from people who have been where you want to go, as long as you’re clear on what you value and what you desire, above all. 🙂

  7. Yes! I’m currently in the midst of finding a new job and every time I read advice and follow it, like two days later, another blog reports that it’s no longer correct! But the biggest part of the job search is networking and I can never manage to keep those connections. I’m extremely shy and get anxiety at those events. I wish there was another way to switch careers because that is just not working for me but if I don’t try that, then I feel like even more of a failure.

    If I just was myself, I’d be sitting in my parents’ basement for the rest of my life, because that’s where I’m truly happy but that’s no way to live a life.

    1. Gillian — Another way to switch careers, besides going to random networking events, is to find people (maybe through LinkedIn, if you want) who are in a job or career path that really appeals to you, and reach out to them personally. You could have an email conversation with them and ask if they’d be willing to share their experience, or even ask if they’d be willing to have a quick phone conversation. You’d be surprised at how effective this is! And most people are actually very glad to help you out, if you ask nicely and explain that you’re trying to get clear on your career path. And of course, the result of this is that A) you learn more and can make more informed decisions, and B) you might make a more solid connection with someone than you would a random networking event. Give it a shot! 🙂

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