Let’s dial it back to the late 2000s (the fact that this story does not take place in this decade terrifies me slightly, but I digress).
I’m 19, going on 20, and I’m doing exactly what you would expect of a teenaged college girl on her summer break:
I’m working way less than my parents would prefer, and I’m lounging at the pool all day long with friends. (Because, like, I deserve to relax and stuff.)
On one particular lazy pool day, a friend and I were talking — in that distant, doesn’t-feel-quite-real haze provided by the college bubble — about the real world.
My friend was one of those rare people who always had a good idea of what she wanted, so we were mostly talking about me … because I’d already changed my mind a million times, and still had no idea what I wanted.
We’re lounging, carefree in our sunglasses and bikinis, when she asked me, “So … what do you think you’ll do when we graduate?” This was my grand answer:
“I dunno. I mean, I like history a lot. I’m good at that. It could be fun to teach high school history or something. Maybe I’ll move in with my parents after college and go to grad school at Local University That Shall Remain Nameless and then be a teacher.”
AND I MIGHT HAVE DONE THAT, HAD A STRANGER NOT OVERHEARD OUR CONVERSATION
This lady — whose name I never knew, who I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since — turns around from the pool chair in front of us and says:
“Sorry, I don’t mean to eavesdrop. But seriously, you cannot go to Local University That Shall Remain Nameless. My friend went there for teaching and had a terrible experience. They suck.”
I can’t remember what I said, exactly, but I know my answer was sincere. I thanked her for giving me the lowdown and helping me avoid a bad choice.
And then … I didn’t pursue history. I dropped the idea of going to grad school. Based on something a completely random person told me at the pool.
YOU COULD ARGUE THAT I DIDN’T CARE THAT MUCH, ANYWAY
Maybe I was so easily persuaded because I clearly wasn’t that invested in my idea in the first place. And that would be a fair argument. I wasn’t that devoted to the idea.
But what baffles me, in hindsight, is how easily I allowed myself to be influenced by someone I didn’t know. Someone whose story I couldn’t corroborate and who was clearly very biased.
I mean, this wasn’t even her experience! It was her friend’s experience. And the fact that my life was that easily changed by secondhand information from people I’d never met? That’s sort of crazy.
And yet, I’m bringing it up because it happens ALL THE TIME to my clients.
Almost everyone I talk to has a story like that. It usually sounds something like:
“I got into accounting because my 11th grade teacher told me I was good at math and would make a good accountant.”
“I had this internship in college. I didn’t really love it, but people told me it’d be easy to get a job in that field after graduation, so that’s what I ended up doing.”
“An old boss told me that my strengths were in public relations, so I kept on that track.”
WITHOUT MEANING TO, WE LET IT HAPPEN TO US
It makes sense that most of us have stories like these, where older people (who we assume are wiser, maybe correctly … maybe not) set the trajectory of our path.
Most of us are too young, naïve, and inexperienced to question what we’re being told at those crucial crossroads in life.
And of course, the real kicker is that it’s VERY easy to be influenced when you don’t know what you want, anyway.
(But someone who’s completely clear on who they are, what they stand for, and what fills them with passion? They’re not easily swayed.)
AND THEN, SOMETHING INTERESTING TENDS TO HAPPEN
Here’s what I’ve been noticing lately:
Most of us forget how influential those little moments — the random lady’s comment at the pool, your teacher’s remarks, that meeting with your old boss — really were.
I know this because I see SO many of my clients taking on guilt and shame for where they’ve ended up. I hear them saying things like …
“Why don’t I like public relations? I thought this was my strength.”
“Why does accounting feel so unfulfilling? I’ve always been good at it.”
“I’ve never felt passion for my career, and I don’t understand why. I feel like there must be something wrong with me.”
Of course, from my perspective there’s NOTHING wrong with us, and all of this makes perfect sense.
Because when you’ve allowed your life to be influenced — probably countless times — by people who may, or may not, have had your best interests at heart … and who, either way, weren’t you and couldn’t possibly know what’s going to deeply fulfill you, then OF COURSE you’re going to be stuck, unhappy, and lacking passion.
In my mind, if you actually had ended up in a fulfilling, inspiring career after all of that random influence, it’d be a miraculous event … an exception to the rule.
MY SINCEREST THANKS TO THAT RANDOM LADY AT THE POOL, THOUGH
Not all of our chance encounters are detrimental to our path, of course. I should probably be thanking that woman for steering me away from something that wasn’t right for me.
But still, I should never have allowed her any sway over me.
I should have done my due diligence. Who cares if some random pool lady’s even more random friend didn’t like that grad school? That had NOTHING to do with me! If I’d done my research and decided not to go to that school of my own volition … fine. But either way, it should have been my informed choice.
Which brings me to the points that I’m sure you know are coming (in the form of questions):
- Where has your life been randomly influenced — perhaps not for the best — without your informed consent? And …
- Have you forgotten that it actually makes sense if you’re unhappy right now, based on that? How much confusion and guilt have arisen because you don’t like something that was random and uninspired to begin with?
Listen, what happened, happened. None of us have to beat ourselves up about it now.
But what we do need is to figure out what we should have been taught when we were young, naïve, and impressionable. And that is:
What we’re actually meant to do, what fulfills us, and what inspires us … based on who we really are.
If that — getting clear on who you are and how to have a fulfilling career from that place — is what you want, then we’ve got some good news for you.
THE PASSION PLAN VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE IS BACK AND OPEN FOR ENROLLMENT TODAY
There’s nothing quite like the sheer relief of not having to figure it out on your own and no longer relying on guesswork and the input of well-meaning — but random — people.
We’ve taken the thought, angst, worry, and confusion out of the process of finding your passion, and we’ve replaced it with clear steps that we lead you through, week by week for 4 weeks. (You can read the full page of details about the PPVE here.)
By the end, you’ll have figured out what your passion is and what it means to you, plus you’ll be very clear on where to go next.
And if you want to get a taste for what the PPVE is like before you commit to anything, join us for our live hangout TODAY at 12pm Eastern. Or, RSVP and get the replay (which will only be good for 3 days, so make time to listen before this Friday the 22nd).
We’ve done this with hundreds of people, and it works … or else people wouldn’t keep coming to us for clarity and direction.
Past PPVE-ers have said, and we quote, “it’s the best money I ever spent” and “this should be mandatory for literally everyone.”
So, here’s to you taking the power of choice back over your life and setting your own trajectory … no random influence required.
Tell me, has your life been influenced by people who maybe didn’t deserve to have a say? Leave a comment to let me know.
Rachel (+ Kristen)
Oh yes. My whole life I have felt like I never was able to make choices for myself. It has been reactionary to circumstances I found myself in. Other people, life, have dictated things. I just went along with the flow. I am now 61 and am finally learning enough to have come to this conclusion.
I’m glad you’re learning this too, Marilyn! It’s never too late to start being proactive, I think.