It is interesting to me how we live in a society today that is fresh with innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, and yet at the same time, it seems that many of us still suffer from the inclination to look to others for direction, understanding, and approval on our uniqueness.
One reason this could be is that in the workplace, there have never been more rules, regulations, policies, etiquette, political correctness, politics in general, hierarchical dynamics and confusion, performance reviews, and redundant “sing for your supper” staff meetings. Some of these elements are necessary in certain ways, and some are unnecessary and toxic.
We could even look at the increased regulations and concentration on laws, safety, and security based on national and international conflicts. Following most tragedies, there are a multitude of discussions on how to prevent certain behaviors amongst different members of society, how to better prepare ourselves for danger, how to rehabilitate others, how to manage ourselves etc….
In addition, given the role of the internet in most of our lives, we are able to access mountains of information and advice (this article being yet another piece of advice!). This makes the world seem smaller and has created many wonderful options for work and play, yet it can also create the perception of the existence of absolute instructions and millions of experts who “know better” than the rest of us.
From articles, research, and casual observation, we are told how to succeed, how to dress, how to work, how to play, how to live, how to eat, how to exercise, how to raise our children, how not to offend others, how to be a “real woman”, how to be a “real man”, and half the time, you can find at least two contradictory articles for any topic.
I once saw Jerry Seinfeld, one of my favorite comedians, in a live stand-up gig portraying the confusion of a dismayed grocery shopper as he goes to another shopper and says, “you look pretty good, what do you eat?”
Also, and this is a book I HIGHLY recommend, I read AJ Jacobs’s book, “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection”. It is all at once hilarious, informative, and points to the confusion we all face when trying to sift through the truck loads of advice on healthy habits. No wonder some of us just throw up our hands and say, “Oh well! When it’s my time, it’s my time! So I’m going to Burger King!”
With all of this advice swarming around us every day, it is natural to find yourself beginning to ask for the answers to these questions for which so much instruction is given. “Should I eat avocados or not?” “Should I walk or jog?” “Should I spend my money on a vacation or a top-of-the-line security system?” “Should I stay in my job to show loyalty or should I leave to show ambition?” “Should I be happy where I am or strive for a happier life?” “Should I have children?” “Should I stay at home?” And while we’re at it…..
“WHO AM I AND WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE!!!!????”
It’s not hard to see how many people end up at that last question. However, in this information-laden world, let me pause to remind us all that NO ONE has the answer to that question for you. We can always learn from each other, brainstorm with friends, evaluate research and best practices, and partner with experienced coaches and counselors to help facilitate our journey. As these remain powerful and effective resources, we should remember that we remain the experts on ourselves.
Be careful not to underestimate your own good judgment or give others power over your uniqueness. By definition, if your gifts are original in nature, no one else will be equipped to tell you exactly how to use them. Others can help you get out of the muck of a dried out routine and outdated commitments, though what a shame it would be if in your individuality lies transformational ideas and solutions that are never heard because they were yours to share, and no one else’s, and they were lost in a sea of others’ instructions.
This is not an existential charge to change the world. It is simply a reminder that you have a right to your own dreams and plans. In Tim Burton’s recent interpretation of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”, there is a wonderful scene where Alice is at a crossroads in her journey, and her faithful canine companion is concerned that she might “stray from the path”. In what I consider to be one of the best moments in the movie, Alice, looking renewed and empowered, responds with, “I make the path”.
What does it even mean to “make the path” anymore? Hasn’t every path been paved? Hardly. You know this instinctively. We don’t need to cite any articles or peer-reviewed research. Any scientist will tell you that discovery never ends. Let this reminder be the voice that gives you the freedom to do your thing, without apology.
At the risk of seeming contradictory by giving tips in an article that emphasizes the dangers relating to an unbalanced ratio of tip-receiving to self-searching, here are some strategies I’ve discovered that have helped steer me back to the path that I was born to make:
- Mentors are wonderful. Seek them out, value their insight, and always count yourself as the highest authority on you.
- Filter and place boundaries on your intake of information. You could go on forever seeking advice and information. Remember to include yourself as a valuable source of information and resourcefulness. Perhaps you only check your email once per day. Perhaps you only read the news-gasp!-once per week. Maybe you check in with your social media outlets only once per day, or go on a social media diet.
- If you find that you’ve been networking and seeking advice from others and are tired of waiting for others’ schedules to accommodate you, remember that no one else is going to make you a higher priority than you make yourself. Maybe you’ve asked enough questions and it is time to take some action and take some risks.
- Make it a priority to check in with yourself every day regarding what inspires and motivates you. If keeping a journal works for you, encourage yourself to truly use it regularly. You can also make inspiration boards to externalize what attracts you and what might be waiting inside of you that is ready for creation. *See my blog on making inspiration boards here.
At some point in life, a switch flipped when it clicked for me that if there was ever a time to just try what is in my heart, speak what is in my heart, say what I have to say, the time is now. If people think it’s crazy or weird, and even if it is outside of any box sometimes….it’s me. Does anything else really matter? Does anything else really count?
If you fall on your face, you can always go back to trying to be who the world would like you to be…or not!
I wish you happy self-seeking days and wild new discoveries of what you have to offer yourself and the world. It is exciting to see what you will do!