Re-Reexamining: Is That REALLY What You Want?

Debbie Ford - Be Who You Are

Like most kids, I had a plethora of career plans by the time I was about 7. I was going to be a zookeeper, I was going to pilot a spaceship, I was going to be a cowboy, and I was going to be a detective (I even had my briefcase picked out–a plastic hot wheels organizer). Most of all, I was determined to be a soldier back in World War II.

All that had changed by the time I was a young teenager. I knew I had one calling in my life–the best calling–to be a pastor. I attended conferences for kids who were going to be pastors and I bought hundreds of books on theology. I obsessively chased that one life goal.

Granted, when you’re a teenager, getting to the bottom of your feelings can be hard. So I’m not sure if this was the driving cause for my ambition or if it was just a piece of the puzzle, but looking back, this definitely screwed up my thinking: I thought that being a pastor was the “highest calling” a person could have. In other words, being a pastor is better than being other things. Now I would also say, somehow, that every other “calling” could be just as meaningful and good in its own way. But somehow I lived with this cognitive dissonance in my head, where still, in one sense–the most important sense–being a pastor is best.

As I grew older I reexamined a lot of my thoughts on the subject. I discovered that I wasn’t really sure that’s what I wanted to be. I replaced the narrow-minded “pastor-is-best” idea with a more progressive “helping-people-deeply-is-best.” That meant I could be a pastor, a therapist, a life coach, a writer, a leader… as long as my life’s purpose was to help others deep down inside, I could be happy.

Eventually, I became fully convinced that people can and should be happy with just about any kind of life they want to live. There’s nothing “better” about helping people as a therapist than about working for Disney as a junior animator’s assistant (is that a thing?). That it’s just as good and beautiful and amazing and meaningful to chase your dream of being a musician as it is to chase your dream of being a teacher. Movie director or rock climber. Cook or personal trainer. IT professional or pharmaceutical sales rep. A philosopher or a yoga instructor. There’s not a right and wrong choice. There’s not a “best.” At least that’s what I believe now. And I’ve believed that for a long time.

But here’s the problem. I shed my old narrow-minded views years ago. I got rid of my prejudice about “higher callings.” For everyone else in my life. But not really for myself.

I still had never imagined the possibility that I could be happy doing something that didn’t fit that “better calling” of helping people deeply, like being a therapist or life coach. I never let myself be truly free to consider being a happy chef, a happy pianist, or a happy movie buff. I was the biggest cheerleader my friends could have in chasing their own unique dreams, but I still held myself to a different standard.

 

I’ve been discovering lately that this is a very widely shared experience. Maybe you’ve known it or are just finding it out for yourself:

A big principle or belief about the meaning and value of lives and careers and dreams has changed in your mind. You no longer believe that it’s “better” to be a doctor, “better” to be a pastor, “better” to make a lot of money, “better” NOT to make a lot of money, “better” to make a huge impact, “better” to have kids, or “better” to do anything the traditionally “better” way.

So you’ve stopped holding other people to that standard. If your friend asked you for advice, you’d say, “Do what you want! Don’t feel pressure to be or do one thing over another! Find what really makes you tick! Don’t do what you’re ‘supposed’ to do, do what you really love!” You’ve grown out of your old prejudices for others . . .

But not for yourself!

Sometimes it can be totally subconscious: I don’t even realize I’m putting pressure on myself to have a “better calling,” to have a traditional family or relationship, etc…

Or maybe I’m totally aware of the pressure because I think it’s my own true preference: “I WANT to do this meaningful career. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do this meaningful career!” . . . But was that preference shaped by a standard you no longer believe? If you let yourself truly feel free to be who you wanted to be, would your dream still be the same?

Maybe it would be. For example, I think I’m genuinely very happy when I get to help people feel happier or stronger, or when I get to help people grow or learn. I really think that’s me deep down. So no matter what path my life takes, I think I’ll always be looking for little (or big) ways to do that.

But maybe you’d find you have some new dreams. Maybe there’s a whole world out there that makes you tick that you didn’t know made you tick–because you only ever let the “better way”, the “traditional way,” or your “higher calling” make you tick. Maybe it’s the world of medicine. Maybe it’s the world of sports. Maybe dance. Maybe movies. Maybe food. Maybe education. Maybe family. Maybe business. Maybe volunteering.

We’re all different. I don’t think anyone has this one elusive dream that will make them the happiest, where if I never discover my love for that world, I’ll never be fulfilled.

But I do think a lot of us make choices every day–little choices and big choices–that are subconsciously guided more by old prejudices we shed long ago–standards we’d never hold our friends to now–that keep us living lives in a way we don’t truly want to live them–chasing dreams that “should” be ours, being who we are “supposed” to be.

 

You’re progressive. You’re a free thinker. You no longer hold anyone to some old prejudice you used to have. But maybe that old prejudice is still holding onto you. Maybe you haven’t let yourself be free yet. Maybe it’s time to re-reexamine your old beliefs.

The sooner you can let yourself be free of those “better-choice”/”better-calling” standards you don’t actually hold anymore, the sooner you get to discover worlds that make you happy and excited. And then you get to enjoy diving into those worlds head first.

There’s nothing wrong with being a movie nerd or a CrossFitter. There are so many amazing lives to live and love.

So free yourself. Reexamine every once in a while.

 

The other side of the coin is how we’re affecting others: Please be aware of the web you may be accidentally creating for the people who look up to you. Especially really young impressionable people.

Parents, teachers, mentors, leaders: Your words, the opinions you express, the things you do and don’t celebrate, the activities you require, the comparisons you make–these can all teach an impressionable mind that there’s only one “best” dream they should chase. Or instead, you can carefully choose the words to help a little mind know that they live in a big, beautiful world full of countless amazing things to explore and enjoy.

I’ll try to do my part, too. It’s a big world out there, friends. :)

Do you need to do some scrubbing?

I’m going to have an embarrassing moment of honesty here and say I legit have had a really terrible grasp on American history for most of my life. To the point where I couldn’t tell you whether Martin Luther King Jr was an activist in the 1980s or the 1920s. Well actually, I had a pretty good guess: It must have been at least as far back as, say, the 30s, because the civil rights war was soundly won long, long, long ago in a distant memory.

So yeah. Let’s just chalk it up to “I’m really bad with dates.”

In school I studied a lot of history–even a lot of early US history. But somehow I didn’t grasp much of what went on in America from the civil war through 9/11. I’m working on it now. I’m halfway through William Chafe’s book The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II, and my jaw has hit the floor quite a few times.

So, turns out Rosa Parks got arrested not that long ago for not giving up her seat for a white person on a bus. I guess I always thought that was “like a hundred years ago.” Nope. And Dr. King was assassinated only 50 years ago this year.

I guess I figured we Americans must have had all this equality stuff figured out (at least per law and official doctrine) by the time we took issue with Nazism in Germany for mistreating Jewish people because they weren’t built like the preferred Aryan ideal. But we didn’t. Some of the details of our recent history are pretty shocking. And not just where African-Americans were concerned.

Most of my life, I had heard that, despite a few crazy racist southerners here and there waving their confederate flags, racism and discrimination and systematic oppression were mostly gone, and that all the activist noise was just people holding on too long to injustices that their great, great grandfathers saw.

But 50 years is not a long time! I’m more than halfway there. That means a lot of my friends and family remember those days–when they shared the city with other human souls who were refused service at restaurants and businesses because they were born with the wrong skin color. Where a lot of America struggled desperately not to comply with judicial rulings and legislation made to protect colored people and ensure their integration into society as fully equal fellow humans.

Suddenly I see so many things differently!

A lot more current activist movements make a lot more sense. And I am quite sure we have not made nearly as full and healthy a recovery from racism as I learned growing up. I think I understand so many more people now, people I’ve seen, people I’ve worked with, people I’ve tried to help as a manager in past jobs.

And I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorite quotes, attributed to Isaac Asimov: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

 

And that’s just a specific brand of discrimination. What about our treatment of over a hundred thousand Japanese who we incarcerated in our own concentration camps 70 years ago? Or what about the very weird and disturbing treatment and brainwashing our society promoted in the not so distant past of women regarding their roles in society and their purpose in life.

And these are just assumptions I’ve had to unlearn around recent American history.

What about things I have always assumed about my co-workers and where they’re coming from? Or the motives you’ve prejudged of that friend trying to sell me on their network marketing product? Or the obvious disdain we’re all supposed to have for those silly “self-help” books and “motivational speakers” who are just trying to get rich off gullible people? Or the crazy beliefs and weird religious rituals from eastern religions–like your friend who keeps talking about his weird meditation stuff? Or the fact that you’re obviously supposed to go to college, get a car, buy a house, and climb a corporate ladder? Or even things as personal as “Oh, I could never be a reader” or “I could never be a runner” before I’ve ever ever really tried?

 

The point is this: Over long, weird, narrowly-focused lives we have all picked up hundreds and thousands of little (or big) assumptions that color our world in big ways, ways that we might not realize, and ways that we rarely if ever question.

And those assumptions, prejudices, and misunderstandings can be blinding us from insights and opportunities. They can blind us to the reality others around us are experiencing. They can automatically turn us against a co-worker or family member, leave us always on edge, and keep us from fulfilling relationships or effective teamwork.

Until we finally stop and think: Wait… is that REALLY true?

 

Do you ever question your assumptions?

What is something you always assumed that you’ve recently had your mind changed about in a life-altering way?

And if you had to look at your life right now and take a guess at what is a big assumption you really need to reconsider today if you want to take the next step in your personal development–what might it be?

Isaac Asimov - Assumptions windows on world

Are you really seeing them?

“Look at other people and ask yourself if you are really seeing them or just your thoughts about them.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Have you ever found yourself looking back at old memories–photos, messages, etc–and realizing that your opinion now of an old friend is entirely different than it used to be? For example, I used to have very conservative (and vocal) opinions about how people should look and talk. I always judged the “rebellious” kids I knew, felt disappointed and hopeless for them. Looking back now at the those same kids, I see who they were as very normal and healthy and in fact think I should have been a little more like them.

Our minds change from time to time. Enough that we should be able to remember that the way we see someone right now may not be accurate.

 

It can be helpful to spend some time thinking about what determines how we see people. There are a lot of things that silently, sneakily influence our interpretations of others:

  • What we expect to see. As John Lubbock said, “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” When you start with assumptions about someone, you tend to see what confirms your assumptions. It’s called “confirmation bias.”
  • What we’re already focused on. Always focus on the bad in someone, and that starts to be all you see. Always see the good only, and you can be blind to problems. Have you ever bought a car and then immediately started seeing way more of those models than you used to?
  • What we’re afraid of. How have you been burned in the past? How have people hurt you or let you down? Did you get cheated on? Then you see that in others. Did someone stab you in the back when they should have been supporting you? Than you stay on the lookout for the first signs of that in others.
  • What we are hoping for. Do you ever see people through the lenses of what you’re hoping for? What you need? Looking for friends who will accept you? Looking for a special someone to selflessly love you? You can want something bad enough that you might see it when it’s not really there.
  • What we plan to do about it. One of the biggest and most powerful influences on how we see others is our own intention to react and deal with things. Stephen Covey said it best: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Who might that other person be separated from how we think we should relate to them?

 

Have you ever realized somebody is not who you thought they were? Maybe someone you always thought was mean, or someone you thought was nice. Have you ever been on the opposite side? Feeling like someone is assigning an identity or motives to you that just aren’t you?

Assuming and prejudging leaves both sides hurting and confused.

On the other hand, opening your mind and seeing someone for who they really are and what they really say–not what you expect or judge about them–can open your eyes and heart to another amazing human. And honoring someone for who they really are can make you an empowering part of their life, too.

Jon-Kabat Zinn - Really seeing people