It is okay to be you

Remember that it is okay to be you.

Take breaks regularly from making judgments about yourself. It’s exhausting. And you’re probably wrong about yourself half the time anyway.

You are loved. Who you should be isn’t loved. You are.

You are enough.

If another human can…

I’d like to be a professional writer and public speaker who helps make the world a better place. BUT. I’m SCARED.

I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes. So I often find myself giving up. I hold myself back. Out of fear.

Do you ever find you’re not trying because you don’t want to fail? Turning your back on your dreams because you probably couldn’t bring them to life?

 

I often find myself wondering in amazement about grand things that other people have done: How the hell did they get somebody all the way up to the moon??? How does one person handle as much responsibility and stress as a country’s leader or a giant company’s CEO? How did my friend ever get so successful at sales? And what the hell even is the internet and how can it possibly work?!?

Sometimes other people seem superhuman. Sometimes the advancements and accomplishments that make up the world I live in seem like magic.

Who are these god-like people who shake the world? The inventors, the leaders, the athletes, and the entrepreneurs? What other-worldly stuff are they made of?

 

Turns out they’re just humans.

Like you and me. Made of the same stuff. They were born with the same senses and tools and brains as I was.

Sometimes I have to slap myself awake as I watch successful business-people who make hundreds of thousands a year. I so often find myself feeling small and weak and full of doubt. If only–if only I had what they had.

The other day I was having a heart to heart with someone way higher up than me on the ladder. She was describing to me how she sometimes struggles with communicating freely because she’s been burned so many times. Then it hit me–here’s this person in a position I tell myself I couldn’t handle yet or don’t deserve. And she has the exact same insecurities as me. But she’s made it that far and is doing great at it. Humanness and all.

Turns out I can do those things, too.

It stands to reason. We’re all humans. I’m fully capable of making the same decisions and speaking the same words as any CEO or world leader. We’re all human, with the same voices to persuade with and the same minds to decide with. I could be that executive that executive I hopelessly compare myself to when he walks by my desk. I have to stop telling myself that I can’t.

 

Yes, some start with an advantage. Some are born into healthy homes with supportive parents. Some get good educations and college degrees. Some are born into wealth. Some grow up surrounded by safety nets others don’t have, safety nets that help them take those big leaps.

But there are a lot of people who have started with huge disadvantages and still achieved their dreams against all odds.

One of my heroes as a baseball fan, Mariano Rivera, grew up in a poor Panama town using a cardboard milk carton as baseball glove and a tree branch as a bat. He accepted early on that he was born to catch sardines on a commercial fishing boat. Despite a deck stacked against him–poverty, discouragements, injuries, and broken dreams, he ended up achieving such wild success in baseball that he is now widely considered the greatest closing pitcher of all time.

And it’s never too late to start! Ray Kroc was a milkshake device salesman until he bought McDonald’s as a 52-year-old. Vera Wang didn’t start her designing career until she was 40. Colonel Sanders bounced from job to job until he finally founded KFC at age 62. And Harrison Ford was so disappointed in his weak attempts at becoming a Hollywood star that he became a carpenter instead to support his family–until he became Han Solo.

 

Point is–you’re no different. You’re a human. In general, you have the same abilities as the next person. The same potential. None of those massively successful people are super-human. You don’t have to be super-human. I don’t have to be super-human.

You can do it–just the way you are! You’re a person. If someone else can do person things, so can you.

 

I’ve experienced this time and time again in my own life. It’s encouraging to look back…

a1 - runningI took my little brother running one night that I’ll always remember. “I promise,” I told him, “if you just don’t stop, no matter how tired you feel, once we’ve made it about 2 miles you’ll feel so much better!” And it was true. A block in, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. But he kept going and finally hit his stride. I have found that almost anyone can be a runner. And most of the people who “can’t” really can. They’ve just already given up.

a2 - guacamoleWhen I started my first job as a 19-year-old, I was absolutely terrified and clueless. I crawled into bed in tears night after night feeling like I was weird and awkward and would never fit in, never make it. But then I did. Before long I was getting promotion after promotion and found myself running my own store. And fixing up a mean batch of guacamole.

When we got engaged, Lyssi and I had this crazy dream–what if we went and got married in Italy? But we put the thought away. We’re not THOSE people! We can’t do that! Then one day we started trying–just for kicks. A few months later we were exchanging vows together at the Villa del Balbianello, living our dream. Turns out, we ARE those people!

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Another big one that I think about a lot is the lifestyle my wife and I have embraced–full of exploring and adventuring, taking planes, trains, and automobiles everywhere we can to experience a world full of beauty together. I always hear people envying those people that have the time and the money to explore and travel all the time. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t have more time and money to travel with than the next person. In fact, for a long, long time we dreamed and dreamed that one day we’d be able to go on those adventures–like “those” people. And then finally we decided to stop waiting and figure out how to make it work. Only then did we discover just how much we really could do. (If you want any adventuring tips, let me know. It’s something we’re passionate about!)

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(Fyi, each of the above pictures came from trips there were good adulty reasons not to take.)

 

So please–please, please, please–don’t tell yourself you can’t. Don’t tell yourself you’re “not that person.” Don’t give up before you’ve started.

 

Lately I find myself daydreaming about the next big thing I’m going to discover I can do. Maybe perform piano. Maybe take writing to the next level. I could go back and finish my degree. Pursue another big promotion. Or what the heck, maybe I’ll go back and try baseball again.

If there’s something you want, don’t be afraid. Go for it. Embrace it. Know that it could be you. Know that the people already doing it are just like you.

What’s next for you?

 

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‘You Don’t Have to Like Me’ – 5 Reasons to Be Your Real Self This Year

Happy 2018 my friends! Let me tell you a story about 2017. And 2016. And late 2015. Yeah–pretty much those three years. For the past few years I have struggled deeply with the fear of being disliked.

Michael Scott - Need to be Liked

I judged the success of my interactions on whether the person I was speaking to came away happy with me. I tried really hard to only talk about things that would please people. I kept criticism, warnings, and complaints largely to myself. What about you? Do you keep a lot of your dearest thoughts and concerns to yourself so that people won’t reject you for being you?

I needed to be liked so badly–especially by authority figures or other people who could have serious impact on my life–that the littlest bit of tension, suspicion, or disapproval could set off panicky fight-or-flight type hormones (mostly flight) inside me. Does confrontation or disagreement bring you these feelings?

This fear robbed me of a lot of power and progress in situations where I could have better stood up for myself or others. It’s caused me to make decisions I’ve regretted.

 

Something worth noting is that I haven’t always lived life according to this fear. I remember a few years ago, one of my role models gave me the compliment of a lifetime: “Unflappable,” she called me. I was strong, calm, and dependable. I wasn’t pushed around by people and I didn’t panic and concede when someone had a problem with me. I had been around that block before–dealt with a lot of people judging me–and I had learned to find my own strength and confidence.

I honestly am not sure where I lost it. But now I am sure, comparing these last few years to my earlier, stronger years–I am sure that I was much happier, much more successful, and even more liked when I didn’t worry about whether people liked me.

(BIG disclaimer before I go any further: Being a nice person is good. This blog post is not proposing you be a brat. Don’t be a brat.)

 

In 2018, one of my personal development goals is to stop needing–or even wanting–everyone to like me. The words I chose are: Confident; Unintimidated; Emotionally/mentally tough.

I cannot need others to always approve of me, be my friend, agree with me, or be happy about what I do or say. And here are a few reasons why:

 

1. Being liked by everyone is impossible.

Let’s start with the simplest reason not to live for everyone’s approval: IT DOESN’T WORK.

A while back I was chatting with a friend about former President Barack Obama’s leadership style. I mentioned that I was impressed that he worked so hard at being kind and respectful to both sides, not just viciously attacking the other side of each agenda or blindly towing his own party’s line. It seemed to me like it was important to him that he be able to get along and build relationships with the political opposition. My friend, a strong democrat, replied that the president’s agreeableness was his biggest problem, that he should have taken a much more vocal and forceful stand on everything.

Moral of the story: Try to be agreeable to everyone and there will always be people who disapprove of you for not being more disagreeable to people they don’t like.

A close friend had a similar experience. He had decided to passionately live his life according to one central standard: Peace with everyone. He was determined to be at peace with every single person in his life–to be friendly and to get along. And to his credit, his passion for this has made him one of the kindest and most compassionate people you’ll meet. But there was a problem. One family member, his mom, desperately wanted and needed him to oppose other family members, including her ex-husband, his dad. When they were together, she insisted they talk negatively about other family behind their backs. Whenever he saw his dad, his mom was hurt and angry and questioned his love. It soon became clear that no matter how hard he tried to be in a peaceful relationship with both sides, his mom would accept absolutely no version of friendship that made room for his priority of peace with anyone but her. He tried and tried to explain that all he wanted was to get along with everyone. But to his mom, his desire for peace with others meant a personal attack on her.

There are a million examples, and I’ll bet there are some in your own life that come to mind. At work, keeping your employees happy might mean letting down your own boss. You may feel pressure to blur some lines and cut some corners here or there for the sake of productivity, because one executive expects and encourages it. But keeping him happy means causing another leader to view you as unethical or undependable. Or just try making decisions about the holiday without offending one or another family member.

Maybe the biggest proof of all that you can’t please everybody: Try assembling a guest list for your wedding. Leave your crazy uncle off the list and risk the wrath of your grandparents. Put him on the list and the rest of your family might not show up. (Eloping is underrated.) You just can’t keep everybody happy, and sometimes trying will just make people even more unhappy with you.

 

2. Needing everyone’s approval leaves you feeling guilty, stressed, and hurt.

If I am trying desperately to keep everyone happy with me–if I make that my responsibility and blame myself when someone is disappointed in me or turns against me–If I need your approval in order to be happy, then I have given you control over my life and my heart.

It’s the age old story–you were never good enough for your dad as a kid, and now that you’re an adult, you just want him to be pleased with you. You want him to accept you for who you are. If he has a problem with you, you feel small and sad. But maybe what your dad thinks of you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him.

Living for a parent’s approval or your boss’s approval or your significant other’s approval or your kid’s approval–tying your happiness and self-image to whether someone likes you will just lead to hurt. Again and again and again. Because while you may choose to want them to like you, they may choose for themselves that they don’t.

I’ll bet you have a relationship where you find this tendency in yourself. (I know I do!) You fight in your head over every little decision, because what would please you will displease your boss. Maybe last time you chose to stand up for yourself, and your boss let you know in no uncertain terms that you displeased them. You ended up sad and guilty–yet another person you’ve let down. So this time, you’re choosing to concede. Let your boss have his way. Live to please. So you end up making choices you don’t feel right about, and you end up stressed and still feeling guilty.

If I live to please, I always feel guilty: Guilty for the compromises I’ve made to please others, or guilty for not pleasing others because I refused to compromise.

If I live to please, I always feel hurt: Hurt by your choice to pick a fight with me even though I tried to keep the peace, or hurt by someone else’s disappointment that I have a relationship with you to begin with.

And if I live to please, I always feel stressed: Am I getting it right? For you? For him? For her? For them? And if I am getting it right for everyone else–am I honestly getting it right for myself?

 

3. Needing to be liked stunts professional progress.

I hate corporate politics. I dream of finding a place without politics. But politics don’t seem to care. They’re sticking around no matter how I feel.

An incredible number of people–influential people–will encourage, expect, and even require you to do things you don’t feel right about, or not to do things you really want to do. And needing to be liked–needing approval–will make you a permanent servant of stronger, bolder political players.

I’ve noticed that the people who end up making progress quickly or getting their way (at least for a good while) in organizations are the ones who don’t need to be liked by everybody. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I have a deep passion, for example, for promoting inclusivity and equal opportunity in my company–there will be some people who don’t like that, who spread negativity about me, and who want to see me go. I can need their approval and stop working so hard for this good thing. Or I can let them have their own problem with me, and keep focusing on the good I am doing. At the end of the day, if I need everyone to be on board my ship, my ship will never set sail.

I’ve also noticed that the people who do need to be liked by everybody are usually stuck serving those daring leaders and innovators who don’t need to always be liked. There will always be someone who will only accept and like you as long as you are serving their vision and purpose. So you make the trade off: They get you as a pawn in their game, and you get liked.

The rule applies to every area of work within an organization: If I need you to like me, and you don’t need me to like you, then I will do what you want me to do. Every time. But what if I also didn’t need you to like me?

If I didn’t need everyone’s approval, I’d think outside the box more–take bigger risks–accept bigger responsibilities–identify more problems with the status quo–chase opportunities without apologizing to less ambitious co-workers.

Some time ago, someone a few rungs above me on the corporate ladder brought me something to do. It didn’t sit right with me–in fact, I knew it wasn’t right. I started to protest, and immediately her face flushed and she got pushy. “Trust me, it’s fine! Just do it!” In the little decision-making moment that I had, my mind went straight to the conversations she was going to have later with her co-workers and higher-ups, people who could influence my career: “He’s such a stickler.” “He thinks he’s better than everybody.” “He just doesn’t get it.” I just wanted to be liked. I didn’t want anybody having problems with me. But if I did it, I would have a problem with myself. And so would all the influential people on the other side of the corner-cutting spectrum if they found out. Talk about stress!

But what if I didn’t need her to like me? What if instead of trying to please everyone, I consciously chose the kind of person I wanted to be, and allowed some influential people to help me and some not to. What if I recognized that pleasing everyone was just never going to happen, and I focused my energy instead on being bold and strong and confident? After all–those confident, independent types were the ones I kept seeing up near the top of the ladder.

No matter what your career goals and projects, the more energy you expend on the impossible mission of pleasing everybody, the less you’ll have to build on your own vision. And there will always be people who just aren’t pleased with your vision.

 

4. Needing to be liked by everyone keeps you from helping people.

This one is near and dear to my heart.

I grew up in a world where everything was either “right” or “wrong”–“very good” or “very bad.” Everything had to be judged. Everything was a moral issue, and I had to know all the answers. I now think that world doesn’t work. It leads to arrogance and viciousness, shame and depression. Over-zealous over-confidence has led to hundreds of wars and conflicts throughout history.

But now I’ve found that–in reaction to that world–just as big a world exists where there is no “right” or “wrong.” Everything is okay. Peace is the only value. Nobody can speak up against things as “bad.” Everyone worships the vision of being completely 100% chill.

But in the real world–in the real world where, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18–in the real world where over 500 lives were ended in 2017 by mass shootings in America–in the real world, there is such a thing as “bad.”

I want to help people who are being hurt. And sometimes it’s not as black and white as a gun in your face. In fact, more often than not it’s quiet manipulation and bullying. Parents emotionally abuse children, high schoolers bully less cool high schoolers, co-workers bully the new guy or the nerdy girl. Bosses take advantage of their employees. Celebrities use their status to get away with sexual harassment. And it’s really easy to just go with the flow–let it happen–laugh it off–shrug your shoulders–“not my problem.” After all, standing up and saying “No” takes guts. And breaking the silence usually puts a big target on your back.

As long as I need everyone to accept and approve of me and what I do, I can’t take a stand against the “bad.” If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t stand up to bullies and abusers and help vulnerable people find strength and freedom. Too many people would rather I just leave things be so they can stay comfortable in the status quo.

If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t ruffle feathers, can’t be honest about the elephant in the room, can’t say no to hurtful behaviors. I can’t help people who are being hurt and also remain popular with the people doing (or enabling or ignoring) the hurting.

Do you want to be the kid that “stayed out of it?” Or the kid that stepped in between his friend and the school bully and said, “You’ll have to get through me first!”?

 

5. Lastly, living for approval from others keeps you from being you.

Do you ever hear yourself say something and think, “Wait–where did that come from?!?”

If I spend so much time worrying about what others will think, I just won’t be myself.

If I worry at every meeting about how every single person will feel about my opinions or votes or suggestions, I won’t speak up (and certainly won’t recommend creative new solutions or thinking outside the box).

If I need every client to be completely happy with me, I won’t be able to say “no” when I need to say no in the interests of my own career and the health of my organization.

If I can’t say no to one family member’s gossip because I want them to like me, I won’t be the loving, caring person the rest of my family needs.

If I choose not to be honest about who I am when I’m making new friends because I’m afraid I’m too weird or different, then nobody will ever know and love the real me.

If I carefully write every single blog post so that absolutely everyone will be pleased with what I have to say and think I’m a smart guy, I won’t communicate genuinely from the heart.

Dependence on the approval of others–always needing to be liked–paralyzes you. It keeps the real you hidden deep down, while an ever-stressed and watered-down version of you walks the tight rope of each new job and relationship.

Don’t be afraid to be you. You don’t need everyone to like who you really are. Diet You isn’t going to be very useful to the world. Be the bold, free, loving you that you are pleased with–and I promise you, you’ll find that the kind of people who end up liking you are pretty amazing people to have in your life.

Be the kind of person you would like, and leave others to struggle with their own opinions of you.

 

One last thought–a friend of mine, who has spent his career as a therapist helping people be honest with each other and get along, says something that will always stick with me: “People connect at the level of their struggles.”

In this Facebook/Instagram/Always-Look-Happy kind of world, it’s tempting to think that if you open up about who you really are–dirty laundry and everything–people won’t like you. So we bottle our emotions, hide our hurts, and turn a blind eye to the suffering in our own homes. Because we’re afraid that if we get real, people won’t like us.

It’s not true. Be real. Talk about the things you feel like you’re not allowed to talk about. Show the fear and the love deep inside you. You’ll find a hundred friends who are aching to share just as deeply as you are. Yes, you’ll also find a few who are sad that you’re being you. But at least you’re actually being you.

Slowly but surely

Life happens slowly. Painfully slowly.

Today I feel like I’ll never have the things I want. And lots of voices tell me I should or could already have them, and make me feel even worse. (#socialmedia)

But things take time and money and hard, hard work. And patience. And perspective.

When I look back at life a year ago, I notice there are a number of big steps I’ve taken. Big, important purchases–like a new car. And other progress. Like weight lost and a more healthy lifestyle. Like becoming a serious runner. Like a new job.

When I got that new car, I felt so awesome about it for a couple weeks. And then my focus drifted back to the other important things I haven’t been able to get or do yet. And that’s where my focus stays mostly.

When I look back at life two years ago, I remember living in a cramped studio on a not-so-nice street. Made a lot less money. But then my best friend and I took each other on a dreamlike adventure to get married and honeymoon on a lake in northern Italy. Made memories and got pictures that we’ll treasure for a lifetime. We got new jobs. Raises. Took a few more steps. Got an awesome new place to live and some new furniture to go with it. Threw a wedding reception for all our friends. Helped a friend get on her feet financially.

Even just the last two years have been so full of progress, growth, gifts, and adventures. But throughout the years I’ve felt again and again like I’m not making progress. Like I’ll never have the time or money to move forward and realize some of my dreams.

And the year before. Another painfully slow year. But I bought a ring and got engaged. And won speech competitions. And got promoted.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like progress happens way too slowly. Life takes so much patience.

When you feel like you’re just running in place, look back at what you didn’t have one or two or three years ago. Look back at what you’ve gotten to experience in the last year and more.

I’ve had an incredible life. I lived in Uganda and Ethiopia and learned Amharic. I’ve spent years enjoying the company of my best friend and sharing together in adventures–with no end in sight. I’ve taken awesome road trips. Made great friends. Spent lots of money on things that make life easier and more fun. Made a home. Learned to cook like a pro and make some killer guacamole. Bought and received so many meaningful gifts. Spent endless hours pouring my heart onto the keys of piano after piano. Put many, many miles on too many pairs of running shoes to count. The list goes on.

And my life doesn’t seem to be nearly over. Which means that list really will keep growing.

But next week I’ll probably have some “I’m-not-making-progress” feelings. Some “Why-can’t-I-afford-that-yet?” frustrations. Some “Will-I-ever-get-there?” moments. And if the past couple years are any indicator, life is sure to throw a few more curve balls my way. Setbacks. Expenses. Discouragements.

This time next year, though, I’ll re-read this blog post. And I bet I’ll be amazed at how many more things will have been added to the list since today.

What about you? What’s on your list? I bet if you sit down and start writing, you’ll feel a little better about where you are and where you’re going.

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6 Steps to Stay on Track When You’re Discouraged

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I’ve been struggling with some personal things lately. Just some discouragements I’ve had to work through. Sometimes when you’re discouraged, it’s easy to lose sight of where you want to go–to doubt you’ll get there. And when you’re not fully expecting to get somewhere in the future, it’s not easy to discipline yourself to do the hard work today.

I remember learning this the hard way in my first job. But then I learned how to keep going anyway. Staying diligent through discouragement is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are 6 steps you can take when you get discouraged. They’ll keep things in perspective and help you stay focused and productive.

     1. Calm your mind.

This is the first step I take in just about any personal challenge. When your mind is fighting (with itself or with outside influences), it is full of adrenaline and doesn’t think clearly or make careful decisions. So the first step to solving a mental and emotional crisis is to just calm down.

I like to go to a quiet place if I can, where I’m not surrounded by people or distractions. Sometimes I close my eyes and just breathe deeply. I let go of some emotions like anger and panic. I relax my mind until I am in a better state to think carefully.

     2. Acknowledge how much you change.

Your mind, heart, temperament, passions–they fluctuate by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Recognizing this helps keep things in perspective. How you feel right now does not have to define who you are. In fact, you are most certainly going to feel differently later.

Part of emotional maturity is being able to make decisions that are no longer based on current moods and feelings. But that takes perspective. It requires really understanding your mind, and appreciating how inconsistent it is, so that you stop basing decisions primarily on your mood. And take hope: You’ll feel better about it later!

     3. Get rid of unnecessary discouragements.

Don’t focus too much on the negative, but do take time to figure out what may be bringing you down. Maybe it’s problems on the job or in your relationship. Maybe you just didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re paying too much attention to one friend’s opinion. Or maybe you’re getting down on yourself for putting on a few extra pounds.

Some of these things will take longer to work on and will never be perfect. Like your relationship, or your career. You can’t just ignore those. But is there anything bringing you down that you can deal with immediately? Could you get more sleep tonight? Could you make healthier choices in your diet? Sometimes just getting rid of or changing your attitude about a little struggle can completely re-energize you.

     4. Ask yourself what you want your future to look like.

After deciding what I need to get rid of, I remind myself of what I’m trying to create. Try asking yourself where you want to be in the future. Be specific. What do you want to be able to do? Who do you want to be serving? How much money do you want to be making? Why? What do you want to be able to provide for family and friends? What experiences do you want out of life?

Dreaming of your future helps put things back in perspective. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get re-motivated. What you’re doing today is not just for the sake of feeling good today. What you’re doing today is because you want to have something later. Whether you want to travel the world, start a charity, or send your kids to a good school, today’s work is for the sake of that future, not your mood.

     5. Ask yourself how you’ll get where you want to go.

Once you know what you want your future to look like–the place from where you want to be looking back on today–ask yourself two tough questions. They’re easy to answer but the answers demand your hard work and self-discipline:

Will you get there by being disciplined and productive? Maybe, maybe not (though if you do miss the moon you may land in the stars). But will you ever get there without being disciplined and productive? No. Definitely not.

6. Ask for help.

This might be the hardest step to take, but it’s often the most valuable, and sometimes the only one that’ll do it for you. When you’re struggling with discouragement, whether it’s laziness or depression, or just a little mood swing, reaching out for help can be a game-changer.

You can find encouragement, teamwork, accountability, or another form of support. And lots of people are ready and eager to help you. But you have to ask for it. You can ask friends and family. The most helpful teammate I have is my girlfriend, who knows me and cares about me more than anyone else. If you’re a religious person, you can reach out to God. An impressive amount of highly productive and successful people say one of the biggest anchors they have is prayer and church. Wherever you find support, don’t be afraid to go there. And when you feel embarrassed for needing help, that’s probably when you need it most.

These six steps help me a lot. I hope they help you, too!

We’re all in this together. What are some other ways you’ve learned to keep going when you’re discouraged?