Learn to Stand Alone

criticism mentors personal development problems status quo

This comes up a lot with employers, especially of the young. Most twenty-somethings are in the midst of drastic and frequent career changes, so they run up against employers who must try to keep them around. This makes perfect business sense, and I have nothing against employers who follow this practice; they have made an investment in training and building their business around the employee, so it is only good practice to try to keep the employee. I do think it is important to keep this in mind as a young person changing jobs or pursuing opportunities. The employer sees it as a business decision, but it can seem like a personal affront from the perspective of an inexperienced employee.

Generally though, the pattern is seen in a lot of different areas. Every time I set a bold new course in my online income plan, I am inundated with reasons it will not work (so I've stopped sharing with people). Many people I know who decide to undertake a healthier or more sustainable diet find themselves socially ostracized or the target of numerous lectures on their naivete. It frustrates me to no end that one of the most popular topics on sustainable eating is a long and condescending discussion of why it is not sustainable (like Time Magazine's recent feature. My response). Instead of telling us why it won't work, why not try to figure out ways it will work?

I know vegans run into this problem a lot, as do extreme athletes, entrepreneurs, and anyone else that tries to set their own course and stand out from the crowd. It makes no sense to me why the crowd is so afraid of people standing out from it.

Your Kind Ain't Welcome 'Round Here

I get the impression that most people feel threatened by others who take their dreams seriously. Most of us have dreams and ambitions, grand ideas of lives lived with gusto and adventure. And most of us never fulfill those dreams. Many of us give up on those dreams, but to hold on to our impressions of ourselves as ambitious, unique non-sheep, we rationalize, telling ourselves there were circumstances beyond our control, or that the situation was just not right.

Thus, when we run up against someone who has decided the circumstances don't matter, and that the situation will never be right but to act anyway, we find our world-view threatened. If they can do it, then we have no excuse not to besides our own laziness or inability. Since most people don't like to think of themselves as lazy or incapable, we try to hold the dreamers back, using our rationalizations of our own quitting as reasons our target will fail.

There seems to be this implicit assumption that is someone else is doing something successfully, we are being useless if we aren't also. If there is a new 15-year old bestselling author, suddenly every high schooler who isn't is just wasting space. Excuses must be made, rationalizations cooked up; anything to explain the failure to act of those in a similar group.

Don't Get Caught Up in the Hype

If you don't want to aspire to something, don't hold yourself to the successes of other people. It is just as important to know what you don't want to accomplish as what you do. I firmly believe that most anyone can accomplish most anything if they are willing to put enough effort into it, but not that everyone should do everything. Know what you're trying to do and don't worry if others are further along or succeeding in some other field.

In terms of letting others pull you down: expect it. Don't hold it against others; it is merely a subconscious defensive reaction. You are threatening their world-view. Some will be inspired by you, and some will be scared by you. Take it as a compliment. I would even recommend ignoring any negative statements, since they will often be more influenced by personal prejudice than real-world assessment. People that encourage you, but also provide criticism and warnings, are worth listening to, but those are more like mentors and ultimately want you to succeed. Seek them out and cherish their advice.

Seth Godin wrote an inspiring little article on how people try to hold the dreamers back. Check it out here. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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