When I started thinking big and began the work of living a life on my own terms, one of my biggest struggles was taking the first step. How do I start to live differently? How do I start over? How do I unravel the life that others or myself had originally dreamed up? What do I even want for myself? What if I fail? I didn’t always know that coaching, training, and personal development work would be my path. I had decades of cultural conditioning that told me that these weren’t “real” jobs, and to shed these beliefs, I asked myself all of these questions, again and again.
Like many achievers, I’ve gotten to where I am because I had high expectations of myself, or I worked to meet the high expectations of others. That makes me a great teammate, employee, athlete, teacher, and leader — but it wasn’t always healthy. I got sick absorbing the stress of others and pulling all-nighters. I was also sucked into one of the biggest downfalls of high expectations — the spiral of blame and doubt that occurs when things didn’t go my way or when, despite my best attempts, I failed.
It was in these crazy, intense jobs and situations that I realized that failure was out of my control. I realized that even if I pushed myself to the brink of exhaustion to deliver, I couldn’t always control the outcome. I still might not meet the expectations of others. I still might not meet my own goals. I still might not be able to fix everything. Failure was always a possibility. There would always be more. More demands, more expectations, and more problems. This was an exhausting and never-ending cycle of working to try to control the uncontrollable.
As I began to break free of the cycle, I began to wonder how I could change my survivalist behaviors of people-pleasing and situation-fixing and return to what I felt was more in tune to me — the dance between effort, fun, questioning and curiosity. Knowing that failure was always a possibility, could I change the focus of my effort? Could I focus my efforts internally so that I was living with the possibility of failing in the pursuit of something I valued, not something someone else valued?
I began to try out a new way of living, and I still had failures. But the funny thing is, when I was living in the status quo of people-pleasing and situation-fixing, things didn’t always work out either. It sucks to fail, but it sucks more to be exhausted and overworked while failing. In order to make that shift from looking outward to looking inward, I had to value my growth more than I valued meeting someone else’s unreasonable demands. I had to value my own wellness more than I valued solving everyone else’s problems. I had to value myself. Period.
Living a life on our own terms means we may deviate from the norm and the tried-and-true. It will mean forging our own path based on what we value, not what we achieve. When we’ve been validated time and time again for success, whether it’s professionally and personally, it’s difficult to unshackle our self worth from achievements. But, we have to cut the cords.
If we want to see the change occur, we have to stop judging ourselves for failures. We need to make failure normal and acceptable, because it is going to be part of a life where we take risks. If we are living a full life of multiple obligations and big goals, things fall apart once in a while.
While you are special in so many ways, this is not one of them. You are not going to avoid failure. You’re not going to be able to make everything JUST right. But if you aim your efforts on living on your own terms and taking some risks in the process, you can see each failure as a sign of growth and congratulate yourself for stepping into the ring and not playing it safe.
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