“Must”, “It’s Impossible”, “I’ll try” and other Tyrants

DSC_0984Lately I have been working a lot with young people. Students. Members in NGOs or student organisations. Some on their first job. Other interns in different companies. Beautiful, curious, intelligent, ambitious, willing to learn.

Every time my workshops are an invitation to introspection. We talk about authenticity, emotions, personal values, mission in life. It’s a difficult exercise even for people more experienced, let alone for 19-20 year olds who are just starting in their life journey. I’m always happy to see how bravely the throw themselves into these inner conversations despite their youth, or maybe because of it. Then I feel their confusion and even fear when the answers they give themselves to the question “Who am I” don’t match what they have been taught to believe is “normal”, “good”, “compulsory”, “possible”. 

“There is no job where I can be completely happy, I need to compromise if I want to be successful”. “I will be happy when I get really high up on the corporate ladder and for that I need to work hard on the things I’m good at, not necessarily on what I like”. “Money comes first on my list of values, but that’s only normal at 21; now I have to find the highest paying job possible so I can raise enough money to have my own business by the time I turn 25”. “You can’t do only what you dream in life”. “I can’t see myself doing the job I studied for, but I have to carry on because I’m to scared to try something else”. “My parents told me that life is not easy and I need to fight and make sacrifices if I want to succeed”. “I was told that these are my talents and this is the most appropriate career for me, the one that will make me successful”. 

These are all statements I heard over time from young people that I worked with. And not seldom did I leave these workshops with a nagging question:

When exactly do we start living under the tyranny of limiting beliefs that start with “it’s not possible”, “you have to”, “this is how it’s done”, “I will try, but…”?  

I have often been told: “Alis, not everyone is as lucky as you are – to make a living doing what they love”. I get a knot in my stomach every time I hear this because I believe, with all my heart, that it’s not about luck, it’s all about choice.

Almost four years ago I faced the decision to leave my last corporate job and start doing training and coaching on my own. The choice was not between job and entrepreneurship – I have long lost the belief that being an entrepreneur is any guarantee for happiness. The choice was between doing my job as a trainer and coach as others told me it had to be done or doing it as I felt it needed to be done. This I could only do as a freelancer.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had a huge mortgage on the house I had built with many sacrifices, just because I had believed it would make me more fulfilled and “successful”. I had no savings. I had, together with the friend I started out with, one training contract which would have covered my corporate salary for three months. Afterwards was just a big, fat question mark. I had my loved ones who offered moral support and confidence, who didn’t try to influence my decision and gave me the huge gift of refusing to offer any advice, one way or another. I found myself alone, facing the choice that would change my life. And I felt as if I was about to jump from a great hight without a parachute, just with the faith that I would grow wings before I touched the ground.

Then I remembered something I had read in a book by  Elisabeth Kubler Ross – wisdom gathered from thousands of dying patients she had assisted in their last days. On their death bed people rarely regret what they did in life and most often the things they didn’t do. I asked myself then:

If I don’t do this, if I don’t follow my dream now, at all cost, will I be sorry for the rest of my life and spend it wondering “what if”?

The answer that came from the deepest part of me was a big, resounding YES. And I jumped. This was four years ago. And never, ever, during all this time, did I say to myself “I’ll try”. I always tell myself “I will do this”. And things happen. I learnt how to fly.

Today I am surrounded by people who went through similar crossroads in their lives. People who freed themselves from the tyranny of “must”, “can’t do” and “have to”.

Viorel left a job as a marketing director to become a chef. He knew his mission was to create memorable experiences on a plate. Seven years later he keeps doing it and teaching others how to create magic in a pan. Camelia, after much inner debate, gave up a great corporate job to do what she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl – create jewellery. This autumn she will be hosting her first course in a contemporary jewellery school.  Raluca became a coach after 13 years in corporate training. Yesterday she was telling me she can see herself doing this for the rest of her life and that the joy of seeing others succeed and being there for them in their most difficult moments cannot be equalled. Luci  is a psychologist and one of the few Montessori specialists in early education – 0-3 years – in Romania. She finished college, a masters and undertook a few years of training to be able to work with pre-verbal children because it is then, at that young age, that the foundation for the rest of life is set. And she wanted to be there when the little ones build that foundation.  Veronica  chose a corporate job where she could really make a difference in the lives of people she works with. And I know nobody more capable of bringing people together and bringing out the very best and brightest in them. Cristina is most likely the best psychotherapist I know. She graduated from art school and used to be an exceptional graphic artist. She then enrolled in the University of Psychology and went through years of psychotherapy training. Today she is saving souls. Full time.

I could carry on and on – I know others. Many others. Entrepreneurs. Employees. All fulfilled in the place and role they chose. These people aren’t happy accidents. They are not the “lucky ones”. They didn’t “defy the odds”. The had no special savings that would give them the “luxury” to follow their heart’s vocation. Many have families, people who depend on them. Some have mortgages. They are “normal” people and yet they’re not. The difference between them and others who carry around their unhappiness and call it “bad luck”, “obligations” or “constraints” is simple. These people rose against the tyranny of their own limiting beliefs. They chose to define by themselves what is and is not possible in their lives instead of letting others give them the definition. They let themselves be guided by the inner compass of their values and of a personal mission they each chose consciously and purposefully. They found the “why” of their lives and then had the courage to follow it. They decided to use their own criteria for success. They chose to define themselves through what they are, not what they do and ceased to squeeze their fate into little boxes dictated by education, society or personal and collective history.

These are people who live doing what they were born to do. It’s not easy. Never comfortable. The road of self actualisation is sometimes fraught with uncertainty and fear. It’s hard to forge fresh paths though untouched territory. There are always highways tempting you with their aura of certainty. And yet, there is such joy on that small road that you and only you have chosen! There is such freedom in a life in which you don’t really know where you will be in five years, but you definitely know why you are here today.

This post is for all the beautiful youngsters who are just beginning to walk their own path in life. It’s for all the people who have a dream and tell themselves every day that it’s impossible. Finally, it’s for all those who had the courage to take responsibility for their own lives and use the greatest right we have all been given upon birth – give their life a meaning. 

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