It is easy to get wrapped up in the constant stream of information about how we ‘should’ lead our lives – adhering to scripts written by other people that we quietly hope to successfully emulate and even outdo.
But it’s true what they say: what works for you may not work for me. Yet still we persist.
One of the most challenging things I find about networks and social media and the internet and life generally is the barrage of examples and opinions about our careers, relationships, parenting, habits, etcetera.
How easy it can be to be influenced by others, or what you must do as opposed to what you want to do.
This happened to me when I was making a decision about my career. Network! Build your online presence! Do more training! Online classes! Professional membership! Grow your brand! (seriously, I still don’t know what this means – without sounding a pompous arse I prefer being a ‘human bean’, as the BFG would say).
I’m embarrassed to say I found it all rather stressy and – dare I say it – I envied those who appeared to be smashing it (honestly where do they find the energy to do all this stuff? Are they even human beans?)
I started procrastinating; dithering about what I should do rather than what I wanted to do. This led to confusion and frustration which solved nothing.
Around that time, I read an interview with author Philip Pullman who’s probably been asked a million times for tips on writing a novel. His response was simple. Write for yourself, he said, because in the beginning no-one else is there.
In so many ways that rule applies elsewhere in our lives.
I focused on what is was that I WANTED to do. What inspired me? How do I want to feel at the end of each day? What, practically, was possible?
I was, I guess, writing for myself and not following someone else’s narrative. I spent real, uninterrupted time thinking about is important to me, my story, a new beginning. Once the thought had crystallised it became easier to work towards, forsaking all the other stuff out there in the world.
I understand it is often helpful to seek advice about what you may want to do; speaking to others can be enormously beneficial for testing thoughts or seeking advice and, of course, the realities of decision-making on finances and family life are writ large.
But at the same time the external tsunami of information can submerge you. And if we all made choices based on what other people were doing, many of us probably wouldn’t be happy in the long run.
The philosopher Epictetus got it right when he said: “First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do. For in nearly every pursuit we see this to be the case.”
Today, or anytime, when you catch yourself about to make a decision based on the choices of others, ask yourself: Is this the story you want to write for yourself?