When I’m not working on big web migrations or content strategy projects, I build websites for witches.
Well, sort of.
I joke that they’re witches, but I actually don’t want to make light of the work they do because it’s not about casting spells and telling fortunes. It’s not all metaphysical feel-good, fairy-crystal stuff either. In working with these gals, trying to understand what they do, who they serve, how to tell their stories, I've learned some pretty blunt lessons about getting over my fears and taking some personal responsibility for what I truly want my life to look like.
You see, I’ve learned we’re all just trying to make a go of it. Trying to be our best selves. Trying to be happy and inspired. Trying to define ourselves in our careers and livelihoods. We want to find meaning. We want to be different. We want to find that thing that fills us up.
Unfortunately, a lot of people never actually feel like they get there because it’s really hard. But not in the way we think. You see, we think it’s hard because it’s going to take long hours, that special certification, or building up a client base before we can start.
Yes, these challenges might be part of it, and they certainly can be hard. But, time and again, what actually proves to be more difficult is discovering that finding this meaning, this purpose, this life’s work requires you to change the way you think, what you choose to believe, and how you choose to see yourself and the world around you.
That’s damn hard.
Because we get stuck when a little voice creeps in and whispers three fat lies that hold us back.
Let’s say you’re getting into poetry. You took a class, wrote some sweet poems, and found that writing these poems actually made you feel really good. You want to write more poems, and you know to get better at writing great poems you have to read great poems. So you read Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself and realize his poem is way better.
I mean WAY better.
So you start berating yourself. Who the heck am I? Why did I think I could write poems? I didn’t even know it was possible to be this terrible. I'm so terrible. You rampage. You delete everything. You get depressed. Because you think you need to write this perfect poem everybody is going to love. And you miss the point completely because the first lie creeps in.
I’m not good enough.
Most of us stop here. We don’t read Whitman's poem again and again to try and figure out why we think it's great. We don’t read more poems and realize Whitman could have used a good editor. We don’t study the field, read audience reactions and criticism, and find out lots of people think Whitman is elitist or makes them want to take a nap.
Most importantly, we don’t write and write and write for the pure damn joy of it.
We forget why we were writing poems in the first place. We think pursuing something that makes us feel alive, that makes us feel like we’re using the best of ourselves, requires some sort of public approval or uniform or job title or credentials or award.
Without these societal gold medals, we think we’re not good enough. We believe the first lie and we quit.
Because figuring this thing out—how to do the stuff that truly makes us feel good—requires risk.
It requires having a perspective, taking a stand, doing something a little out of the ordinary, and this means someone else might think your ideas, your perspectives, your talents aren’t good enough. It requires confronting challenges and the possibility of failure. And so we get scared.
We’re afraid to really be who we are because we believe who we are isn’t good enough.
But if you think this way, you will fail. You’ll try to be for everyone. You’ll fit in. You’ll run on the program. You won’t make an impact because you won’t stand for anything. You won’t be memorable because you won’t be speaking to that perfect little niche of people who actually care a whole lot about what you have to offer. You stop doing that thing you love because you don't believe you can.
But belief is exactly where you need to start.
It can’t begin anywhere else. If you don’t think what you have to offer matters—if you don’t believe you matter—then you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone else.
So you have to start telling yourself you’re great. You have to be excited about what you do. You have to believe you truly do bring value, improve lives, or make a difference. Even if it’s just making a difference for yourself—because doing the things you love to make your own life better is pretty damn noble and rewarding. And actually, when you’re feeling better and more alive, it’s contagious and it does make other people feel better.
Tell yourself you’re good enough. Over and over again.
For many of us, it’s going to feel a lot like lying at first. You have to repeat it enough times so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to get the law of attraction on your side.
I understand this law of attraction thing might be fuzzy science—this idea that I can create a future I want by repeating it, believing in it so I consciously and subconsciously work hard after it and attract good vibes to help me along.
But that’s the beauty. I don’t really care if physicists don’t think the law of attraction is real. I don’t care if they don’t think my positive thoughts help attract more positive things. I can still choose to believe I can make a little magic for myself instead of thinking I’m totally at the mercy of outside forces.
Because otherwise we run smack into the second lie.
I’m not in control.
A lot of people give up on trying to do the things that make them feel alive when they blame someone else, throw up their hands, and declare it’s out of their control.
My boss didn’t promote me. My parents didn’t have enough money. My family needs me to keep this job.
But, most of the time, these are just excuses.
So what if we didn’t get that promotion? Can’t we apply for other jobs? Can’t we volunteer or take a class and get some new experience? Was that promotion really all that great or did we just want it because it would make us feel secure? Maybe it would actually take us away from the things we love, the things we’re too scared to really pursue.
The reality is we actually have a lot more control than we think. But we get stuck when we run into disappointment or challenge because it’s easier to blame someone else than confront ourselves.
It’s easier to blame the boss than accept the fact that we might have to work a little harder or get a new job. It’s easier to envy other people’s upbringings than figure out how to create our own fulfillment with what we've got. It’s easier to stay where it’s comfortable than downgrade our standard of living or ask our family to make a big change.
The fear creeps back in. We get afraid of what it could take or what others will think. We think we’re not good enough. We believe we’re not in control.
But we’re always in control of ourselves. How we handle each situation. How we respond. What we choose to take on. What we let go of. We have no one else to blame but ourselves for how we use our energy. Sometimes we pursue a crappy goal. Sometimes we get too focused or worried or bull-headed that we don't see the subtle and not-so-subtle opportunities in the everyday moments around us.
The truth is, we can create our own happiness—despite the overwhelming evidence against why we should be happy in a world we continue to mess up and destroy, in a society where we ruin relationships, cheat people, lie to boost our egos, or fight pointless battles. Yeah, life is hard. But it doesn't suck all the time, and we do have choices about how we choose to live through the hard stuff.
When you flip it around and believe something different, that you actually are valuable, that you have some control, that you can create a little happiness, it doesn’t matter so much about finding that one exact thing you SHOULD be doing.
Because it’s no longer about SHOULDS.
Which brings us to the third lie.
I have to. I should.
What you’re doing right now, indulging me by reading this article, is a choice. Before that, maybe you got out of bed, got on the train, put your daughter down for bed, or ate a bowl of Cheetos. All of these were choices you made.
Every minute we choose how we spend our energy.
But by now you’re probably thinking sometimes we just have to do things, right? Someone has to clean the toilet. Someone has to take grandma to the doctor. Someone has to suit up and go to the office.
Yes, I get it. But these are still choices, right?
We choose to clean that bathroom because we don’t want two-week old hairballs on the wall. We choose to take care of grandma because we’ve decided to value family. We choose to put on a suit and go to the office because we want to look like we know what we’re doing, we want to help that person who walks through the door, or maybe we just want a paycheck.
But all too often we blame these have tos and shoulds for taking up our time and dominating our lives instead of owning our choices.
You could say this whole "choice" thing is just a mindset. And you’re right. It is. But the other mindset—the one that says we can’t do something we love because we have to do something else—this mindset is the one that really messes us up because it holds us back. And so we’re always waiting.
Too many people wait. We wait for that perfect time when life slows down. We wait for the kids to get a little older. We wait until we take just one more class. Until we’ve read one more self-help book. Until we've added one more tool to the old belt.
But the truth is, you will never have the time.
You will never feel ready.
And most of us won't have that ah-ha moment when doves push back the clouds to reveal a shining beam of blinding inspiration.
Sometimes you just have to start, and then you figure it out as you go.
Because maybe it's not about doing this one perfect thing. Maybe the whole point is actually about becoming.
It’s about not listening to the critics, the crap, the lies in your head, or worrying so much about what it is you should be doing. Instead, it's about being okay with who you are and what you love.
It’s about writing that great poem and not giving a damn if anyone else ever likes it.