Is it “the most wonderful time of the year”? Are you doing Christmas or The Holidays “right”? Personally I’m exhausted looking at pictures of Christmas trees on social media news feeds since mid-November and don’t talk to me about the staged photos of the perfect families in their matching Christmas PJs unwrapping that perfect Christmas gift while the other family members look on with faux excitement and delight. And this is not J.Crew’s feed; it’s Random Human’s feed who’s made their kids all dress up and perform for their social media hobby. WT actual F?! OK, I got that off my chest! Why this triggers me is because I’m passionate about authenticity.
When I coach someone I always do values work with them because unless you know and consciously live your values you will get baited and hooked by the expectations of others over and over again. Yesterday I was coaching an amazing woman who is early in her career and finding her way. On social media she sees all her old friends and former college classmates broadcasting their success stories complete with fancy job titles (sweet God what is with the Assistant Vice President title by the way?! – sigh!). How easy it is to then fall into the comparison trap and start measuring and rating ourselves – our worth – using someone else’s value scale.
Today I was looking through a favorite social media feed, one which actually feeds my soul rather than straining my sense of self-worth, which is @quoting_literature (HIGHLY recommend!) and way down the feed I came across this gem.
I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid I will compete – that’s what scares me…Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.JD Salinger – Franny and Zooey
It is a struggle to really see how we’ve been conditioned and a not insignificant challenge thereafter to release ourselves from its hook.The young woman I was coaching was straining to own her own path whilst immersed amidst the expectations of others and society at large telling her what she “should” be doing or aspiring towards. It is no small thing to seek to shut out the external noise of the endless marketing messages or to be present with, yet disentangled from, the internalized messaging and beliefs of what one should want, do, and be in order to be considered worthy or a success. It is the privilege of my life to be able to be present with others on this journey and to serve them.
Now I am a HUGE Christmas fan and I enjoy The Holidays a lot! However as we approach a new year the – “New Year New You!” messaging makes a full-on frontal assault. You’ve not digested your Christmas dinner and you’re being admonished for “overindulging” and hastily directed to the latest “detox” diet nonsense. Well, f*ck that because I decide what I’ll eat and when! But seriously there’s a lot of pressure to push the reset button and make those plans to ensure that the next year is your year. As a coach I definitely work on goal-setting all the time but I don’t buy into the magic of January 1st. Actually a lot of the population is hung over on January 1st (no judgement!) so, personally I tend not to want to commit to major lifestyle changes to begin on a day when I’ll probably get up late and not feel like doing much – just me? Again this is another example of someone else’s rule about how we should live by instructing us on the timetable to change our lives!
When I was a smoker New Year’s Eve was always the night when I, and my fellow smoker friends, “gave up smoking”. You know exactly how well that went, right? So I did give up smoking a long time ago but it sure as hell wasn’t a 1 January start date. So, back to my client, who was struggling with this idea of having a big plan and life vision and setting goals as the year comes to a close and we look ahead. She’d come back from one of those work events where there had been a Vision and Goal-Setting Workshop where everyone else was seemingly able to eloquently express where they wanted to be in 10 years and 5 years and she just didn’t. This laid heavily upon her – this not knowing. What was wrong with her? Why was she so stuck and lost while everyone else seemingly had such clarity, focus, and drive?
I felt her angst and her self-judgment and all the discomfort of that underlying fear and then I congratulated her. How brave and courageous to allow yourself to not know yet. How wonderful to admit to knowing that you haven’t got all the answers yet and you’re not certain where you’ll be in 10 or even 5 years. Hurray! Let’s celebrate honesty rather than blind compliance to all that “should” sh*t! We went back to her values and spoke more about those. What makes life meaningful and fulfilling for you? That’s what values are all about. They are ways of being and doing that we wish to make manifest in our lives. Think about when you’ve ever felt like time has flown by when you were engaged with something. What was it about that activity that attracted and engaged you? Therein lies treasure my friend!
What is a life well lived? What is “success”? I put it to you that it is a life lived in alignment with your values. It is not a life lived to please an external audience. Yes, you may well acquire status and many other external rewards along the path of a values-aligned life. Others may validate you and your achievements. But the difference will be that you were on a path of your conscious choosing, a path to becoming all that you can be through living your values rather than following a path prescribed by others where you do and get things that you are told you should value. The first is intrinsically rewarding every single day. So my client walked away from our session that day with her top 6 values written down. This was all the certainty she really needed and, with that and for now, she could navigate the uncertainty of not knowing where she’d be in 5 or 10 years.
What is a life well lived? It is a day well lived and then another day well lived and then another and another. Know your values and live today “well” and that “well” is unique to you. So don’t trade away your freedom to take your own authentic path in life for some second-hand, cookie-cutter version of a life. You’re worth more than that!
I’ll leave you with a quote from Seneca the great stoic philosopher from On the Shortness of Life:
The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”