And mastering adulthood
This past week I attended the IDEA world conference. One of the themes was “inspire” and I heard a lot of talks on becoming your highest self, including one delivered by Brendon Burchard.
Brendon is one of the 100 most followed people on Facebook, but until he stepped on the stage, I had never heard of him. I’ve since listened to a podcast with him and seen a few other things by him.
I have to say the dude is smart. If you want to learn how to market yourself and hook people on your content, he’s someone to watch. He has a way of posting things to Facebook that make you feel like they were written to you. However, as I was watched him present, I had difficulty connecting with his message.
The subject of Brendon’s talk was how to achieve mastery and become your highest self. He talked about finding clarity on what matters to you and using it as a message to share with the world. He discussed how spending time with loved ones mattered more than how many people follow you on social media. He gave tips on how to be more productive and happy.
I don’t disagree with him, but for me, his delivery felt flat. It held too many clichés and not enough admissions to the strange emotional struggles than come with living in a modern world where our biggest threats come from the thoughts in our head, not physical threats from the outside world.
One of the big criticisms of social media is that it lets us filter what people see. It creates an opportunity for us to present an idealized version of how we live and can make those who are watching feel as though they’ve failed in life, since they don’t feel as happy, attractive or successful as the people who they are following.
I call this phenomenon building the white picket fence.
Recently, my life has looked pretty damn idealistic to the outside world. I run my own business and it has a beautiful website full of photos of me smiling with professional hair and make-up. I got engaged in April and I’m the proud new owner of an adorable and sizable house.
Now, that’s not fortune and fame, but for the average person that’s success, right? I’ve built a business, found a person to spend my life with and we’re settling down in a space that looks like it came out of Pleasantville, but there’s a catch.
While I feel sincere gratitude, I don’t feel successful.
The reality is I’m blessed. Based on the family I was born into and the people I’ve met, I’ve been given unique opportunities that not everyone has, which has allowed me to forgo a day job, follow my passion and start a business. I’m also incredibly lucky that I have found someone who is willing to love me and be patient with me even when I’m at my worst and can’t be patient or kind to myself.
However, these white picket fence images only portray isolated moments in my present life. What they don’t tell you is how I got there, where I’m going or all the thoughts running through my head when these pictures were taken.
The engagement photos on my Facebook page fail to convey the numerous failed relationships that came before I met my partner.
They don’t tell you about the time after a break-up when I cried so hard I threw up. There is no caption telling you that it took 7 years of therapy to get me to a place where I was emotionally stable enough to have a healthy relationship or accept love.
My smiling headshot on my website doesn’t show the time I was fired from my first personal training job and told that I was in the wrong industry. It doesn’t tell the story of all the classes I taught when no one showed up. It doesn’t account for the yearlong sabbatical I took from teaching fitness to pursue an accounting degree in attempt to get a respectable job with health insurance. Nor does it tell you that I spent that whole year in a severely depressed state trying to figure my shit out.
The pictures of my new house on Facebook don’t reflect the anxiety I felt giving up my liquidity to buy it. They don’t show my frustration with the banks for telling me I lacked earning potential and would qualify for a loan only because of the person I was marrying. They don’t demonstrate my fear of becoming trapped in one place with no options for leaving.
I want to be clear, I am not writing this to say that my life is bad or hard, because it’s not. I know I am privileged and blessed. I know that while things in my life sometimes feel hard, they are not hardships. These are privileged problems to have. In fact, I often feel guilty for feeling anything other than gratitude for what I’ve been given, because some of what I have was gifted, not earned and I got a lot of help along the way.
I also know that I am not alone in my feelings.
Whether they are friends, co-workers or clients, most of my time is spent around high achievers. They’re attractive people with high power jobs, beautiful families and impressive homes. They all have white picket fence lives and many of them are hurting.
As I listened to Brendon Burchard talk about how to become your highest self I realized, I didn’t need his clichés, because I already knew the answer on how to be fulfilled.
My guess is you do too.
If you talk to or listen to enough people who have built successful businesses (and lives) you will start to hear some commonalities among them.
You’ll hear things like:
“It didn’t work for a really long time, but for years I just kept trying and learning and one day it started to work. Now, I’m what they call an overnight success.”
“I know the experts say to do things this way, but I have to tell you while there are several good approaches, there is no one way that will work for everyone.”
“You can’t do it all. Stop trying to. Focus on the things that matter most.”
“Find a team of people who you trust to help you. Your weaknesses are someone’s strengths and vice versa.”
Can you see a theme here?
The people who succeed have a plan, but it’s mostly that they just keep trying various approaches. When an approach works, they keep at it. When it fails, they try to learn from it and go down a different path. If they are an “overnight success” it usually took them a decade to get there.
Successful people prioritize the things they care about. They let the other stuff slide and they don’t worry about being perfect. They do things in a way that works for them and while they are open to feedback, they’re not committed to following someone else’s rules.
Lastly, successful people ask for help. This is huge. Since I started running my business and sharing my experiences with other people, I’ve been amazed at the talent in my network and the generosity of all the people who want to help me.
Let me break it down further.
When trying something new, no one, not even the most successful people, know what the heck they’re doing.
Most of us mean well. We’re all trying. We’re all screwing up and many of us feel bad about it. There is beauty in these screw-ups though. It’s when we learn and innovate. We don’t learn or create novel things when we get things right. We do it when we get things wrong.
As we evolve upward, our higher selves will still have unproductive days. They will have moments of absolute sadness and moments of absolute joy. They will always be trying and learning and because they’re doing these things, sometimes they will get things wrong.
Sometimes our higher selves will have moments of peace and clarity. They’ll do good and they’ll help the people around them, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll have bad days. They’ll get angry. They’ll be petty, but will mean well, so the people who love them will forgive them.
If you are the type of person to read health, wellness and self-improvement blogs, then you are already on the path to being a higher version of yourself.
If you realize that no one around you, yourself included, knows what the fuck they’re doing, but you wake up every day and keep going and trying, then you have mastered adulthood.
You don’t need a guru to get you there.
You just need compassion for both yourself and others. Some days are going to be wins and you are going to feel like a badass. Celebrate those wins and use that time to pull up those around you who need a little help.
Some days are going to suck. You’re going to want a friend. Surround yourself with the right people and your friends will make those days suck less.
We’re all in it together and no one is getting out of here alive. Decide what matters to you and put your energy into that. Accept that you can’t be happy all the time, but when you find those beautiful moments, celebrate them and remember them fondly.
The white picket fence doesn’t matter. Life is about who is standing next to you in the photos.