When I first started coaching, I thought naively that the key to helping clients achieve what they want is to identify their goal and break it into small, actionable steps, using SMART goals. This was drilled into us in coaching school as well. The only impediments, we were told, were internal gremlins that remind us that we aren’t good enough. We even had to create a large 3D version of our own gremlins in school. I brought in a black angry bird-type creature who had a sign around his neck that said, “I Don’t Deserve” on one side, and on the other side, “I Do Deserve.” (I still have him somewhere in the attic.) While I do believe we all have internal voices that can get in our way, I have found that the biggest traps are 1) family expectations and 2) blind choices that are societally imposed. Just like that silly and addictive phone game called “Temple Run,” in which a man has to jump over broken bridges and run around fire balls and out-chase various crazed gorillas, we have those challenges too. The difference is that in the game, we know that we need to avoid the fire and the gorillas. In real life, it’s not so easy to recognize a trap when we see it.
When I graduated from college with a music degree and got a ‘hot’ job at a law firm that paid well and involved lots of free and expensive dinners with clients, the trap would have been believing that I loved the law, when in fact I loved the pretty art work on the walls, the pay, and the free food. Many of my friends ended up at law school because they were smart and everyone in their family went to law school, but then they realized that they hated the law and if they were lucky, they never used their degree. I thankfully had parents who supported my dreams as long as I supported myself financially, but a number of my clients struggle with going against the tide. One client wants to leave the small town her family has been in for generations and live and travel abroad, but to her parents, their daughter may as well be joining a cult. Another wants to leave the family farm but she is so invested in being the good girl, that she’d rather keep that image up than move to the city and embark on a new career. Another traveled half way around the world to get away from a stressful family situation, only to find that her family had in essence traveled with her anyway, since they had 24/7 access to her through texting and social media. She is learning to create boundaries with technology so that her family doesn’t have unlimited access to her, but it’s not easy.
As difficult as family expectations are, the harder traps to spot are the ones that we make blindly because “everyone does it.” I know of a few people who knew when they were walking down the aisle that they were marrying the wrong person, but the guests were there, the presents were bought, and they were already almost 30, so it was time to settle down. I know others who had kids soon after marriage even though their relationship was shaky, because they didn’t want to be “old” when they had kids; they are now divorced. I also know others who had 3 kids because “3 is the new 2 and everyone is doing it,” even though it nearly put them over the edge in terms of emotional and financial strain. But at least they looked impressive on Facebook. I spoke with a woman recently who wanted to marry her boyfriend but was afraid to insist on it because it seemed too needy, and besides, plenty of people live together. I spoke with a client with over $1,000 per month in car payments, who turned down a dream job because it paid $20,000 less. I pointed out that her new cars were costing her her dream. And I spoke with another person recently who hated her job, but felt that she had to stay in it to pay for her eventual mortgage and her eventual life with her boyfriend who didn’t make much money. I reminded her that she wasn’t trapped yet, but soon enough she would be if she didn’t slow down and really think through each choice and its ramifications.
As you find your voice and claim your world stage, watch out for the traps that appear, both to please family and to go along with the crowd. Watch out for the part of you that tends to ignore what you love, even if it’s different than everyone else. In our crowd, it seems that everyone I know loves coffee and yoga and Beyonce. Not me– I love seltzer and hiking and Bach. Most people love skiing and white river rafting. I’d rather read a book or get a massage. The more we take the time to get to know ourselves, the less likely we are to sign up for someone else’s life instead of our own.