Your Opinion is Worth More than Mine

magic 8 ballPoised at a crossroads, a lot of my coaching clients will often ask, “Heather, what should I do?”  In those moments it’s hard not to feel like a magic 8 ball that’s expected to cough up an answer.  When I first started out coaching I would try to offer a nugget of advice (if I thought I had one) or I would ask, “What’s your gut telling you?” which is what coach training teaches you to do.  But after 6 years of coaching, I’ve come to realize that when my clients ask, “What should I do?” they don’t actually want me to give them an answer.  What they’re looking for is the confidence to trust their own instincts.

How often do we look to others for advice on how (or who) we are?   To a friend we may ask, “Do these pants make me look fat?” To our supervisor we ask, “How do you think I did on that project?”  We’re hoping that, at best, they’ll validate our ego or, at least, they’ll dispel our fears of inadequacy.   But since when did someone else – someone not you – become the authority on you? 

Modern media inundates us with messages of inadequacy, a topic that’s examined by author Karen Dill in her2009 book, “How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing through media influence.” We are bombarded by messages that suggest we aren’t thin enough, smart enough, or rich enough. It is little wonder then, that we don’t trust ourselves or that we’re quick to relinquish our own good judgment in favor of some pretty packaged quick fix.

It’s easier to listen to what others have to say about us than it is to recognize, trust, and reconcile with what our own inner voice is saying.  If we truly listen to the little voice that says, ‘I’m heavier than I used to be’ or ‘this job really isn’t right for me’ – then by extension, we must also face the uncomfortable question, ‘What am I going to do about it?’  If we never address our own inner feelings – or trust our own knowing – then we never have to do anything about it.  It’s the classic head-in-the-sand strategy.

Granted, admitting that something in our lives isn’t working is a messy business.  It resurrects old mistakes, forces you to admit your part in the problem, and demands that you take a lead role in your life.  Flabby and out-of-shape? I’ve got to start exercising.  Bored and frustrated at work? I’ve got to finally find my passion.  Listening to (and trusting) ourselves requires both courage and humility.

But let’s face it; sometimes we need a wake-up call.  Sometimes our blind spots are so big that we really need someone else’s advice.  In these cases, who can we trust? I believe that a true friend will tell you when you’ve royally screwed up, when you look like hell, or level with you when your boyfriend’s a loser.  Seth Godin points out that real friends have a nasty habit of demanding the best of you.  He suggests that unless you have people in your life that are willing to be brutally honest with you, perhaps you have no real friends at all.

I agree with Seth but this mind-set gets me in trouble sometimes. Perhaps I shouldn’t be urging people to reach for something that they’ve been taught they can’t achieve.  Somewhere along the way, it seems, I forgot that it’s none of my business if people choose to accept mediocrity, give up on their dreams, and to not strive to achieve what matters most to them.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a teleseminar with marketing guru, Robert Middleton, and he said, “If you’re not pissing off at least a few people then you’re probably not winning anyone over either.” I really like this perspective. It speaks to me and my ‘damn the torpedoes’ persona.  So at the risk of offending you: No!  I am not going to believe that only a few people are capable of leading highly satisfying lives – lives that are filled with both passionate pursuits and success. I will not apologize for believing in people, for insisting that we all use our time and talents to create something beautiful and to improve the world around us.

But that’s just my opinion. Don’t take my word for it.  Instead, ask yourself what you believe.  Because – when it comes to your life – your own opinion is worth more than mine.

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