My generation suffers from a path addiction. (No, not that Path.) Thanks, in part, to over-parenting, we are placed on a path from the moment we can walk and we follow it. And it becomes delightfully comfortable.
We get put in preschool, then grade school, then we are prescribed extra-curriculars. Then we go to junior high school. High school comes next and then after that college. Always working toward the next step on the path. In college we are coached to develop “10-year plans.” Super-paths! And then we graduate. Real world. Shock. Horror.
Lately, as I have counseled friends on career decisions, and as I’ve started offering advice to recent college grads, I’ve learned something: we spend way too much of our early years knowing (and being prepared for) what’s coming next. When we finally get to the part where we have to fend for ourselves, develop a course of action and then execute, we fall down. Hard.
When offering guidance, I’ve too often been met with “but I’m not qualified for that” or “nobody would believe I’m capable of that.” We believe that, because someone else is doing something, they must have been anointed to do so. We think, “someone, somewhere validated that role.” I’d offer that the opposite is more likely true: most people aren’t qualified to be doing what they’re doing. Instead they were presented with an opportunity, and rather than waiting to be told they were ready, they simply jumped at the chance and figured it out as they went.
There’s a favorite passage from The West Wing:
Leo McGarry: Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it. They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that. Do you?
Jed Bartlet: And you think I’m that man?
Bartlet: Doesn’t it matter that I’m not as sure?
Leo McGarry: Nah. “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you.” Put another way: Fake it ‘til you make it!
Fake it ’til you make it. Or: put down the path. Step away from the plan. Blaze your own trail. You are what you say you are – and nobody else needs to validate that. In fact, nobody else can.