One of the trickiest hurdles to navigate these days is so often planted there by others. With good but misguided intentions, friends and strangers alike may attempt to nudge you along certain paths in life… but if those paths aren’t right for you, you shouldn’t take them.
Let me introduce Mr. Turtle, who will serve as our exemplar throughout this post. Mr. Turtle is your average green-skinned hard-shelled turtle. Not long after emerging from his egg, Mr. Turtle realized he had a dream, a dream that he wanted to achieve more than anything else in the entire world. The dream? Why, to complete a marathon! Mr. Turtle envisioned working diligently day after day to reach his goal, to have his four legs bringing his tired yet dignified body across the finish line and towards personal glory. He wanted it with every fiber of his reptilian body. The catch? His family and friends took great pride in their more traditional ways, and the Turtle society would never condone such a thing. Just think, they scoff, a turtle competing in a marathon! How preposterous!
What does Mr. Turtle do?
“It’s a noble goal, my dear son, but let me tell you why you shouldn’t do it, and what you should do instead,” says Mr. Turtle, Sr.
As a whole, we tend to think that we provide the world’s best advice. Perhaps it’s an experience that we didn’t have but wish we did, or an experience we did have but wish we didn’t, and there’s usually some life lesson we learned along the way that we find it critical to impart to the “advicee.” As Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “Experience is the name everyone gives to his or her mistakes” (see countless other amazing life quotes on the Sources of Insight website here).
And often it’s good advice. I once read that if you’re in a pickle, you should address your problem by thinking about what you would tell a friend to do in a similar situation. There’s something about that fresh perspective that very helpfully leads you towards the answer you were searching for all along.
In a nutshell, advice is an amazing gift, and it should never be taken for granted. The question to ask yourself, though, is if the advice is truly appropriate for your life, and your situation. That’s what’s not so guaranteed, and in every situation it takes some thought.
As a bonus, here’s a grain of salt for you to take such advice with (the picture comes from here).
Mr. Turtle, Sr., now admits to being suitably appeased. But what’s next?
“Just do what’s easy – be like everyone else in our Turtle society and don’t run marathons,” says Mr. Turtle’s cousin, Ms. Turtle.
Why are we apt to postpone our desired path for another person’s suggested one? It stems from the simple truth that it’s so easy to let others make decisions for us. Call it laziness, or the desire to avoid accountability, or the proclivity to please people, but there it is. If we allow someone else to nudge us to the next job to apply to, or the best school to attend, or even the food to eat at the table, it’s admittedly pretty freeing to say, “Well, now it’s out of my hands.” Or consider this joke: “If it’s good, remember that I chose, but if it’s bad, remember that you chose it for me!”
Ultimately, taking someone else’s noble path as your own makes everyone happy, sure… except for you.
Now, if someone helps nudge you to a job you might actually want, or a school, or a food, then that’s awesome. That kind of friendly push can be exactly what you need. But if the suggested item is something that takes you farther away from what you feel is best, then… that’s a situation where easy is not better. (And honestly, when is it ever? “Nothing worth having comes easy,” as the saying goes.)
Ms. Turtle accepts this explanation with a benign nod of her head. But now:
“You should give it up. It’s not accepted by our society, after all. Why fight it?” says Mr. Turtle’s inner voice.
Ah, yes. The pressures we impose on ourselves never fail to insist on the education level that we should have or the career that we shouldn’t have. They demand we reconsider the life phase we should or shouldn’t be experiencing right now. These shoulds and shouldn’ts are integrated into our society and our minds so much that it’s sometimes difficult to even recognize their presence. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we very possibly harm our own bright futures by placing restrictions on our lives?
Because society tells us to. Because we think that society tells us to. Because we convince ourselves that we think that society tells us to. Because everyone else seems to play by the rules so we convince ourselves that we think that society tells us to.
As you can tell, it’s a difficult question.
Begin with small steps. If we up our sense of self-worth, that can only help. If we come to recognize the moments when we enclose ourselves inside walls, we’ll eventually become self-aware enough to prevent those moments from occurring in the first place. And if we surround ourselves by even just one person who can help us rise above those walls, there’s nothing better than that.
One day, we’ll become capable enough to prevent those shoulds and shouldn’ts from ever dictating our lives again.
Mr. Turtle promises himself he will continue trying. In the end, that’s all any of us can do.
“A turtle completing a marathon is just not possible,” says the Turtle society, the human society, and everyone in between. Incidentally, this includes Mr. Turtle’s sister, Mr. Turtle’s uncle, a stranger passing by (also named Mr. Turtle), and Mr. Turtle’s sister’s friend’s neighbor’s third cousin.
How to respond to this lovely statement proclaiming that whatever Mr. Turtle or you or I want to do is downright impossible?
I just have three words.
Prove them wrong.
By now, you’re probably wondering whether or not it’s even possible for a turtle to be a marathon runner, let alone a runner, because hey, it’s a turtle.
If you’ve made it this far, though, perhaps you’ll agree that it doesn’t matter. Who cares if it’s possible? If you want it enough, you’ll find a way! Or you will find a different way, which is equivalent to saying that you’ll find another equally fulfilling goal to achieve. (See my post on No Excuses for more.) Whichever the case, how will you know if you don’t try?
And now for some of my advice. (I fully respect your decision not to take it.)
One of my favorite phrases of all time comes from Terry Goodkind’s absolutely awesome Sword of Truth fantasy series: “Your life is yours alone. Rise up and live it.” Every person I know has his or her own interpretation of this phrase, but to me it positively explodes with the beautiful truth that you, and only you, will be holding yourself fully accountable for leading the life that you want to live. So don’t let yourself down. Go do something amazing with it, hopefully being a good and genuine person while helping family, friends, and fellow earth-dwellers in the process.
In addition, consider trying this: “Do whatever you want, unless there’s a good reason not to.” (This is number thirty-nine from an inspirational The Mission article called “40 things about life I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself.”) In any given situation, do you truly need to be deferring to your “perceived social obligations”? Simply identify what you want, name any valid reasons why you shouldn’t be pursuing it, and if there are none, then go do it.
What’s more, embrace it when others are true to themselves in how they live their lives, and expect them to do the same for you. The next hopscotch square you hop to in your path of life doesn’t need to align with anyone else’s. People’s lives are different, and they damn right should be! Take pride in being you, right here, right now.
And so, Mr. Turtle, I hope you achieve your dream. The Turtle society will come around, somewhere down the line, and may our own societies follow the same enlightened paths as yours.
In the meantime, the rest of us are working on our goals, too. We’re toiling away, just like you. And when we need inspiration, we’ll be sure to look your way. We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the impossible being proven wrong, one small turtle step at a time.