Five Life Lies That Continue to Disappoint and Confuse, Even Though You Desperately Want to Believe Them
Breaking free from folk wisdom may be the only chance you’ll have to find success and happiness
They’re called social constructs — repeated generalizations that cast a positive light on human interactions.
Unfortunately, many of these life-lies are little more than wishful thinking. And as a younger man, they led me down a path paved with my own naiveté and gullibility.
It was only years later, after acquiring enough experience to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality, did I learn the truth.
People are the same no matter where you live.
I believed that for the first thirty years of my life. It’s what I was told, and since I had no alternative experience to draw from, I accepted it as true.
The first time I visited the New England states, I was amazed at how different cultural norms could be — within the same country.
I had a similar reaction when I first experienced the traditional social customs of the American south.
For example, having been raised in super-conservative Arizona, I was used to maintaining an appropriate — if not stand-offish — distance from others. Privacy was king, and the concept was literally cast in concrete, with the majority of new homes including a six-foot high concrete block fence around the backyard.
Our move to Florida was a culture shock. Introductions to others often included a hug from the women and full disclosure from the men about their careers, activities, and affiliations.
Recommendations for restaurants, grocery stores, dentists, doctors, and dry-cleaners were offered without asking. Our meeting usually ended with an open invitation to drop by for dinner, complete with an exchange of phone numbers and email.
Those first few interactions left me suspicious and uncomfortable. Hugs from strangers left me wondering what to do with my hands. I was immediately suspicious, thinking their friendly attitudes were part of an agenda to introduce me to the latest multi-level marketing program.
(Spoiler alert: They weren’t!)
The more I traveled, the more I noticed cultural differences and expectations. I still remember the St. Martin cab driver who, after finding out we’d left our hotel without having breakfast, invited my wife and me to share lunch with his family. Then, after dropping us at the beach with a promise to pick us up at an agreed-upon time, refused to accept the twenty I offered him, telling me he would collect the round trip charge at the end of the day.
If you’re not happy with the attitude or behavior of those around you, try moving to a different part of the country, or for that matter, a different country. There’s no telling what you’ll find.
You have plenty of time to decide what to do with your life.
I’ve always believed in the importance of choosing an initial vocation early in life. Otherwise, you risk wasting your most important gift . . . the time of opportunity.
I know taking a “gap year,” is all the rage. Taking a year or two to travel, to see the world, and to experience different cultures is part of many young people’s plans.
And if you have the financial capability to support yourself during a self-directed period of exploration — and you’re not just goofing off on your parent’s dime and gullibility — then fine.
But there’s always the other option: Going to work, trying different occupations, learning the skills of communication, negotiation, and leadership while you’re on the job. And even more important, you’ll be meeting those who can do the most for your career.
Those who look back on their life from the perch of retirement typically describe their twenties as a decade of unparalleled opportunity.
So think carefully about using your twenties for something other than establishing your professional career. There’s an opportunity cost associated with everything we do . . . just make sure the price you pay to follow the latest cultural alternative isn’t a bill you’ll end up paying for the rest of your life.
If you work hard and do a good job, you’ll be recognized and rewarded.
This is a throwback to the “normalized” educational system, where students received a grade reflecting their ability to understand, memorize, and prove their retention by passing an examination.
If you did well on the test, you received an “A.” You were personally recognized for doing a good job.
But leaving the educational system for the world of work often plunges new hires into culture shock. The rules are not the same. Recognition, reward, and advancement are no longer the automatic result of following instructions, adhering to the rules, and repeating the suggested example.
Instead, knowing the food and drink preferences of your manager can often be more important than your productivity. Relationships become the key to success. And the boss’s opinion of you typically makes a difference in getting a raise or promotion.
Is that fair?
We’re not talking about fair. We’re talking about reality. People are impressed and influenced by personality, attitude, and behavior. You may get hired because of your impressive credentials. But if you want to advance within your industry and receive the recognition of your peers, you’ll need to conduct yourself with tact, reason, diplomacy, and a positive mindset.
There’s a secret to living a successful, happy life — and when I find it, I’ll be satisfied, prosperous, and happy.
This life-lie comes dressed in a coat of irony.
Yes, after listening to the advice from a dozen spiritual gurus, after reading every book promising nirvana in three easy steps, after attending every seminar offering a new technique for achieving success, you will indeed learn the secret to living a prosperous and happy life — but not from those sources.
And while you’re certainly welcome to pursue the fantasized notions recommended by the latest trending influencer, life coach, or mystic, I’ll save you some time by jumping to the end of the story.
Here it is, the secret of life . . .
Our time here is an opportunity to do something — to chop wood and carry water.
It’s our life, and we get to choose how we live it. We also reap the rewards — and the consequences of those choices.
Our life — our choice.
Sounds simple, right? But you’d be surprised how many folks don’t see the obvious relationship between self-responsibility, taking action, and the cumulative result that comes from both.
In a nutshell, the secret to life is to simply find work that you enjoy and throw yourself into it. Accept the bad days with the good. Touch others through your work. Make their day easier, brighter, or less painful. Contribute to the greater good.
If you need a way to measure your success, ask yourself how you’ll be remembered. Finding satisfaction and happiness by making others happy is a simple concept, but those who follow it typically gain the respect and admiration of their peers — something that money can’t buy.
Work hard, make the necessary sacrifices, and you’ll ARRIVE!
Then your life will be a magical fairyland of sugar canes, rainbows, and painted sunsets. Free of responsibility, you’ll celebrate by living a life of luxury and independence.
We never arrive. Not really. The trash will always need to be taken out. The roof will still leak. Family and friends will continue to depend on us.
Life is not about arriving. It’s about how we spend our time, day-to-day. It’s about living in the moment, not sacrificing the “now” for some improbable tomorrow.
This is why a large percentage of lottery winners choose to continue working their job after gaining financial independence. Sure, the money is great, but it doesn’t change their life.
There’s also a dark side to “arriving” that’s seldom talked about, especially when it means getting your heart’s desire or achieving some incredibly difficult goal that required your complete dedication and commitment. This kind of arrival often comes with a terrible price — the inability to answer one simple question:
Not knowing what to do next, and not being able to move on to the next challenge — because you don’t have one — can be devastating. For example, if all you’ve ever wanted to do was walk on the moon and you dedicated every minute of your life to accomplish that goal, what happens when you achieve it?
Ask Buzz Aldrin. Ask him if the price he paid to spend 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon was worth it.
Arriving at some arbitrary level of success doesn’t stop the world from turning. And more important, it doesn’t change your basic nature.
After the celebrations, awards, and your moment of fame passes into history, you’ll still need a reason to get up in the morning. You’ll need companionship and someone to care about. You’ll need others to care about you. Most of all, you’ll need perspective, to keep the most important things in life front and center.
Life goes on. And so must you.
Here’s the Takeaway . . .
The traditional American cultural norm is to get a formal education, go to work for a large company that provides a degree of fantasized financial security, marry the girl next door, and live happily ever after.
It’s clichéd and trite, and it assumes we’re all going to conform to cultural generalizations that leave us vulnerable and unprepared for life in the trenches.
At best, life lies can set a very low bar that can leave us disappointed and filled with regret — especially when we realize our lives don’t have to measure up to anyone’s standards of success but our own.
If you feel like you’re still waiting for your life to begin, or the way you’re spending your time doesn’t reflect who you truly are, take a look at the life generalizations you’ve accepted as true.
Challenge them with your personal experience and perspective.
Accepting the most common life lies as personal truth may be the very reason you’re stuck in a place, a relationship, or a job that’s making you miserable.
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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