Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Kristina Villarini.
The day was pretty much as epic as it could be.
It was the end of another beautiful July in New York, and I was sitting in Seth Godin’s office with 19 other students for the first of a 3-day seminar. We were selected to join Seth and discuss education, marketing, and “unleashing your inner impresario.”
While there are not nearly enough words to express how it felt sitting in a room with someone as amazing as Seth, there are certainly enough for me to recall how I got there.
One year ago, I would have murdered someone for the opportunity to pick Seth’s brain for 72 hours.
One year ago, I needed his insight more than I did on that fine July afternoon.
And still, one year ago, I would have never even tried.
Why is that?
Why am I willing to admit to an audience of go-getters that I was thisclose to passing up the opportunity of a lifetime?
The truth is… I woke up one week before that and almost didn’t submit the application or the minute-long video. In fact, it seemed easier to believe that out of the hundreds of people that would apply, it would be only my application that was neither seen, noticed, or selected.
Can you relate to that feeling?
How many times have you stopped yourself from going after something that was very important to you?
It was on that faithful day when I made a shocking discovery about myself and most of the people I had known throughout my life:
We do not know how to choose ourselves.
Let me explain.
From the moment we are born, until the moment we no longer exist, we are chosen for everything. We are selected to attend school, we are selected for our extracurricular activities, and we usually are greatly influenced in the things we believe we select for ourselves, like the majors we take in college and the jobs we compete with one another for after college.
Have you ever wondered why it’s natural for people to sacrifice the things they really want in return for something that’s not nearly as rewarding or life-altering?
We are not built to make decisions, let alone the tough ones. Entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, consultants and small business owners face these kinds of real-life obstacles on a daily basis. That’s on-the-job training. That’s survival at its fittest.
We are not afforded the same luxuries in our lives, unfortunately. We are able to delay our feelings, our needs, and our passions simply because the world does not understand or cannot immediately monetize them.
Why aren’t the rest of us motivated in a way that allows us to make real decisions?
It’s because we aren’t raised to be: do’ers, thinkers or impresarios. We are raised to seek out the validation of others, to be “tapped,” so to speak, and without that, we feel directionless.
When was the last time that you were allowed to put your development and your needs first at your 9-to-5? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is “rarely” or “never.”
When is the last time you gave your life a performance review? I’m also pretty sure that the answer to that question is “rarely” or “never.”
Is it any wonder why we’re so afraid to start a new project, to join a friend in a promising new business venture or even, to choose to create meaningful work that lasts longer than a 40-hour workweek?
In the words of the enigmatic Lady Gaga, “We were born this way!”
Fear is good
When I left my corporate law gig in 2009 to write full-time, even though it was what I knew I always wanted, I had spent so long working for someone else — accomplishing their goals and trying to affect their bottom line — that I was frozen.
Real power, the kind of power that can directly influence us for the better, is rarely in our hands, and for the first time ever I had full control over my own destiny.
And I had no idea what to do with it.
I had spent so long living that way that I could not bear to carry the enormous weight of making choices for myself.
It’s inevitable that your true self, your inner impresario, will speak up. It’s the little voice inside you growing louder, demanding freedom and a way of life that does not conform to the conventional. When we finally listen to that voice, it’s usually not as loud as the voice of fear.
I challenge you, right now, to change the way you’ve thought about fear. Fears and excuses are two very good buddies.
When we allow people to have control of our destiny, to tell us emphatically NO when we want something, there are two important things happen:
- The person becomes a gatekeeper of why we cannot accomplish something — “I didn’t take that writing class after work because my boss said I couldn’t leave early.”
- The gatekeeper graduates to a symbol of failure — “Last time I tried to take a class, my boss said no, so I’m not even going to try.”
Our entire lives can be reduced to being a follower. All of our ideas and creativity have been reduced by formal education and institutions that tell us how to take orders and not shake up the status quo. Our ideas are thrown against figurative walls to “see what sticks.”
Today you can create a world where there are no gatekeepers. From this moment forward, there can be two kinds of people: those you know and those you want to know. From this moment forward, there can be all of the reasons why people think you should not do something, and all of the reasons why you do.
Stop waiting for approval! It’s your life, and you don’t need to permission to live it! The fact that you are reading this right now proves that you want to change. And I’m telling you that you can.
You can enforce creativity in your own life, you can be paid to exist, and you can be the person who people want to be when they grow up.
So, what’s next?
Here is the quickest way to change how you perceive opportunity:
- Make a List. List all of the things you want to do that you didn’t because of someone else in the last year.
- Identify and Reverse the No. Every time you encountered the “No” that stopped you, imagine a “Yes” instead and identify your next steps. Is it less possible or more possible?
- Be Your Own Gatekeeper. If there’s someone who you need in order for you to act, determine WHY you need them and how you can provide yourself with that power. More often than not, it’s the validation you need, not the person. Do you want to publish a book? Self-publish. Want to speak at TED? Look for local TEDx conferences to apply to.
Everything is possible when you start creating your own opportunities.
So now that you know this, what are you going to do about it?
About the Author: Kristina Villarini is a native New Yorker, book junkie and lover of all things creative. She is the Chief Creativity Enforcer at KristinaVillarini.com. Click here to watch her discuss art, life and answer reader questions!
You are so right. Now that I think about it, society always focuses on what we get wrong rather than what we get right! From the very first day in elementary school, to the last day in college, every test or homework assignment you get back has a big number at the top that is circled and emphasized.
“-1, you suck”
“-4, you’re wrong”
“-10, you’re bad”
“+99, you’re good”
“+96, you’re great”
“+90, you’re awesome”
That type of programming, hammered into our heads from the very beginning, makes it extremely hard, if not outright impossible, to trust yourself when it comes to anything in life. It is a type of programming that makes us all susceptible to the appeal to authority, an authority who knows what is right for your life and knows what is best for you. F* that s**t!
Surround yourself with people who reject that paradigm and get “paidtoexist”according to your own terms! I choose me!
Great post! I recently became entirely self-employed, and it is so freaking scary. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even after making the decision and taking that leap, what I appreciate most from this is that it reminded me that I have to pick myself, EVERY SINGLE DAY. I have to choose to be as awesome as I know I can be, because that is when I create the things that mean the most to me and that offer the most value to others. Thanks Kristina!
Big thanks to Kristina for her awesome post here. I know that she really poured her heart into writing this and I appreciate all of the support you’re giving her here. Oh by the way, could you have guessed that this is her *first* ever guest post? Not too shabby, huh? :)
Lars T. says
I’m so glad the Make A List action item is limited to the last year. Otherwise it would be overwhelming!
A year is perfect.. it gives you enough to reflect and act on. Anything beyond a year back is a sunk cost.
I’m doing this tonight!
You all are too kind. Thanks for reading, sharing your stories and relating to this message… I do agree that we are all preconditioned to participate in the normalized, conforned industrial society–be more cog, than your own actual machine. Special thanks to Jonathan for allowing me to tell this story and for creating a place where we can all discover our own special contributions to the world.
Paige | simple mindfulness says
I couldn’t agree with you more Kristina! Our society uses fear to control us. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we’ll allow that.
I find so many situations where it take so little to set yourself apart from the pack. As Woody Allen said: 80% of success is just showing up. So many simply don’t show up.
People ask me how I’ve created connections with people or accomplished things. Most of it is by asking for what I want and showing up (and always wanting to help). Seems easy but so few people do it – mostly out of fear of rejection or success.
Thanks for being an example of the awesomeness that’s possible when we decide to make the choice to choose ourselves and shine our light on others and show others what’s possible. You’re changing the world.
Rex Williams says
Amazing piece of writing, Kristina. You do have a gift. Thanks for picking yourself to make it happen. And thank you Jonathan for picking her (however that works).
Is there any way we can hear ‘the rest of the story’?
Now you’ve got my curiosity juiced.
Rich Proctor says
Guilty as charged!
I needed this post. I can so see myself in your words, you could have been writing it just for me. Definitely this has been the story of my life thus far. Awesome to read the story of one who has faced the same demons and overcome them.
Thank you for writing such an open and honest post Kristina. I, for one, am moved and inspired by it.
Ron Tester says
Kristina: That was awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I know it resonated deeply with me. I have such a hard time picking myself, even when I am in a room full of people that are OK with and even encouraging me to pick myself (such as the crazy-supportive Trailblazer/PTE community). I feel like I am growing in confidence and it’s stories like yours that open my eyes to (as you say) what possible when I start creating my own opportunities.
Paul M says
“The truth is… I woke up one week before that and almost didn’t submit the application or the minute-long video. In fact, it seemed easier to believe that out of the hundreds of people that would apply, it would be only my application that was neither seen, noticed, or selected.
Can you relate to that feeling?”
YES. And when you see it written down like that you realise how crazy it sounds. That’s had instant impact for me, and this is a post to treasure. Thanks!
wow first ever guest post?? I’m seriously impressed. Loved this article! And it’s so true that we (I) often stop and second guess myself when I enter a submission.. or perhaps don’t enter at all! It’s so hard to put ourselves on the line. And if you don’t do it, it might become your greatest regret. One of mine was not submitting an essay about how I would change the world during my senior year of HS so that I could have seen His Holiness the Dalai Lama!! Once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. And I missed it due to fear.
Jamie Flexman says
I love these kind of posts because it shows that we are all alike deep down and that we all want to better ourselves, yet fear change at the same time. I went through a lot of these emotions when I chose to give up my job to live life on my own terms and every day now, I still battle with insecurities and fears.
Well, I figured this out late one evening when I returned home after meeting a group of dear friend of mind. It was just another day and yet I felt some strange tingling inside my stomach. Everyone was talking about joining those big marketing companies after graduation and masters and here I was, silently listening and reviewing my own plans of getting free from these boring job schedules.
Then it struck me. Who cares? It is far better to make a new trial than to follow the ones already created and never feel abundant – because there’s always someone above you, instructing you about the rights and wrongs of the trail.
Paix to Exist helps. Totally. And I’m sure this isn’t all. We’ve a lot more to learn. I’m glad there are people out there like Jonathan and Chris Guillebeau and Leo Babauta and many more who keep this inspiration flowing.
Anne Perry says
What a great article, Kristina! We do have to be our own champions, to live authentically and to live our unique genius. I like the technique to “identify and reverse the No.” I will definitely be implementing that.
I appreciate the sentiment and this is well written. Yet it seems you don’t get much exposure to today’s youth and college students. They swing completely the other way. They generally feel entitled to “yes” at every turn and it boggles their mind when they hear a “no”. And they’ll almost always pick themselves as the best at everything and the obvious choice for anything. Not passing judgement, just saying maybe this inability to pick oneself is a generational thing. I’m hopeful students’ enthusiasm and high estimation of one’s abilities grows and transforms from entitlement into healthy skills of self-advocacy.
Liz Flores says
First ever guest post?? Well you rocked it! This post was incredible, and I think we all become submissive to gate keepers and your right its how were raised…at home and in academic institutions. So many times I find myself sabotaging my own success by going back to those gate keepers and telling myself I cant do this because they said no. Its a cop out, and im done with it! :)