F the haters

Are you falling for this trap?

F the haters

I recently had a call with a scared college junior. She felt she was falling behind, like she was struggling to keep up. Everyone around her had a job lined up. Everyone else had their life figured out. I called BS.

It's a common trap everyone gets stuck in at one point or another. You can either let the trap hold you back, or you can wriggle yourself free. By the end of the phone call, she had chosen option two and was excited for her future.

Why was she so scared?

  • She had gotten rejected from her top-choice companies.
  • She wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life.
  • She was anxious about her unconventional background.
  • She didn't think she was reaching her full potential.

Pathetic right? It's tragic nobody can relate to this poor young woman. Especially you. You've never been rejected. You're 100% sure you're on the right path. You're confident your life is as great as it could possibly be.

The Trap

She had built a narrative in her head, coming up with every reason to think poorly of herself. She was an expert in self-delusion, with lines like "Everyone has a great job lined up." I cut her off. Sorry, but that's objectively false. Everyone? Many people never even get the opportunity to go to college, much less a college like the fancy one she's at. And over 40% of recent graduates are underemployed, working in a job that doesn't even require a bachelor's degree.

"Ok fine, but I feel like I don't know what to do with my life." This one is probably my favorite because it's universal, yet everyone seems to think it's unique to them. I remember meeting a multimillionaire business owner at a conference who told me he still has days when he's anxious about being on the "right" path in life. He said it never goes away, that he's just winging it.

The girl on the phone asked if I personally ever felt that way.


She was shocked. She assumed that because I have a reputable job and a blog I must have it all figured out. I laughed. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm just as terrified as she is. Deep down, I have no idea what I'm doing.

I have an awful relationship with uncertainty. Am I living in the right city? Am I in the right career? Am I spending my time the right way? I even ask this about fun stuff, like am I watching the right movies or reading the right books. I'm still working my way through Red Dead Redemption 2 despite loving the game since I bought it over four years ago. It's exhausting. I'm doing the best I can (shout out therapy) and I get a little better each day at recognizing more uncertainty means less I can control, and the less I can control, the less I can possibly worry about.

The woman on the phone told me she had an unconventional background that set her apart. (Born in a foreign country, woman studying engineering.) In the next breath she told me she was falling behind the traditional path. These two ideas are fundamentally incompatible. You can't acknowledge your uniqueness and expect to follow a traditional path at the same time. You're writing your own story. Everybody is. If the people around you make you feel bad about your path, you may be hanging with the wrong people. Any negative voice like that (the one in your head is often loudest) is a hater. It's all noise. No need to listen to haters.

When we dug into it, she had lots to be excited about.

  • She was anxious she hadn't gotten a job. There's still an entire year before college is over. Are you quitting now? Don't count yourself out. She later admitted she literally had an interview the next day with a prestigious consulting company. Even people with amazing opportunities get scared sometimes.
  • She was worried if she didn't get a job lined up she'd be toast. This is interesting because when I asked what she'd do in that case, she had a great plan for a startup she'd start with a friend. Amazing. Likely, the startup will totally fail, but the skills she'll build will last a lifetime and I guarantee it'll be the #1 thing people ask her about in future interviews. "Whoa, tell me about the time you were founder/CEO!"

The Truth

  • There's always going to be the person who's more X than you. Fill in the blank.
    • Someone who appears to have it more figured out. Someone who got the promotion faster. Someone who simply makes you feel bad about yourself. You can either focus on their success and how you supposedly don't measure up, or you can focus on living your own life. The grass is always greener on the side fertilized with bullshit. We're all gonna die. Live while you can.
    • This can be really flippin’ hard though. I wrote the first draft of this article, then a few days later listened to a podcast that had me reeling from self-doubt. After listening to this young investor confidently discuss things like procrastination and finding your calling, I was convinced I was falling behind. I was panicking about my current path not being bold enough. Then I spoke with a friend who pointed out podcasts like this are essentially PR pieces designed to make people look like geniuses and that I alone get to decide what "enough" is in my life. I calmed down. Thanks homie. I include this anecdote because I think it’s hilariously ironic that after writing over 1000 words about not getting stuck in mental narratives and not comparing yourself to others, I fell in the same trap after hearing one polished interview. We all get knocked down sometimes.
  • A little bit of gratitude goes a long way (with mountains of scientific evidence backing this up)
    • I keep a weekly gratitude journal, spending just a few minutes each Monday writing a few sentences on two things I’m grateful for from the week before. Sometimes it’s people, relationships, chance occurrences, good weather, etc. Anything that brings a smile to my face. One time I wrote about the beautiful view out of the window in an airplane bathroom. I had never seen a window in an airplane bathroom before and thought it was magical. I had been grumpy during the entire flight until that little window brought some sunshine into my life.
  • What's in your head is just that: in your head.
    • Everything that's not directly in front of you, in this very moment that you're experiencing now, is just something you're thinking about. Nothing more. It's really easy to convince ourselves of things. We're not good enough. We're not successful enough. We're not trying hard enough. Says who? It's your life. You set the bar. Want to get better at recognizing the nature of your mind and thoughts? I like the 30 day mindfulness course on Sam Harris's app. I've done it twice. The first time I failed miserably. How do you fail at a mindfulness app? Good question for a future post...
  • No one is 100% confident at all times that they’re on the right path for their life.
    • Read that again, slower. Take a deep breath and read it once more. It's the most true thing I've ever written. But a lot of students and young professionals don't believe it. Yet. The sooner you recognize the truth there, the sooner you're out of the trap.

It's never just you

Last year, I took students out to dinner and witnessed a beautiful moment between two roommates. One of them opened up about his fears. They were similar to the ones covered in this post. The other roommate was stunned. He saw his friend as the model student: super involved in clubs, great grades, a whiz at time management, gunning for highly selective jobs, etc. He saw himself as confused, uncertain, anxious, lazy. He couldn't believe his friend was scared too. He had been comparing himself to his friend, assuming the other guy had it all figured out. They had been sleeping within mere feet of each other for months, but never were open about their feelings.

At the moment of truth, they almost cried. (Everyone wanted them to, but you can only ask so much of young men. Sigh.)

Bravery isn't the absence of fear. It's recognizing the fear and not letting it stop you.

Afraid to jump? Jump afraid.