I drive a ten year old Honda CR-V. We paid cash for it when we bought it, and it’s held up remarkably well, still runs and looks great. It’s probably safe to say that I’ll be driving it until the engine drops out or the wheels fall off. In fact, I recently replaced the radio so that I could have BlueTooth/iPhone integration in my pre-smartphone car. I could afford to pay cash right now for a new car, however I choose not to because – as I mentioned – the Honda runs just fine. (To be clear, I believe there’s nothing wrong with having a new car or nice things.)
However, there are times when I’ve felt tempted to fork over the money for a new car, not because I need one but because of a little voice – a narrative – playing in the back of my head. It says something like,
1. “Did you see the way that guy in the BMW looked at you with contempt as he passed you? He’s clearly more important than you are. Just look at his car!”
2. “If your clients see you driving up in a ten year old car, will they trust that you are professionally competent and successful?”
3. “You’ve worked hard and built something cool. You deserve it!”
I don’t believe any of those narratives. (If I did, I’d have already taken the bait and bought a car.) Still, they occasionally emerge from the depths of my subconscious and pester me in the areas I’m most vulnerable. Namely,
- Others won’t respect the work that I do or my professionalism.
- I will somehow be found out or discovered to be the man behind the curtain rather than the Great Oz my clients expect me to be.
- Because of my focus, I will miss out on the fruits of my labor.
I share this story because I also see these same dynamics playing out in the workplace. Certain narratives become rooted in everyday experience, and if we’re not careful, they can begin to define our engagement. We get carried along by the work, the expectations of others, or the career path that was plotted for us by our first manager rather than willfully stepping back and regularly asking “is this really true, or am I living someone else’s life? Am I following my own course, or someone else’s?”
(I’ve also seen people get trapped by the same false narratives that play in my head, regarding their car, house, etc., and they end up working harder and longer for things that have already lost their luster.)
Listen, friends: life, creativity, art and brilliant work are all dependent on centering our lives on the things that matter, making progress daily, and disregarding the voices in our head that want to derail us. We don’t have time to play games. There’s too much critical work to do.
Don’t get derailed by narratives and the illusory expectations of others. Build your life around what really matters, and just focus on doing your work.