One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, only really recently learned, is that other people’s opinions can be very, very dangerous. In the past lessons haven’t come to me suddenly, but over time, or through “Aha Moments” as Oprah refers to them. This was the case yesterday.
Have you ever had an idea for a new project or venture in your life only to be questioned by other people in a way that feels like they’re shooting it down? Have you ever had a dream you wanted to follow in your life only to have everyone around you put in your place and make you realize that those dreams aren’t possible? My experience has shown that typically these aren’t people who want to see me fail, but rather, people who love and care about me, so why then would they not want me to follow all of my dreams? Maybe, just maybe they’re afraid I won’t achieve those dreams and be disappointed and they’re afraid I’ll get hurt.
In the past few years every time I have a new idea for a project I’ve found myself running it by 5-10 other people. I’m not sure if I’m looking for them to talk me out of it or for their validation, but the result is that it just makes me feel incredibly stuck and I end up not being productive at all.
Recently I’ve wanted to start a book review blog. Almost everyone I talk to gives me suggestions or tells me not to start another blog. Everyone gives me very constructive criticism but none of it feels true to my heart. Yes start a book blog but don’t use other social media accounts. No don’t start a new blog, just use your current blog. There are so many book review blogs, why do you need to do one? Seriously, another blog? I love you Peter but the amount of projects you start and don’t finish is becoming ridiculous. These were just some of the comments I received over the past few days.
When I was in high school I wanted to be a fashion designer. No, I didn’t just want to be a fashion designer, I lived to be a fashion designer. By 9th grade I read every major fashion magazine and knew every designer. I taught myself to sew on a sewing machine, making my own patterns and designing my own ideas. I also would go to thrift stores and buy tons of different clothes combining them into new designs. Later, I saw almost identical designs hanging in a local boutique for upwards of $100-$200. I didn’t care. I made my clothes for my friends, especially my friend Lecia who was my muse and wore all of my clothes. One night, my mother, who had been supportive and even bought me my sewing machine, walked in on me preparing a jacket for Lecia late after midnight. She saw me hand sewing silk flowers onto a jean jacket and said, “You know, fashion is much more than just sewing some flowers onto everything you do.” And that was it. I gave the jacket to Lecia and never made another thing. I still haven’t. I have since seen designers like Zac Posen, Vivienne Westwood, Dior and Alexander McQueen make elaborate designs all with silk flowers.
When I decided to start my private practice almost everyone in my life questioned me, telling me I was taking too high of a risk and that I wasn’t going to be successful, but I did it anyway. That was over ten years ago and I’m still in practice. Several people said the same thing when I started writing my book, but here I am, working on my 2nd and 3rd simultaneously, having already published my first. I wanted to be one of the best substance abuse counselors for teenagers in the Midwest but didn’t have the education or the experience. Everyone I knew was encouraging but careful with me, explaining that maybe it was too much of challenge being that my life experiences weren’t necessarily the job requirement for being a great counselor. But I didn’t agree with that; I wanted to be ;the counselor I never had. Thirteen years later, I left a career as an adolescent counselor and believe that maybe I positively affected a few lives in my wake.
If you know me well you know I’m the kind of guy that comes up with a new idea every five minutes. I currently have 28 books intricately outlined and ready to be written. My old supervisor used to call me her “visionary”. Most of my ideas never come to fruition. When I was a child they said I had a wild imagination and lived in my head, but today I believe I just see possibilities others don’t. This was what I realized yesterday. I look around the world at all of the people who are successful and have achieved their dreams. I’ve achieved many of mine but I still have a few left and new ones come into my mind every day. What has stopped me from being as successful as those other people? One thing…I stopped listening to myself and started listening to others. I think its great to get constructive feedback from other people but you really have to follow your own dreams. Those things that I wanted to do my own way that others questioned have been the things I’ve been most successful at in my life.
When I started my private practice I deliberately made my office look like a living room with lots of art and couches. To this day people ask me if I live there. I also deliberately made sure never to dress “business” but to instead wear jeans or shorts, tee shirts and hoodies and typically a trucker hat. Have I been the counselor/life coach for everyone? No, but those that do click with me are typically those that want a relaxed setting. I adore all of my clients and feel that we’re an eclectic tribe. But when I started everyone told me what my office should look like and people questioned me for wearing shorts and flip flops. “That’s not very professional”. But it worked. Not only did it work but I created an environment where I love to go to work with people who I consider not only clients but friends.
I think I’ve learned that I have to stop asking everyone else their opinion for validation of my ideas. My best ideas, though risky, have been the ones where I’ve been most successful. Those people who think outside the box and want to do things different than everyone else are always questioned, but at least they’re following their dreams. The reality is that I am most productive when I have fifteen projects rather than one or none. The days that I am working on a new blog, writing my book, seeing clients, designing a photo shoot, working out, reading a book and listening to a book on Audible, make vision boards, picking out the perfect outfit, making a playlist and going to a meeting, are the happiest days of my life. It is on those frantic, busy days that I am most passionate and putting out the most creativity in the world. On other days when I am questioning all of my choices I end up taking a nap and watching TV, not accomplishing anything.
My mother always dreamed of being a trial attorney, living on a houseboat in San Fransisco Harbor, but people told her she probably couldn’t make it through law school. She also wanted to be a costume designer, like Edith Head, working on huge epic films, but she didn’t know how to sew and a few friends laughed when she mentioned it. “Oh Bobbie, you always were so crazy!” But she meant it. Once she told me she had always dreamed of being a folk singer, playing on stages and at festivals. She taught herself to play guitar and harpsichord. Fear kept her from every trying even an amateur night. My mother dreamed of being a writer, but never believed her writing was good enough because she once received negative feedback from a poetry magazine for a poem she submitted. ONE NEGATIVE COMMENT and she never submitted another piece of work. When she passed away I found an almost entirely completed manuscript in our basement. We give so many people power over our dreams.
I don’t believe that the people who I ask for advice want me to question myself. I believe they want me to be happy and successful. But it’s not really about them anyway. It’s about the confidence I lost somewhere along the way. It’s about my self concept and how I see myself. I want people to say, “Yes! That is an incredible idea!”, when I should be saying to myself, “Yes! That is an incredible idea! Get on it!”
The lesson I’ve learned is that it is time to stop talking and get to it. Those days in high school were powerful for me. I don’t remember questioning my choices, I just made them. I’d take $10 into Thrifty Threads and buy sweaters and old silk dresses and delicately sew them together. I could see the patterns come alive in my mind. And the next day, Lecia would show up to school in my newest outfit. It was wonderful. I miss those days.
By the way, I’m going ahead with the book blog. It may be a complete failure but I won’t know until I try. And I’m doing it my way.
And I have ideas for other projects too. Oh, so many new ideas…
What does your dream life look like? Get on it before it’s too late!
Please check out my book!