I hate it when someone stomps on another person’s dreams. Man, it fires me up.
It’s one thing when it’s a troll or total stranger.
It’s quite another when the perp is a family member, friend, or trusted advisor.
The idea that a loved one would be a barrier to our happiness is maddening.
Yet it happens all the time.
Dreamer: I’m finally going to pursue my dream of starting that t-shirt business.
Dream Crusher: You know, honey, so many businesses fail.
Dreamer: I’m thinking about going freelance so I can travel the world.
Dream Crusher: You’ll need to get a real job eventually…How are you going to explain this to your next employer?
Dreamer: I discovered this start-up that I’m really excited about.
Dream Crusher: Why would you leave a perfectly good job to risk it all?
Bonus points if they launch into an ‘In my day…’ rant about how people today are so entitled and it’s unrealistic to like everything about your job and there’s a reason they call it ‘work’ and you should be grateful for having a job in the first place.
I can’t argue with the gratitude part, but those other beliefs are dead wrong.
We know this. Yet when people we care about criticize our ideas, it’s like a dagger to the heart. We value their opinion. We want to make them proud. It’s tempting to abandon our ideas on the spot.
Here’s how to navigate the maze of unsupportive, unsolicited advice from people you care about.
“Silence Is a Source Of Great Strength”—Lao Tzu
What’s the intention behind their response? Is it coming from concern, jealousy, or something else?
Advice coming from a place of concern seems more palatable on its face. They want the best for us, right?
Beware concern rooted in the fear that you won’t be successful.
People’s advice is often delivered through the prism of their experience. They share stories that support their worst fears. Their neighbor’s daughter who’s your age had big dreams and now she lives in a van. Their best friend’s cousin-in-law quit her job and now sleeps on a friend’s couch because she can’t afford a van. These stories are not only extreme, they’re built on the premise that your path will be paved with hardship and misery and vans until you eventually fail.
Assuming you’ll fail is not support, no matter how it’s presented. Nor is trying to protect you from struggle. The assumption that struggle must be avoided at all costs is exactly how you end up taking the path of least resistance.
Let’s be honest, good old-fashioned jealousy often plays a role. Whether they’ve tried and failed or are too scared to try in the first place, others may have good reason to hold you back. It justifies the end result for them.
Understand where their advice is coming from, so you can deal with it. If they criticize you for being irresponsible, share with them your detailed plans. If they’re concerned you won’t make money, show them your research to the contrary.
I’m a big fan of telling the important people in your life what you want from them. Before you introduce your idea, tell them what will make you feel supported.
I have a couple of people in my life whose first instinct is to bring up potential barriers. It 100% comes from a place of love, but it’s not helpful, especially when I’m already feeling nervous or vulnerable.
I tend to express this by shouting, “What kind of monster wouldn’t support this? You don’t want me to be successful!” when what I really mean is, “I know you want the best for me, so when I share my latest idea, just go with it. Trust me, I share your darkest fears. I just need you to believe in me.”
Sometimes the best answer is silence. Give it space and avoid the topic until you can demonstrate results.
Does Father Really Know Best?
Buried in all this advice and concern is the belief that they know better than you.
Maybe they don’t fully crush your dream; they just think that their way is better.
This was the one that got me time and time again in my career.
From a young age, I was interested in writing and design. While my family encouraged my creativity as a child, it all changed once I started talking about pursuing a creative career.
In eighth grade, I announced I wanted to be an interior designer. This was met with, “Oh, they don’t make any money. You’ve seen how your father struggled…”
In college, I talked about writing. “You’d have to go a more practical route, like Advertising, if you wanted to earn a living.”
In my early thirties, when I talked about helping people improve their lives through therapy or counseling, I was given all sorts of reasons why I’d have to go to med school, and why even then it would be so hard to start a private practice. “Your uncle knows all about that.”
Aside from the limited vantage point of my dad’s and uncle’s experiences, do you notice all the hidden money beliefs?
That being said, these powerful examples were enough to keep me toiling away in a career that I didn’t love.
Why? Because of that nagging thought, “What if they’re right?”
So how do we know if there’s any truth to their claims?
Conduct due diligence. Do your research. Talk to others who have figured it out. Rather than automatically accepting their truth, find out what’s true for you. Maybe the things that bother other people aren’t that big a deal for you.
You don’t have to discount your loved ones’ experiences entirely. There may be some helpful nuggets in there. Consider yourself lucky to have those data points of what didn’t work for them. Once you have the benefit of knowing the pitfalls and paths that don’t work, blaze your own trail.
What If Your Career Dreams Had 9 Lives?
We’re most susceptible to dream-crushers right at the beginning when we haven’t done any work yet.
The voice in our head conspires with our loved ones to agree that this thing will never work.
They suggest that the odds are so stacked against you, you might as well not try.
Resist this temptation.
If this teeny tiny baby kitten (and matching rug) was your dream, how could you abandon it? Care for it just as you would a living, breathing thing.
Luckily for me, my career dreams had 9 lives. I let myself be talked out of things for many years until I decided to find out for myself.
It was not a straight line. I went to Design school. I dropped out of Design School for a corporate writing gig. I tired of corporate and went to coaching school for some answers. I realized I could help people through coaching. I figured out how to make writing a key element of my business.
Funny how once I actually tried, I figured out a way to pursue design, writing, and helping others in a way that was unique and fulfilling for me. I’ve found multiple ways to do the things I love, and I know even more possibilities await.
Best of all, I’m thrilled about the struggles and lessons I learned along the way. I turned those real and imagined scary stories of failure into inoculations that paved the way to success.
None of this would have happened had I continued to let the well-intentioned worries of other people dictate my path.
The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House
What happens when you’re the biggest dream-crusher of them all? When everyone supports your dreams except you?
When I announced I was leaving corporate to focus full-time on my coaching business, everyone was on board. My boss and mentor were so cool with it that I called my mentor back to ask, “Is everyone so supportive because you can’t wait to get rid of me?” Ugh. We are our own worst enemies.
If you find yourself in crowd of people cheering you on, listen! A big part of success is trusting even when you don’t believe. Revel in others’ belief until you can build it within yourself.
Get Your Own Damn Glasses
Of course we want the path to be as smooth as possible. Of course we want to know the realities. But I’d argue that the people closest to you are not the best arbiters of reality.
It’s like living your life wearing someone else’s glasses: The wrong prescription, a style that doesn’t suit you, a completely skewed view.
Perhaps it’s an interesting perspective, but it’s not your own.
Get your own damn glasses and find out for yourself.