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When we’re faced with big or difficult decisions, it can be hard to know when to listen to ourselves and when to listen to those around us.
Years ago, when I told my dad I was thinking about going back to school to earn an MBA, he tried to talk me out of it.
He told me that all I need to succeed in business is common sense, hard work, and a solid knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And besides, he’d dropped out of college and he’d done alright.
By that point, I’d worked many different jobs in our family business—I’d washed cars and later sold them, and I’d scooped popcorn and hosted private events at our theaters.
And although I didn’t see a career path for myself inside our family business, I didn’t want to leave. Leaving, I told myself, would have been too much like leaving the family, and I didn’t want to do that.
I was stuck.
Maybe, I thought, another college degree would help. So, against my dad’s advice, I went back to earn an MBA.
In a class during my first semester, the professor gave each student a sheet of blank paper and a box of crayons. He told us to draw a picture of how our lives would turn out because we got an MBA.
After a few minutes, he had us share with the class.
Many students depicted themselves driving BMWs or other fancy cars. Some had Ferraris. There were lots of big homes in nice neighborhoods, along with tropical vacations and private schools.
More than a few students sketched themselves in a corner office with “CEO” above the door or at the top of a (literal) corporate ladder. Some even depicted themselves holding bags of money. I just thought they looked like bank robbers.
I hadn’t known what to draw. I couldn’t see how my life would be much different as a result of earning an MBA.
I already had many of the things my fellow students had drawn—nice cars, a beautiful home, exotic vacations—but I still wasn’t happy.
I knew that more of those things wouldn’t fulfill me, and probably wouldn’t fulfill them either.
As the semester progressed, I quickly understood that not only was I not there for the same reasons my classmates were, I didn’t enjoy the coursework either.
I’d hide out in the library to work on a screenplay or play video games. The more I attempted to distance myself from my reality, the more stress and anxiety I felt. None of my problems got better by trying to escape them.
About a year into my MBA program, my dad began constructing a 511-acre motor sports park in Utah’s West Desert. He invited me to be a part of it. It was the perfect excuse to drop out.
Long story short—my life got worse before it got better.
I never did end up finishing that MBA, but I did get a different sort of education.
I learned that I’ll never succeed in making everyone else happy, and I’m certain to make myself unhappy if I try.
A friend of mine once said, “If you have a song to sing and you don’t sing it, it becomes depression.” That was true in my case.
I’m happiest when I listen to myself, even when other people don’t understand or approve. (Even when I don’t understand!)
I also learned that my decisions turn out better when they’re based on what I want instead of what I don’t want.
I learned that it can be hard to know what we want.
I learned that it can be easier to navigate life by simply choosing the least crappy option that comes along. But that’s a very different approach—and produces a very different set of feelings—than doing whatever it takes to gain clarity and living into that future no matter what.
I learned that it’s common to feel that something’s absent from our lives.
And I learned that, very often, what we thought was missing was actually right in front of us all along.
All that’s needed to see it is the willingness to live with authenticity and courage.
This week’s Transformational Coaching participants will be going through the Authenticity course. Watch the course intro video here.
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