A stay-at-home mom finally sends her youngest off to school and decides to go back herself and gain a master’s degree. On the morning walk, her friend responds to the idea with, “Why would you do that? Isn’t it too late in life to be worth it?”
In the office down the street, a man sits in his cubicle, evaluating the job that he has detested for the last decade. He decides to make a change. His current position is driving him to the grave much sooner than he would have liked and it feels like slow torture. Upon hearing his ideas of changing careers, his brother responds with, “What about your responsibilities? Your family? You can’t go chasing dreams.”
Everyday people such as: empty-nesters, people stuck in a rut, or individuals simply trying to better their situation are looking themselves in the eyes and making ambitious goals. But then life occurs. We have all heard of the single-mom that wishes to gain better employment to make a more substantial life for her children only to have her co-worker argue, “You don’t have time, just be glad that you even have a job.”
“Who are you to do that?” “Who are you to think that you can accomplish something so big, so great, so life changing?” Even in a positive light, it still seems like such a daunting undertaking because change always is. Added to that pressure, we have the outside world slyly convincing us that we don’t have the right to want or even hope for a better situation. I have had others say it to me numerous times; in fact, to be honest I have said it to myself more than anyone has ever said it to me. It hits me hard when I hear of this negative pressure being waged against ambition. It is difficult enough to take the first step out of our comfort zone without others reminding us of the “why nots.” It is a goal-killer. It robs us of hope and makes us feel bad and inadequate. That pressure is enough to make us never take that leap, it begs us to quit and to be like everyone else. Additionally, we have to recognize that sometimes others aren’t the source of the negativity, they are only reinforcing our own fears.
For example, when I signed up for my PhD program, the admissions officer told me that I didn’t look like a graduate student. She could have smacked me across the face and I wouldn’t have taken it as hard as I did her comment. “Even she knows I shouldn’t be here,” I told myself. “I’m a business man in the corporate world and don’t belong anywhere near a university. I can’t keep up with these students who are smarter, younger, and have more free time than I do.” Just imagine if I would have had friends and family reinforcing those doubts. I would never have gotten started. As it turned out, I wasn’t as smart, young, or free as the other students but I didn’t need to be. I only needed to take the first step of applying and then to take the last step of working hard and finishing ... and I did.
Looking back on that experience and on the stories that I have heard, I wonder why people say the horrible sentence, “Who are you to do that?” and I feel for those on the receiving end. Following our ambitions is never a negative, even in failing, we become stronger. Remind yourself that the positive gains from moving forward will far outweigh any fears, changes, and apprehensions that kept us from even starting. Remember, it is YOUR career, it is YOUR life, only YOU can dictate where it is going.
• A consultant, author, PhD, triathlete, father, and resident of Gilbert, Dr. CK Bray is a career and organizational development expert who has worked with numerous organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to emerging start-ups. He can be reached at ck@DrCKBray.com or find his blog and more at www.DrCKBray.com.