FREEING YOUR IDENTITY FROM THE LIMITS OF VALIDATION
My entire life, I have based important decisions on what others told me I was good at. My teachers, family, supervisors, and every personality test made a point of praising me for my organization, writing, and outrageous work ethic. I was a straight A student growing up, and spent many of my early adult years chasing those gold stars I’d grown accustomed to. My choice of college, the debate over career opportunities, and even my own sense of identity were all wrapped up in those tasks I excelled at. The things I did well defined who I was – and I genuinely believed this was the way everyone lived. Now, several transitional years later, I hold a fierce and controversial belief: if you want to be happier, quit just doing the things you’re ‘good’ at.
I know, it sounds blasphemous – but hear me out. I spent many years confusing excelling at something for genuine passion. I thought (and I don’t think I was alone in this) that if I built a career around tasks that were easy for me to complete, well, I’d be happy. It turns out that being proficient in a job is not the same thing as being passionate about it, regardless of how many accolades you receive. I finally understood that this is why so many of my new career adventures didn’t light me up! It was like I was cooking dinner with the same three ingredients, night after night. Although the presentation was different, it all tasted the same – and none of it was fulfilling or exciting.
One day, I woke up to the realization that I wasn’t being proactive about creating the skills I needed to live the life I wanted.
This was a major shift for me. Instead of desperately trying to create an exciting position out of the skills I already possessed, it occurred to me that I could tap into an infinite capacity to learn something new. While I can’t pinpoint exactly when I began to believe that the abilities I was recognized for were all I would ever have, I know it happened early on in life. I had unknowingly put myself inside of a box, and now, I was no longer comfortable there. It was time for a change.
To make this transformation, I had to embrace being a beginner again. I still used the expertise I’d developed throughout my life, but rather than allowing it to limit my career, I utilized it as a starting point. I stopped working outrageously hard in a dead-end corporate job so I could use that work ethic for myself. I stopped organizing everyone else’s work, and focused on my own. Most importantly, I sought to understand myself outside of the traits I’d been praised for and defined by. I recognized what I actually enjoyed doing, and started to intentionally flex those muscles instead. With time and attention, those muscles started to strengthen, and became new skills of their own. Now, my career and life are built around what I love.
When we stop limiting ourselves to simply what others tell us we’re good at, we free up the space to chase endless new ideas, concepts, and dreams.
After all, being an expert at something is only the result of repetition and practice. With time, you can understand and excel at whatever you commit to. I may not receive as many gold stars these days, but I am free from looking for external validation. Instead, I’m immensely proud of my work, I love what I do, and I spend every day growing. And that’s worth a hell of a lot of gold stars, if you ask me.
Be encouraged and inspired to step outside of your comfort zone and into the unknown. It is never too late in life to try something radically new if it’s in the pursuit of a dream. Know you are just as smart, capable, and full of infinite possibility as anyone else. So, stop doing the things you’re good at if they don’t bring you joy, focus on the legacy you want to leave, and quit limiting your own growth by accepting the validation of others as truth. The only voice that you are obligated to listen to is your own.
Photos by: Eun Creative