Why people you listen to (might be) full of malarkey

My father once penned the words “I hate school” on his arm as a young boy. He brought home poor grades, got into schoolyard scraps and was told by a high school guidance counselor, “You’re not college material. You might as well figure out a trade and find a technical school.”

My father went on to earn a PhD in English, became a published author and poet and later served as the academic dean and vice president for a well-respected university based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In perhaps the most ironic twist of all, my dad ended up becoming that guidance counselor’s boss when both of them worked together years later at the same university.

My dad died when I was 17 years old, so I can’t go back and ask what (or who) convinced him to ignore that verdict spoken over him by a misguided counselor.

But this much I do know: There’s only one individual who can paint an accurate portrayal of what you are – or are not – capable of achieving in your life and career. (And it isn’t your high school guidance counselor!)

“I am the master of my fate,” William Ernest Henley wrote in his famous poem Invictus. “I am the captain of my soul.”

So why don’t more of us live like that? Why are we so quick to settle for what everyone else tells us our career ceiling or lot in life must be? A recent Gallup poll revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans label themselves as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. How can this be the case? Isn’t America the land of opportunity?

Part of it, in my opinion, starts early on and comes via the voices of authority in our lives – parents, teachers and counselors.

Soul Surgery

Maxwell Maltz was known in the 1940s and 50s as a plastic surgeon to the stars, working on some of the most famous faces in Hollywood and professional sports. What he found fascinating, however, was that no matter how much he could improve the external appearance of a person, oftentimes his patients still saw and believed themselves to be ugly or inadequate.

That led Maltz to pioneer research in what would later be coined as the field of self-image and self-esteem.

One of the areas of his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, I found most telling is the massive role our internal self-image plays in determining what we’re able to achieve.

“The reason [a negative self-image] would remain with us rather than just bounce off like water off a duck’s back is what they call limbic memory,” Maltz writes. “This is most controlled by three factors: authoritative source, intensity, and repetition. What we hear from a source we accept as authoritative – such as the father we see as omnipotent, from whom we desperately seek acceptance as a child – is given far more weight than the same statements if heard from what is to us at the time a less credible source. And what we hear repetitively from authoritative sources has even more weight.”

Think about the words spoken over your younger self by your parents, teachers or counselors. What was their verdict on you? Was it one filled with aspiration … or limitation?

Reaching for the Stars

The secret to breaking free from negative pronouncements made over your life is finding a different – and better – authoritative voice to listen to.

Take, for example, the story of Homer Hickam, who grew up in the late 1950s in rural Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer’s father made it clear that Homer should follow in his footsteps and become a coal miner. That, after all, was the reasonable thing to expect for a young man like Homer growing up in Coalwood. But, with zero interest in coal mining or living his father’s life, Homer decided to be unreasonable instead:

Spurred on by the positive – and authoritative – voice of his beloved high school chemistry and physics teacher, Miss Riley, Homer decided to make a way where none previously existed. Excited by the worldwide attention given to the first satellite (Sputnik) launched into orbit during 1957, and obsessed with rockets and outer space, Homer found a way to make his dream happen, despite not having the resources or support of his family – especially his father.

As a grown man, Homer Hickam did the unthinkable – became a NASA engineer – and then topped that off by writing a #1 New York Times Bestseller (Rocket Boys) about his life, which was later turned into a blockbuster Hollywood movie (October Sky).

There are countless more examples in film, story and everyday life of men and women leaving behind what the world or others say they must become and instead stepping into their true self.

Why should you be any different? If this journey is to go anywhere, then we must start here: Anything is possible.

Here’s why: God did not put you on this earth live a second-rate life! What kind of divine creator would go to all the trouble of making someone as unique, complex and talented as you and then expect you to settle for a boring, uninspired life and career?

Now, notice I said anything is possible. I didn’t say it’s easy. Make no mistake – you will have to fight for this. The battle might be circumstances, it might be finances, it might be your own family, it might be the negative narrative you keep telling yourself, but you will have obstacles in your way.

But, looking back at my father’s life, and examining my own, I can see how the journey is more than worth it.

Don’t you agree?

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