“If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford
“When we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing and expecting a different result.” – The definition of insanity
There comes a time for all of us, in our lives, leadership and careers that doing things the way we’ve always done is not enough. However, doing things differently opens us up to feelings of fear and vulnerability. Of being judged, criticized or doubted, of being labeled “oddball”, “rebel”, “weirdo” or worse. Even taking seemingly benign steps toward change can cause blowback from unsupportive or critical people. We must remember that those who are busy judging others and seem jealous of their progress are often too scared to make moves to improve themselves. They criticize, judge or ridicule others to keep them in check, keep them from succeeding and to exercise control over someone else.
Because of this, many times we choose conformity and comfort over the baggage that being different can bring. Taking the road less traveled, however, doesn’t have to be a complete makeover. It can be as simple as changing our habits and practices. What are you willing to do to improve the results you’re getting at work and in life? Are you willing to go to bed earlier, watch less TV or spend less time on social media? Are you willing to go “all in” on your goals, get help when stuck, read more, find partners to progress with? Are you OK with being judged for doing extraordinary, unusual things that you know serve you well? What we tend to forget is that with changed direction, habits and practices can come wild successes, deeper self-knowledge and fulfillment we just can’t get on the road more traveled.
For me, this push against the norm, started in middle school. I realized that the kind of life I wanted for myself would involve education yet bringing books home, doing homework, asking questions in class, entering the science fair, etc. won me the label “nerd”. The term nerd has gone through a renaissance and is now quirky-cool. But back then, it was awful. Despite the gauntlet of teasing, I saw the results of my work improve and more and more opportunities emerged, leading to a full ride college scholarship out of high school. Those lessons have led me on my path ever since: let the critics criticize while I do the work necessary to create what I want to see.
Following your own path and ignoring the critics is rewarding for two reasons. First, the level of fulfillment that comes with making our own decisions, pushing our own limits and providing ourselves what we need to grow is empowering beyond words. Second, it’s always fun to prove critics wrong. I’ve been doing it since middle school and don’t ever plan to stop. I hope you won’t either!