One of the hardest things to do is to follow your own path, especially if it’s the road less taken. It takes clarity, courage and conviction; and the steadfast determination to not let unproductive comparisons sway you from what matters most to you.
What stops us
No matter what country or culture you grew up in, we all live in a society that encourages comparisons. From young, we learn (or are taught) to fit in. If we don’t, we become the kid with no friends, or worse still, the one who gets picked on or laughed at for being different. So we learn quickly, and unfortunately, that being different has its price.
As we become adults and get a job, we’re benchmarked against our company’s expected standards of performance. Meet or exceed these KPIs and you get a bigger pay raise and move faster up the ladder. If you fall short in that comparison, you get left behind.
We’re encouraged to role model other successful leaders to emulate what they do to accelerate our path to success. And while role modelling has its benefits, again it gets us into a habit of constantly comparing ourselves with others to identify and close gaps.
It’s no wonder that we lose ourselves in the midst of it all. In our eagerness to make a better life for ourselves, we lose sight of what we want. We lose sight of what truly matters to us that gives meaning and purpose to our life, no matter what other successful people are doing.
Then there’s that dreaded FOMO. The fear of missing out. In Singapore, the word ‘kiasu’ is a popular term among locals. It’s a Chinese vernacular that means the fear of losing out. The fear of losing out, in my humble opinion, is the real heart of the issue. We are afraid to lose out when we compare our lives to others.
Undoubtedly a giant stumbling block to following your own path is the pressure of not living up to expectations. Our parents’ expectations is a biggie. Most of us have, at some point in our lives, made choices that were heavily influenced by our parents’ expectations. But let’s face it, we’re adults now. That excuse doesn’t hold anymore.
I think our own expectations of ourselves is far more insidious.
Each of us has created in our mind a picture of the life we think we should be living. The career and job title (Director, GM, VP) we believe we should have achieved by now. The lifestyle we think we should be living. All of which, in greatest likelihood, influenced by a lot of comparisons and what social media depicts as a great life based on everything our friends are posting.
Ironically, this seems to be a lesson that’s hard to learn. Yet, one that we must persist on mastering. As Bronnie Ware points out in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the Number One regret people have is that “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.
So there’s only one simple truth – It’s Your Life. No one else’s.
The choices you make based on what matters most to you may lead you down a road less travelled.
It just means that you’re a trailblazer.
It may raise some eyebrows among friends (and family) as they may not understand or approve.
It just means you have the courage to live true to who you are.
It may mean that you lose out on some things that your friends may have.
Who cares. It’s your journey. So go ahead.
Follow your own path.