You’ve Been Told NO More Than You Know.
One of the perks of being a psychologist is that everyone tells you everything, eventually! Hearing that Mr. X is cheating on Mrs. X is unfortunate. It’s also more than a bit clichéd when you find out Mr. X cheated with the nanny or Mrs. X’s best friend. Those are the big issues: cheating spouses, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, etc. Everyone more or less knows the reasons why they’re on the couch if they are dealing with one of these issues in their lives. What is peculiar and what often raises red flags are the things people tend to casually breeze over during their session:
Client: “Yeah, back when I was a drug dealer …” or, “She called the cops on me but …”
Me: “Pardon me. What did you just say? Can we press rewind?”
What is of particular interest is the more nuanced dialogue disguised as common sense. These clichés are often more dubious than we think, warranting, at the very least, a cautionary yellow flag:
“You need a fallback plan.” Plan B sucks!”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Easter egg hunting will never be the same.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too!” Stale cake doesn’t do anyone good.
“Not everybody will (or can) become a ________.” If not you, then who?
Part of the reason for waving the yellow caution flag on these clichés lays in their ubiquity and that the ubiquitous is generally taken for granted or accepted as fact. Like a Starbucks in every strip mall or the fact that the Lululemon store is almost always placed within eyeshot of the Apple Store. What we assume we are taking at face value still communicates a deeper message.
The four sayings above are spoken as if “that’s just the way it is” and they’re understood as if they are not to be questioned. Many of us subconsciously sabotage our inclination toward the initial thing we want to do because these clichés have hidden back doors built into them—a way out when the going gets tough.
The good news is this: you are primed for an amazing amount of optimism. How else would you come up with such grand ideas in the first place? The irony? Our friends, parents, and school counselors say such things out of good intention, so we don’t get our hopes up too much. The problem is1 that, on your way to doing or becoming what you want in life, you have been told N-O more times than you can k-n-o-w2 and, unfortunately, in more ways than you would expect.
The other day I heard a kid tell his dad that he wanted to be a pro athlete, and the first thing that came out of the parent’s mouth was, “Well son, that means you’ve got to practice a lot and study real hard—not everyone makes it to the pros.” At that point I thought to myself, “Why on earth would this kid want to continue down that path? How is this motivating? Especially to a kid.” Somewhere between Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, and anything Malcolm Gladwell has written, we feel it’s necessary to impress upon our younger protégés, children, or mentees, just how much work it takes to achieve. But does a ten-year-old need to know it takes 10,000 hours to gain mastery in a subject?3 Shouldn’t we just say to such a bright-eyed boy, “Cool, let’s make it happen!”