Have you ever found yourself trapped in life by “obligations” you don’t want to do, but feel like you have to? Perhaps your parents asked you to help them clean their house, or they say, “Carry this downstairs for me, thanks” without even pausing to see if you will say yes or no? If you have experienced this, as I have countless times, it means you essentially been trained to believe you don’t have a choice in doing things. This is called learned helplessness. It occurs when you have felt so long as if there is no alternative to saying “Yes” to something that you have forgotten that it’s OK to say “No”.
I have just recently realized in my own life just how true this is for me. I have grown up in a family where the only option to a command is to follow it without thinking about it. If I ever said “No” or asked why some task was being given to me, I got a look that made me feel shameful for ever thinking about disobeying it in the first place. Now while this method of parenting makes for manageable children, I believe that it took away some of my ability to think about why I do things in my own life. I simply say “Yes” whenever I am asked to help someone out, regardless of whether my time or effort could be more useful to my priorities by doing something else. It also diminished my belief that healthy argument and debate are good, which they are, especially with your parents.
I’m currently reading a book called Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. In the beginning chapters he outlines what Essentialism is and the thinking behind it. Essentially (no pun intended) he says that Essentialism is living life by analyzing many options carefully, figuring out the few options that are the absolute best for you at that time, and then dedicating all of your energy toward those few things in order to create momentum. This way, you don’t spin your wheels going “a millimeter in a million directions”.
I really resonated with the book when it talked about how we can do anything, but not everything. There are an infinite amount of good opportunities that will come up in our lives, both to help other people and to help ourselves. But the challenge is to slow down and periodically reflect on your life to sift through those good things and find the few really great things that will cause you to be very fulfilled and successful in your own life. The catch is that once you find those really great things, in order for it to mean anything you then have to eliminate those other “nonessential” things from your life in a skilled way that doesn’t make you look like a jerk.
If you find yourself in college not knowing why you’re there, take a good hard look at your life and try and answer the question, “What do you want from life?” Once you figure that out, think of the best ways that you know of to reach that goal. If college isn’t in that answer, then why are you there? Most likely because you felt like you didn’t have a choice.
While I believe that I deliberately wanted to go to college and that it will do many things to advance me toward a better career, I don’t think that that is the case for everyone. There are many people, like the co-author of this blog, who I believe don’t need a college degree to have success in what they want to do. Unless you are planning on being a doctor, lawyer or engineer, or some other professional that has companies that won’t even look at your resume until you have a degree, then you don’t need to go to college to pursue or have success in your passion. (There are also some business degrees that are useful if you want to be an executive at a company. That’s what I’m heading toward.)
Bottom line, you don’t need to be good at everything to succeed in your own right. In fact, I might go as far as to say that striving to be good at everything will cause you to struggle immensely at life, or at least to feel spread very thin, “Like butter scraped over too much bread,” as our good friend Bilbo would say. Find something you’re passionate about or know will bring about the life you want, and then spend the majority of your time on tasks or projects that will help you reach that goal as soon as possible.