Have you ever wanted to do something in your life but you ‘thought better of it’? Like quit your job, launch your own business, take a year out for travelling or…shave your head?
I’ve had feelings like this my whole life; things I’ve wanted to say but haven’t, things I’ve wanted to do but didn’t. What is that? Where does the initial desire to change or go against the status quo come from and what makes some people follow through whilst others ignore them?
I think these questions are fascinating and the answers are complex. If I were restricted to a sentence I’d say: (1) We’re programmed to ‘fit in’ because it’s key to our survival (fitting in means we’re part of a tribe) and (2) our lizard brain wants to keep today the same as yesterday because if we survived yesterday we’ll survive today…providing nothing changes!
Sadly, we’re culturally programmed to go with the group consensus and we’re biologically programmed to do the same thing day in, day out. They are overriding drivers in us and for most of us, things will never change. We’re a slave to this programming because we don’t even recognise that it is in fact programming: it’s not ‘who we are‘.
But some of us do recognise it as programming, or at least we experience great un-ease doing what’s expected of us. We have a sense of never fitting in, of wanting to ‘go off’ and do something different. We have desires, curiosities and ambitions that lie outside of this biological and cultural programming; drivers that pull at our heartstrings daring us, bating us to take new action.
So do you stay or do you go? It depends…on the trade off.
Let’s say you’re stuck in a job you hate and you’ve been there for years. You really want to leave and set up your own business but you’re too scared because people will think you’ve lost your mind and you’re worried it won’t work out. But you hate your job and you hate Mondays and every day you dream of leaving to set up your new business. Sound familiar?
Here’s the trade off: you can stay because it’s safe, you can stay because it’s what you know and you can stay because there is no risk of failing at running your own business. But, the cost is that you drink wine to distract yourself or gain weight because you’re unhappy (for me, I drank coffee to make it through and gained weight through a lot of ‘cheer up calories’!) and you never get the experience of running your own business.
On the other hand, you can leave because you want the chance to grow, you want to look forward to Mondays and it satisfies your sense of adventure. But, the cost is judgement from peers, a much reduced salary for a few years and a lot of uncertainty.
So why do some of us take option A and stay and some of us take option B and go. Well it depends on what you value, and this comes down to conditioning. Have you been raised to value security or adventure? Do you value a safe bet or the thrill of a risk? Do you value fitting in or standing out? Do you value comfort or luxury?
Think about it – what kind of messaging do you hear from family and friends? ‘You’re lucky to have that job, stick at it’ vs. ‘Follow your heart and always strive to do what you love’. Here’s another one: ‘I have to be married with kids by 30’ vs. ‘I want to do everything I want to do before I settle down’. One more: ‘Don’t be lavish; a second hand car with good mileage is the economical choice…it’s just a car’ vs. ‘Spend your money on what you love: you drive that car every day so get the one that looks and feels good to you, even if it costs a little more!’.
You would be amazed at how much statements like this condition our response.
I’ve been raised to play it safe, to get a good job, buy a decent second hand car and settle down in a small town. No-one has ever sat me down and given me this checklist but it’s a model in my family; a blueprint and it’s the one I’ve been taught. That’s what people do in my family and that’s what gets the praise at dinner time. I can tell you that ‘I’m quitting to launch my own business’ was not met with ‘oh well done, great idea!’ at dinner time haha.
You see, it’s not always what people say but what they do that conditions us too. We follow the models set up for us by parents and family and friends. That’s okay that my family wants these things for me – they know doing this will keep me safe but I know I will never be happy in work, I’ll never be fully satisfied driving a little run around and I won’t grow the way I want to in small town. I want to build a million pound business. I want a Mercedes SLC and I want to live all over the world*. (*Smiling away as I type this)
So why did I shave my head? Because I wanted to. Because it will grow back anyway. To satisfy that niggling desire I had to see how it feels. But the biggest underlying reason comes down to what I value: I value personal growth, I value empowerment and I value ‘daring’ to give it a go more than I value fitting in.