“You can be anything you want to be!” That’s the line we’ve been hearing since we were kids. It’s the outward message we’ve always gotten growing up in America. But that statement hasn’t necessarily been a true one for women — at least not from what I experienced. While it may have been what we heard in school, the social messages we received were pretty different.
In reality, we heard about seven options for career paths (give or take a few, but these ones stayed on repeat for me) that others suggested to me when considering my opportunities ahead.
If we wanted to grow up to be “successful” women, we could be:
- a doctor
- a lawyer
- a teacher
- a nurse
- a librarian
- a secretary
- a homemaker
Those were it. Those were the options we could chase if we wanted to succeed in life. At least, that’s the messaging I got. And boy, did I listen!
I went to law school, not because it was what I really wanted for myself, but because it was the thing I thought I’d be good enough at that fit into one of those seven boxes. So, I checked it off the list. I became a lawyer and got the title I thought I wanted. After a few years, I earned the title and the salary and the respect within my field. But I wasn’t happy. I had some major limiting beliefs that kept me stuck in a career that I didn’t want to be in. And to me, that means I wasn’t really succeeding — I was just getting by. But I didn’t know what else to do.
Thinking outside the box of those seven options just wasn’t modeled for me growing up. When I looked at the career landscape, looked around at what was out there, I didn’t see myself reflected. So, I made the assumption that what it was I wanted to create wasn’t possible! Now, I know that’s just a big fat lie! And I’m far from the only one who got taken in by the lie of the seven options.
A lot of women shoot too low. They’re scared to identify a big vision because they’re worried about failure and about how hard it might be to get there. All the science proves that women are hard wired not to want to identify big, hairy, audacious goals, while men will set wildly ambitious goals! Men aren’t worried about stopping one stop short of their vision. They still look at getting most of the way there as success. But us women look at not getting all the way to our ultimate goal as a failure. And we let fear of failure get in the way. It pushes us to make compromises that lead us astray from our true vision.
I caught myself doing this just a few months ago! All the usual fears (of not being good enough, of not being able to convince enough people to hire me, of how that might affect my family) started getting loud. And I found myself saying that I would just do corporate training… it was something that I had tremendous experience doing, so I thought I would just duplicate the kinds of things I’d already done. Putting presentations together like: “The Best Three Ways to Outsell Your Competitor” or “Five Key Tactics for Increasing ROI.” Because those sorts of sessions fit into the box of what “successful” corporate training should look like.
But, thank god, I didn’t go too far down that road before realizing it was a repeat of old, “familiar” behavior! It didn’t line up with my vision, didn’t line up with my why. Doing those kinds of corporate training sessions would just be falling back into the lie of the seven options. It would be falling back into trying to perform what success looks like to other people. But success no longer looks like that for me!
Success isn’t how things look on the outside. It’s a feeling of fulfillment on the inside. It’s getting home at the end of the day and feeling like how I spent my time was aligned with my greater vision.
Most people would say that the careers I had before I really started chasing my dreams were much more within the societal definition of success. But I feel more successful now than I ever have in my life! Because now, I’m doing something I love and believe in. I’m helping other women do things that they love, and being my joyful authentic self every single day. And it’s all because I was finally able to start thinking outside the lie of the seven options.
We are more than that list. And there are so many not-yet-imagined options out there for us! We just have to go back to thinking like a 6 year old — when we wanted to be a music teacher, a women’s clothes store owner, and a veterinarian all at the same time (this may or may not be what my daughter wants to be currently). The truth is, you can be all those things! Or some variation that includes aspects of all those things.
Maybe what you want now isn’t the goal you set when you were six, but think back to who you were when you thought without constraints! That just might help you get clear on who you want to be. Don’t let yourself believe the lie that all of it has to be represented in one category, or that you have to let go of some parts of your dream if they don’t seem to fit into the right box. You can make your own box!
I have a friend whose blog is about baking and running and travel (Baker On The Run) — all the things she truly loves. But she almost didn’t get started because she told herself that it wouldn’t work, because “blog’s are supposed to be about one thing.” Who says that!? Who cares!? That kind of thinking is just society’s way of keeping you stuck exactly where you are. And the people
telling you that are the ones who are stuck there with you.
What if you could create something that didn’t mirror any of that at all? Who would you be if you let yourself be the person you’ve always wanted? If you let yourself chase the dreams you’ve always had?
My guess is you’d be a pretty damn successful woman!