“It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.”
- Sheryl Sandberg
What I’m about to write is an act of bravery, the first, I hope, in a long line of things that I’ve been afraid to do. It is one thing to be honest with oneself in the quiet of her own mind, where she can gently push things aside when they get too much to handle. But to put something out there, to face things with world holding you accountable, is different, and much scarier, but also sometimes necessary. So here is my act of bravery for today:
I’ve been waiting to be told what to do. Not just on a small scale, either - not just on a day-to-day basis at work or even in the bigger picture of my career. It’s more than that. I’ve been waiting for the universe, or God, or whomever you think gets things done around here, to tell me what to do with my whole entire life. I’ve been waiting for some sort of instruction manual, a step-by-step guide to success. When it comes to my relationship with myself and my own sense of purpose, I have not at all learned to put in the effort - something that I am seeing now in myself for the first time in my life. I haven’t taught myself to create opportunities or pushed myself into being a leader. Instead, I have been waiting to be told what to do, and barely scraping by as I follow whatever vague directions I am given. This is the source of practically all the frustrations in my life - I constantly feel lost and uncertain, and my view of myself is, as a result, more negative than it should be. When people ask me about my plans for the future, I get annoyed with the question and then brood for the rest of the day, convinced that I am an utter failure because I don’t have an answer. The problem, though, is that I haven’t done anything about it; I sulk for 24 hours or so, but then go on living my life as aimlessly as before, still passively waiting for some external directive. But the onus is on me - no one is waiting to teach me how to live, to show me how to be a leader, to create opportunities for me and then place them neatly in my lap. I need to find a way to do these things for myself.
This is partially a result, I think, of the course of my life so far: when it comes to direction, from birth to age 23 things were always laid out for me. Work hard in school, volunteer, be involved in your community: get into university. Go to class, study for your finals, write papers a week before they are due rather than the night before they are due, work hard, volunteer, be involved in your community: graduate. I even managed to extend the step-by-step manual by another year in doing my MA, so by the time I graduated from the system, I was 23 years old and had absolutely no idea of how to direct myself in the big picture. I had learned plenty; discipline, critical thinking, creativity, and flexibility are all things that were cultivated by my education. But when I was set free from the structure provided by the education system, I felt completely lost: all my life, the next step had been clearly laid out in front of me. Everyone knows that after kindergarten comes first grade, after junior high school comes high school; for me, it was also assumed that after high school would come post-secondary education, and it did. But I didn’t do an education degree, get a diploma in human resources management, or become a journeyman carpenter; I did not have a career, a pay cheque, and a sense of purpose waiting for me at the end of it all - and I know I’m not the only one. I know that even people who have more ‘practical’ education than an arts degree sometimes end up wandering and wondering. So now what? No wonder I have been waiting these past few years for the universe to place a road sign in front of me, clearly indicating which route I should take. Today, it finally occurred to me that this road sign will never appear, that I will never be magically filled with a sense of purpose, that my fate will not be handed to me. I cannot just sit back and wait for something to happen. I need to take matters into my own capable hands and, more importantly, to remind myself that they are, in fact, quite capable. I need to stop underestimating my own ability to make things happen. Because maybe, if I have the attitude that I am capable of anything, I will see more opportunity in the world; I will cultivate my creativity, my curiosity, and I will stop waiting to be told what to do, and start doing. Perhaps, if I change my perception of myself and my purpose, I will be an active participant in my own life, not just going through the daily motions, but diligently and enthusiastically creating my own future success. I’m not exactly sure how I intend to do this, but I am not going to let fear stop me from at least trying; this is too important.
So this is my first act of bravery, a statement of my determination to hold myself to a higher standard. I’ll let you know how it goes.