A few months ago one of my coaching clients, Stella, became unsure about what to do next. She wanted to change her job, and move to a new city. She also wanted to meet a partner, and had started to wonder whether she might want kids after all, or not.
Stella had been pondering all of the above for a couple of years and couldn’t work out the answer to any of it.
She’d tried journalling, talking to friends, Googling, the works.
By the time we spoke, she was in a world of overthinking, pressure and stress.
She was fed up, and so she got in touch.
*Stella is not Stella’s name. Stella is one coaching client in particular, yet her story closely resembles hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, some of which I’ve merged into Stella’s story for privacy.
In the past, Stella has always followed her gut instinct. She’s taken plenty of risks. She’s quit stable, high performing jobs to follow her gut, she’s travelled a tonne, and she’s ended relationships that looked good from the outside.
Stella told me that her friends tend to look at her with wide eyes every time she announces yet another major life change.
Her courage to follow her gut has meant she’s lived an interesting, dynamic life full of adventure and professional success.
But recently, she’d lost her way and had started to doubt her instincts.
She was getting advice from all angles, and it was spinning her mind into overdrive.
78% of my clients are in a similar position — stuck, unable to get clarity about their career, their relationships, whether to have kids, or where to live. The remaining 22% want to feel more aliveness and fulfilment and/or to learn to manage their thoughts and emotions skillfully so they can stop accidentally snapping at their kids/ partner/ barista. Most want all of the above.
(Pst – If you’re in a similar situation and fed up of overthinking the bejaysus out of everything — book in a free chat with me here to see if we’re a good fit for 1:1 coaching. I bloody love helping people get unstuck and get clear on their big life decisions. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get unstuck when you have the right support.)
I often work with “black sheep”
— people who feel restless when they try to fit themselves into a conventional life (even if they’ve so far managed to fit themselves perfectly into such a life). Many of them love travel and variety, and have an urge to do things a little or a lot differently than most.
But one day they wake up and find themselves stuck, unsure, confused. Wondering if they’re being too flakey/ too selfish/ getting life all wrong.
All of Stella’s friends are living very different lives to her, full to the brim with stability and security — big houses, stable jobs, husbands, wives, kids, and pool noodles.
Stella felt prettttty damn sure she didn’t want some of those things.
Especially not the pool noodles.
But having been a black sheep, going just slightly against the grain her whole life, she’d started to doubt herself.
For decades, she’s been surrounded by people who lovingly but confusingly make her second guess most of her life decisions.
“You’re not a spring chicken,” “There’s still time to have kids,” “You can’t always have what you want in a partner.” “Why don’t you settle down and stop moving around all the time.” And “Y’know, dating a guy who’s a bit boring is better than being alone.”
And my favourite bollocks: “Don’t be so choosy”!
This kind of well-meaning advice from friends and family is cyanide for our gut instinct.
Too much time spent in the presence of people who are living very different values from us opens up all sorts of cracks into which self doubt sneaks.
Especially if those people judge us for going off-piste.
“Do you want to be living like any of these friends?” I asked Stella.
“Oh hell, no!” She exclaimed. “They love their lives, and that’s awesome for them, but I just don’t think it’s for me.”
I find myself sharing this with my coaching clients so frequently I’ve contemplated getting it tattooed on my cheek:
Don’t take too much advice from anyone who’s not living the kind of life you want to live.
Unless their advice is “Do what feels right for you.”
If they have completely different values to you, their advice will fit you approximately as well as size 4 bikini.
Unless you’re size 4, in which case you’ll have to adjust the metaphor.
Well-meaners love to say “If I were you…” and then launch into advice that’s perfectly designed for…
Which can be bloody confusing if you haven’t yet learnt to tune into (or trust) your gut instinct.
When you don’t know how to hear your gut, the mind (your Neville) takes over.
With your Neville in charge, comparisons and opinions of others become extremely important.
We look around at what everyone else is doing and realise, Oh shit, my life looks nothing like their lives?? 😬 I don’t own a house… I don’t have kids… I’m not married… I’m not an entrepreneur… I’m not following my bliss… or changing the world… Cripes!
We start to think that perhaps we’ve got it all wrong. Have we been too unserious? Too un-grown up? Have we been too selfish?
Is it selfish to live a life that your gut instinct tells you to, rather than the life that 86% of everyone else seems to be living?
Is it selfish to march to the beat of your own bongos?
These are mind questions that aren’t taking you anywhere helpful.
Stella had recently been on a couple of dates with a guy who was obsessed with cricket. They just didn’t click. At all. Also, Stella hates cricket. Yet a few of her friends had tried to convince her to “stop being so choosy” and keep dating him anyway.
“Christ,” I exclaimed, “Do they want you to play cricket too?”
We back-and-forthed about cricket for a while longer, laughing as we spun the whole of life into a cricket analogy.
Everyone in Stella’s life is playing “cricket”. Playing by cricket rules:
Hit the ball as hard as you can, ideally over the rope thingo. Run back and forth.
Rub the ball on your white pants for no apparent reason. Throw it at the sticks. Repeat.
In this analogy the rules of cricket are the tick boxes of society’s prescribed “ideal life”…
Climb the ladder. Get engaged to someone good looking. Instagram the shit out of your splayed, diamonded, manicured hand, preferably in Porto-Vecchio, with a picnic in the background.
Buy yourself an SUV that you don’t know how to park, pop a couple of kids and a spadoodle in it. Start a not-for-profit to save the world. Instagram all of the above with beige filters.
Hell, why not mention a few “vulnerable shares” on Instagram (gag) about how life with kids is actually a bit of a shit fight TBH, while maintaining a general air of fabulousness. Repeat.
Congrats, you’re nailing the game of cricket.
If you bloody love playing cricket, fair play to you.
Just try to remember, not everyone loves cricket as much as you do. We don’t all need to follow the rules of cricket to be happy.
Stella is more of a lacrosse player. Or a pickleball player. Or some other slightly obscure sport that’s not well understood by most folks.
Did you know there is such a sport as pickleball?
I drove past a sign for it the other day and double-taked so hard I nearly drove into a curb.
When it comes to the game of life, cricket players often JUST WANT EVERYONE ELSE TO PLAY CRICKET.
“You’ll be lonely if you don’t play cricket.” They cry.
“What about when you’re 89 with no grandkids, won’t you wish you’d played cricket then?”
If you were a lacrosse player and all your friends were cricket players, you wouldn’t take it too seriously if they tried to tell you to whack the ball for six instead of catching it in your little net on a stick thingo.
You’d be like “Nah mate, that’s not my game! Your rules don’t apply to me, you silly whippet.”
When people give you unsolicited advice about how to play your game, just remember:
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
Which is definitely not the right use of that saying. But I know you know what I’m saying, you pickleball fanatic.