How To Not Let Your Identity Steal Your Dreams

Identity Steal Your Dreams

On Mondays especially, do you ever feel like you are working hard on something that doesn’t make you personally feel good? Like you know your work is important to someone but that someone is just not you? You’d be surprised to know that there are successful professionals who work for some of the world’s most admired brands who feel the same.

If you saw their resume or LinkedIn profile you’d think they have everything going for them. You’d never imagine that they could feel like they are missing something. Yet, the reality is that most of us do not share our truest feelings especially if we’ll be judged for them. You may assume that others will think you are ungrateful for your full-time job or client list. You may fear that your circle of friends whom you’ve been telling all along how successful you’ve been is going to think you’ve been lying.

Yet, this feeling of “there has got to be more” is complex. It stops you from showing up as a learner who fails and asks “silly” questions. It’s a showstopper when it comes to asking for help beyond what is expected at work. It keeps you hiding and playing small. Think about it. You are a professional who has to deliver perfect work to others. You’d never publish unfinished work fraught with barely noticeable imperfections. What would this do to your perfect persona? So instead, why risk it? Hide your thoughts and content. No one can judge you if they don’t see it? It’s not like your boss is breathing down for your neck for your artistry. At this point, you’re the only person who knows something is not making its way out into the world. No harm? No foul? Right?

Consider Les Brown, who said:

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

So here is why so few employees and freelancers do not work on their book, business idea, or documentary:

Doing so and failing would be the biggest blow to your identity. It’s not a lack of time. When your work deadlines are shortened, you bend time. It’s the pressure of being the person you’ve told everyone you are for decades and keeping that story going no matter what. This narrative informs your decisions. For me, I had been telling people that I was going to become an attorney for a decade. What would people think if I quit law school? Getting into law school was hard. I do hard things even if I don’t want them nor like them. Putting my tail between my legs was not my preference. But, I did it. My economics changed because of that choice and so did my happiness. People told me I was brave for that decision but I felt like a coward. I felt like I wasn’t smart enough to be an attorney even if I had to be the world’s saddest most depressed one…being seen as a woman of her word meant that much. But, I did it. At first, I was in pain. Now, I’m getting over it decades later.

Here’s an example from the field: I once used a coworking space owned by an English major degree from Harvard. As the inquisitive dream chaser that I am, I discovered that this owner on her laptop had written about three books. She had them on her laptop every day. Yet, she did not go further than writing them. What could have been stopping her? She had an English degree from Harvard? What’s the hold-up? Not feeling credible enough?

In her brain, she assumed that the world was expecting her to produce a Harvard worthy piece of literature. A book written by a Harvard educated writer must be Pulitzer worthy. She assumed that if she did not produce a Harvard caliber book that then it must mean that she wasn’t a real Harvard-type. She must actually be a shitty writer. I bring up this mind game because that same Harvard English grad featured book authors in her small business. The book authors that she had featured in her own business did not have the weight of a Harvard English degree. Some of those authors didn’t even like English literature and hired ghostwriters. Yet, the small business owner chooses to hide from the world because she felt her identity would be have been compromised if it weren’t a success. Damn, those books are good too. Not even “self-helpy.” We are talking well-researched important topics that the world is missing out on. This is not just her loss, this is the world’s loss.

When was the last time that you questioned your identity? Most of my clients have never considered that their identity could be one of the major reasons why they will not touch their personal dreams. This is especially true if you’ll need to do something out of character to your identity to carry out your personal desires. Take for instance, a professional who has been in the C-suite for three decades. This person wakes up every single day knowing his company’s language, expectations, and best practices. He is in the C-suite. He is respected. When this C-suite executive hangs out with his wife and friends (pre-COVID) he feels like he belongs with like-minded C-suite people.

Yet, the C-suite and being there carries its own expectations. In his case, the idea of buying a gym franchise that’s risky would potentially jeopardize his story that he was an in-control C-suite executive. Imagine someone like that having to rely on a franchisor to tell him how to brand his gym? This person has his MBA. That brings its own set of rules and expectations.

When you pursue your MBA you are not just getting a pile of business books and a “piece of paper.” You are entering a club of professionals who like MBA things and make MBA-ish jokes and have MBA toys. So when you start to deviate from MBA behaviors it feels awkward, risky, and it’s hard to reconcile with the expectations of others. If an MBA can Excel spreadsheet the heck out of risk then how would that look if your franchisee flopped? Maybe, you didn’t deserve an MBA?

These are the challenges that I am hell-bent on fixing in 2021. It takes a ton of courage to be flexible with your identity. You’ve changed dude and so have I. How can we keep playing the same role? If you are stuck because you are the guy or gal who is an expert and never seeks help then you’ll be stuck forever. Enjoy the view. However, what I’ve seen work in pursuit of dreams is that this one edit can change your life experience. Imagine if you opened up your identity to that of a learner who asks for help from others. What if you went from top dog to novice as you explored the work you want to do or the dream you want to make real?

It is this single step towards the direction of your dreams that some of the most successful professionals have a hard time working through. It takes consistent commitment and being bolder. Yes, asking basic questions and sometimes eating a big slice of humble pie.

It’s about trying on new identities and exploring exactly how artificial they are. It’s important to understand not only on an intellectual level but at your core that you do have the power to shift your thinking on your own identity. Smart people find this hard. You are logical. This is your identity. What? Now you want to follow your curiosity or pay attention to your intuition? You’re crazy! Again, let go of your identity and see how light you’ll feel. There’s a lot of baggage there that together we could unload.

These things are step one to finally having the courage and a plan to focus on your own dreams. It’s like a domino effect. You put on a new identity. You step away from its limitations. You reflect on the important questions in life that will help you rediscover the true breadth and value of your talents. Your confidence boosts. You want to ask for help. You know what to say. You know that your dreams matter. You then master how to ask the right people the right questions to speed up your boldest aspirations to make up for lost time. I can teach you all of this in 9-weeks. But are you the type of person who asks for help?

If you’re tired of feeling like you shouldn’t pursue your personal dreams because they don’t fit in with everyone’s expectations of what you should be doing with your life and you’re ready to start using your talents to pursue your personal dreams, then I’m making time to show you how it’s done. Sign-up for a complimentary breakthrough session today:

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

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