By Jaime LK Jackson, Outpatient Program Coordinator & Life Coach
In coaching, I often experience a similar dilemma facing many of my clients, endless possibility. Sometimes, having too many options can become paralyzing. When I tell my clients, you can do just about anything you decide you want to do, within natural reason, I can see the excitement on most of their faces. For others I see a small cringe, they know they’re supposed to be happy about this, but they are struck with overwhelming fear. Being told you can do anything occasionally leads to the idea that if you have so many options, you better pick the right one.
Long ago, if your father was a farmer, you were to be a farmer. There was little question of “what do I want to do with my life? What will be the most satisfying life path? Am I living my best life?” And don’t even get me started on the limitations for women and minorities.
We’re living in a society now that cares about what you want to do. Parents tell their children they can be anything they want to be; Astronaut, President of the United States, Famous Actor, you name it….but how realistic is that? No, not everyone can be the President of the US. There can’t be 318 million Presidents. No, you may not be able to be an astronaut. You may not meet the physical requirements. Children of the 90’s don’t seem to understand that some of their goals are unrealistic, which we then in the psych world are quick to label “delusional”. Are they delusional? Or did society lead them to believe in a reality that is unattainable? They then believe themselves to be failures for not living up to the inexplicit expectations of endless possibility. I see clients spiral into a depression and self-loathing, many choose to soothe with addiction, eating disorders, or avoidance. The pressure to live up to being anything causes many to run and hide instead do nothing.
As a society, I think we need to place the same glamorization we do for basketball players, CEOS and rap stars on realistic careers. Instead of perpetuating and unattainable fantasy, let’s tell our young adults the truth: You have certain talents, we all do. Find out what you’re passionate about, and what you’re good at. If you have a beautiful compassionate heart, strive to be a social worker and help others. Or, if you have excellent patience and skills with numbers, find your purpose in being a math teacher who brings excitement and inspiration to her students to solve problems.
As helping professionals, we need to help our young adult clients adjust their perspectives and their realities. I like to empower my clients to be the best version of themselves—which includes sometimes being average. I want to help my clients accept who they are and where they’re at, in this very moment. It’s wonderful to dream and explore. By no means am I telling my clients to settle. I am helping my clients to figure what they love and brings them joy. Then decide if what they want is within their realm of ability, and to create a concrete plan to get there with manageable actions steps. I would be doing a 5’2 and asthmatic basketball loving client a huge disservice if I told him “Yes, anything is possible! You can play in the NBA. If you believe and work hard!” I’m not in the business of giving people false hope and setting them up to fail. I would tell him, if your biggest passion is for basketball, let’s figure out how we can get you involved in a way that you will thrive. Let’s figure out how you can eat, sleep, and breathe it—without having to be on a court with 7 foot tall professional athletes. Maybe you have coaching abilities, or you’re great with statistics. Let’s figure it out together.
I strongly recommend you check out “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz for a phenomenal explanation of this theory. He beautifully articulates the struggle for all of us when we experience too many choices. As a life coach I know how this may sound, but give yourself permission to be average some days. Step back from the pressure of making the perfect choice or taking the perfect action. You do enough, you have enough, and you are enough just as you are in this very moment. Try to incorporate the DBT Assumption into your life that “ People are Perfect, Whole, and Complete. There is nothing wrong. There never has been, and there never will be. People respond naturally to their own DNA, life development and environment.”