The Power of Picking Yourself

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Like most weekday mornings, the other day I was getting ready for work while my five year-old got dressed. While I brushed my teeth and put on makeup, I could hear him in his room: huffing and puffing away, struggling with something, sounding frustrated and almost on the verge of tears. What’s going on, I asked him? My socks are inside out, he said, and I can’t fix it.

Channeling my favorite yoga teacher, I shared with him a quote that Jess often says in class: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” If you think you can do it, you will do it, I told him. And, through a few moments of calm, sustained focus, he was able to right them again. And with a big smile on his face, no less.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the obstacles that get in our way of pursuing our dreams. Out of curiosity, I looked up obstacle in the dictionary and came to this: “A thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress.”

When you think about the wishes or dreams you hold for your life, what kinds of obstacles – what “things” – are getting in your way? And how many of these obstacles are ones that were created by a force outside of yourself, versus ones that you created on your own?

My instinct says that many obstacles that get in our way are not actually real – at least not in a tangible sense – and that in fact a lot of these obstacles we manufacture ourselves. Perhaps one shows up as a tightly-held, quiet belief that we’re not worthy, or incapable, of creating the life we want, so we better not start. Maybe it’s a mental shortcut that we take out of habit to keep life easy and safe, rather than raise our hand for a new way of being. It might even be fabricating an opportunity to judge someone else for taking chances that we envy or wish for ourselves.

Whether it’s knowingly or not – many of the obstacles that stand in our way are ones we have created ourselves.

It was with obstacles on the brain that I tucked into “You’re It,” a recent episode of Seth Godin’s fabulous podcast called Akimbo. In this episode Seth talks about the Gatekeeper. Perhaps the most stubborn of all obstacles, Gatekeepers are those real or imagined people who, as Seth puts it, do the picking. “You’re it!” the Gatekeeper will exclaim. You’re the novelist we want to publish. You’re the MBA we want to hire. You’re the diamond in the rough we’ve been waiting for.

To be honest, getting picked sounds pretty nice. When you get picked, the thinking goes, all your worries will be over. People will notice you, your work will be appreciated, and you’ll claim that coveted spot at the top.

The problem, though, is that most people will never get picked.

As sad as it may sound, the reality is there just aren’t enough spots for everyone. The math just doesn’t work out. There are only so many novelists who can get published each year; only so many MBAs for that top spot in a consulting firm. So, what’s an aspiring novelist, artist, entrepreneur, marketer or any other creative person to do?

Pick yourself.

Pick yourself and the Gatekeeper no longer holds the power. Pick yourself and you make your own destiny. Pick yourself and you win – because you control the rules of the game.

I encourage you to listen to the whole episode as Seth shares some great stories and examples of how we let Gatekeepers control what’s possible for our lives. The point that I’m taking away, though, is that we often don’t even realize we’re giving up our power and handing it over to a Gatekeeper. The way the culture works is that we immortalize the Gatekeepers, we wait with bated breath for their go-ahead, and sometimes we even wish to become them one day ourselves. It’s so ingrained in how we operate that It’s like muscle memory – we don’t even recognize it anymore.

Today, as you go through your day, pay attention to moments where you relinquish your power, your agency, to a Gatekeeper or other obstacle. Who are the Gatekeepers – real or imagined – that you’ve handed your agency over to? What might open up for your dreams or your goals if you took that power and picked yourself instead?