“Must”, “It’s Impossible”, “I’ll try” and other Tyrants

Lately I have been working a lot with young people. Students. Members in NGOs or student organisations. Some on their first job. Other interns in different companies. Beautiful, curious, intelligent, ambitious, willing to learn.

Every time my workshops are an invitation to introspection. We talk about authenticity, emotions, personal values, mission in life. It’s a difficult exercise even for people more experienced, let alone for 19-20 year olds who are just starting in their life journey. I’m always happy to see how bravely the throw themselves into these inner conversations despite their youth, or maybe because of it. Then I feel their confusion and even fear when the answers they give themselves to the question “Who am I” don’t match what they have been taught to believe is“normal”, “good”, “compulsory”, “possible”. 


“There is no job where I can be completely happy, I need to compromise if I want to be successful”. “I will be happy when I get really high up on the corporate ladder and for that I need to work hard on the things I’m good at, not necessarily on what I like”. “Money comes first on my list of values, but that’s only normal at 21; now I have to find the highest paying job possible so I can raise enough money to have my own business by the time I turn 25″. “You can’t do only what you dream in life”. “I can’t see myself doing the job I studied for, but I have to carry on because I’m to scared to try something else”. “My parents told me that life is not easy and I need to fight and make sacrifices if I want to succeed”. “I was told that these are my talents and this is the most appropriate career for me, the one that will make me successful”. 

These are all statements I heard over time from young people that I worked with. And not seldom did I leave these workshops with a nagging question:

When exactly do we start living under the tyranny of limiting beliefs that start with “it’s not possible”, “you have to”, “this is how it’s done”, “I will try, but…”?  

I have often been told: “Alis, not everyone is as lucky as you are – to make a living doing what they love”. I get a knot in my stomach every time I hear this because I believe, with all my heart, that it’s not about luck, it’s all about choice.

Almost four years ago I faced the decision to leave my last corporate job and start doing training and coaching on my own. The choice was not between job and entrepreneurship – I have long lost the belief that being an entrepreneur is any guarantee for happiness. The choice was between doing my job as a trainer and coach as others told me it had to be done or doing it as I felt it needed to be done. This I could only do as a freelancer.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had a huge mortgage on the house I had built with many sacrifices, just because I had believed it would make me more fulfilled and “successful”. I had no savings. I had, together with the friend I started out with, one training contract which would have covered my corporate salary for three months. Afterwards was just a big, fat question mark. I had my loved ones who offered moral support and confidence, who didn’t try to influence my decision and gave me the huge gift of refusing to offer any advice, one way or another. I found myself alone, facing the choice that would change my life. And I felt as if I was about to jump from a great hight without a parachute, just with the faith that I would grow wings before I touched the ground.

Then I remembered something I had read in a book by  Elisabeth Kubler Ross – wisdom gathered from thousands of dying patients she had assisted in their last days. On their death bed people rarely regret what they did in life and most often the things they didn’t do. I asked myself then:

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