Don’t blindly accept the popular narratives other people follow.

story of you notepad

We are all exposed to a wide range of narratives that are often accepted as truths.

But for the most part they are not truths. They are opinions. Stories.

And we’d do well to question them.

Let me share a couple of examples I have bumped up against recently.

One from my work life and one from my personal life.

Narrative #1: To get stuff done, you need to focus, distraction-free.

Sounds reasonable, right? I’ve told this story myself.

And then…

For the last month or so I have been struggling with the structure of a new course I’m creating. Struggling to the point where I was wondering if I’d ever figure it out.

I followed all the rules.

I carved out blocks of uninterrupted time. I immersed myself in the problem, distraction-free, with total focus. I even took up meditation again to help wrap my mind around the problem.

In other words, I did everything the experts say will help when you’re trying to resolve a complex problem.

No luck. At all.

So I decided to try something completely different.

I went cycling… during “work hours”!

Bad me!

I took a small pad of paper and a pen with me. You can see them in the photo above.

I’d start cycling, mindful of the problem I was trying to solve, but not concentrating on it.

Every few kilometers a thought would pop into my head. I’d stop, take out my notepad and take a few notes.

It took me three days, about 90 kilometers of cycling and a lot of notes. But I got there.

I couldn’t solve my problem by following the “approved” approach over the course of a full month.

But I cracked it in three days while cycling.

Old story debunked. New story shared.

Narrative #2: You can’t quit smoking and lose weight at the same time.

A little over a year ago I put myself on a diet and started to shed some pounds.

I knew I should also quit smoking.

But as my doctor told me, “Hey, you’re going to put on a few pounds when you quit smoking, so don’t try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time.”

We’ve all heard that story before. Right?

But as I thought about it, I found myself forming a different opinion, and writing my own narrative.

It went something like this:

“I’ve been trying to lose weight AND quit smoking for literally decades, without success. But right now I’m losing weight with very little effort. So… if I’m in that kind of ”can-do” mindset when it comes to my health, surely now would be the BEST time to quit smoking as well.”

Sounded reasonable to me.

Fast forward to today and I’ve lost 35 lbs and haven’t had a cigarette in over a year.

Different story… different outcome.

Remember, almost everything people tell you is just a story, not a fact.

Can’t lose weight and give up smoking at the same time? Just a story.

Whatever the challenge in your freelance life, question those stories.

It can be hard to break free from a prevailing narrative.

For myself, the idea that I could actually get more work done by leaving my desk and going cycling was a huge break with my past.

Everything in my past screamed at me to put my nose to the grindstone and work hard until the task was completed. Only then, when the work was done, would I be allowed to go outside and “play” on my bicycle.

I come from a family and a school background where the traditional work ethic was drilled into me from a very early age.

First work. Then, if time allows, play.

As for losing weight and quitting smoking at the same time…

Part of the challenge there is that not only did I already know the story about not trying to do both at the same time, but my doctor repeated and reinforced that story.

When other people, particularly authority figures, reinforce an accepted narrative, it’s hard to break with it.

I was talking with someone this week who wants to become a freelancer, but her family and friends are all cautioning her to stick with her “real job”.

I’m sure they all mean well. They’re probably trying to protect her.

But the idea of traditional jobs being safer than freelance work is an OLD story.

It’s just not true anymore.

My point being… always question the stories and accepted narratives people hold up as reasons for you to do one thing and not another.

You always have the option to question, push back and write your own story.

NOTE: If you’d like some help or guidance in unpacking your past and creating a better story for yourself, check out my one-on-one coaching program for freelancers… “The New Story of You”

 

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5 thoughts on “Don’t blindly accept the popular narratives other people follow.

  1. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to realize I need to stop listening so much to the advice of others and that includes so called experts. There are so many experts out there spouting all sorts of advice and talk, talk, talking, like they really know something. There are sometimes kernels of advice that work and seem acceptable to us where we are in the present moment. All the rest is often fluff.

  2. Hi, Nick,

    Great message. I appreciate the courage (yes, courage) you took in sharing how you stepped away from the seasoned wisdom. Recently I had to escape from the traditional view of how freelancing success is defined because it was making me crazy (my family will tell you that’s never a pretty sight). I finally determined what success in this venture means for me and feel more content and satisfied. That doesn’t mean I still don’t listen to those who know much more about it than I do. . .just in case something resonates for me. The key phrase there is “resonates for me.” What your courses have taught me over the last year is that keeping up with the times and making adjustments can sometimes mean the tried and true methods are no longer viable. Anyway, thanks, again, for sharing how you continue to break free from traditional molds.

  3. I need to go back and re-read this interesting article, because my brain got stuck here: “But right now I’m losing weight with very little effort.” and on my immediate mental response, which was “bastard.”

    Seriously, I am happy for you and your health and will read the article again without missing your points. 🙂

  4. Hey Nick,
    Great job on biking to hash out the process. It is curious how some would look at this as an escape from the task. I look at it this way. Meditation is anything that allows you to free up the mind so it can recieve signalsbmore clearly, so exercise is a great form of meditation . My morning runs are so creative.

    Our life is our work when we freelance so who is to tell us where we can work. It can be from anpub or a bike sear, a meadow or library. We work when creativity calls!
    Good day

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