Break Free of the Expectations of Others

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Chris Guillebeau
Photo: entrepreneurs-journey.com

As we continue on our journey of activating the keys to prosperity through authenticity, one of the most important steps is to align our actions with what we value. One of the biggest challenges is that so few people practice what they preach. So many people say one thing and do another. It’s become normal to make false promises and let people down. This is, in fact, not normal at all, and when people don’t act out of integrity, it not only reveals their true colors but also limits their future success.

One of the most authentic and genuine people I’ve ever connected with is Chris Guillebeau. A New York Times bestselling author, speaker, entrepreneur, and world traveler (he’s been to every country in the world, which is remarkable), Chris mirrors the wisdom of the other experts featured in this book: Being your most authentic self often means stepping away from the beaten path and from what’s normal. Being authentic means going your own way.

Being authentic means revealing your true self to the world. And in doing so, you will attract the right people into your life. Being authentic looks good on paper, but is hard to put into practice. The goal of this book is not to pay lip service to the “idea” of being who you really are. The goal is for you to actually, in reality, take off the mask and show your true self to the world.

In the first chapter of my previous book, Reach Your Mountaintop: 10 Keys to Finding the Hidden Opportunity in Your Setbacks, Flipping What You’ve Heard on Its Head, and Achieving Legendary Goals, I shared the story of how I almost committed suicide in high school because of the unexpected setbacks I experienced. I’ve also shared this with tens of thousands of high school and college students in keynotes across the United States and the world. Here’s the thing: Some people resonate with the story. And for the people it’s meant to help, it helps them tremendously. At the same time, some people don’t resonate it. Some kids look at me like I’m weird and don’t accept me for who I am.

I fully realize suicide prevention is an uncomfortable topic, but in order to prevent more people from committing suicide in the future, it needs to be discussed and addressed. Too often, people tend to shy away from discussing the topics that matter most.

In order to reach the people I’m meant to reach, I put up with the haters, naysayers, and critics by not letting them get to me. The same applies to you.

Being authentic can be (and often is) fun, but it isn’t always that way. Sometimes it’s hard to be authentic. Sometimes it’s the last thing you’ll want to do. It’s important to be who you really are even when it hurts because if you start compromising on the little things, you’ll eventually start compromising on the big things. Bite the bullet and be yourself even when you don’t feel like it, and you’ll find yourself living a life of true leadership, courage, and difference-making.

We Choose What We Value

I had a chance to connect with Chris Guillebeau in several email exchanges, and his wisdom and insights are legendary, to say the least.  

“We choose what we value, either consciously or unconsciously,” Chris said. “Many people, young and old, have no problem happily spending their money and even going into debt for luxuries each week. I’ve chosen to focus my own spending priorities on meaningful experiences.”

There are four types of important questions to ask yourself when aligning your life with your values. The questions are from Chris, and the thoughts that follow each question are my own.

  1. Am I satisfied with my work? Does it meet my needs and fulfill my desires? We all have to pay the bills. We all have to grind. But you need to really examine your life and find out if you are settling. Be honest with yourself. Are you making daily efforts to create a better life for yourself? Are you looking into career alternatives? Are you thinking outside the box and considering various options? There are countless possibilities – this is not a motivational feel-good saying, but rather a real, practical fact. My Master’s degree is in finance, but I ended up transitioning into digital marketing. You can make a transition as well, even if others think you can’t.
  2. Think back to the times you have left your home country. What did you learn on those trips? Do you think you have more to learn? These questions are awesome because they not only get you to keep things in perspective, but they also remind you that there is always more to learn. Stay humble. Learn more about your career field and see if there are more aspects to it you may enjoy doing. Learn about new interests and stay fresh.
  3. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be? Chris is an avid traveler, like myself. If you enjoy traveling as much as we do, great. If not, don’t worry – this question applies to you as well. Are you spontaneous in your daily life? Are you creating new adventures? You don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to do this. It could mean checking out a new local restaurant, hiking a local mountain, or even walking around town and saying hello to new people. Being spiritually prosperous means keeping life interesting. Be independent and never be afraid to do anything alone.
  4. What are your financial priorities? Take a long, hard look at where you spend money. Are you living in your own apartment and getting killed by your rent payment? Consider moving in with roommates, your significant other, or back home with your parents if you are younger than 30 and have a good relationship with them. Are you tired of having to answer to a landlord? Sell your belongings, find someone else to finish out your lease, and go travel the world (that’s what I did with the last apartment I lived in, and I’m better off for having done it). Yes, you sometimes need to make tradeoffs, but there are also more options and possibilities than you may have initially thought when you really sit down and think about it.

You Don’t Need a Niche

Now that we’ve discussed clarifying your values and evaluating your priorities let’s take a look at why you don’t need a niche.

“I’ve never had a demographic,” Chris said. “I’ve had a psychographic of people interested in fun stuff.”

The perfect example of this is Chris’s annual World Domination Summit, attended by thousands of people. Over the last five years, more than ten thousand people have attended.

“It’s a strength to not have a niche,” Chris said. “It’s a strength, not a weakness. For my summit, I knew I wanted it to be special, so I had to pick something that was deliberately broad. I had to because I knew I had to do a lot of different things to be satisfied, so that’s why it was all about non-conformity. I did this for my own fulfillment, my own motivation, and also to serve the community – to be able to truly serve them.”

When Chris said this, I got really excited. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who say that you absolutely need a niche. From my perspective and experience, you don’t need a niche. Here’s where some people may misunderstand me, and where I can hopefully clarify what I mean in this chapter: They assume that I’m advocating for them to become a generalist. This is not what I’m advocating at all. Continue to focus on your core areas of knowledge, but don’t be afraid to branch out into additional areas of expertise. I would never, ever encourage someone to speak, write, or talk about a topic they don’t know anything about. But if you have expertise, experience, and/or knowledge in a given area, why stay away from it just because it’s outside of one particular niche? Some experts will tell you to only focus on one niche, but that doesn’t make sense to Chris and me. Make sure to only step into topic areas you have experience with and knowledge about, but don’t be afraid to have more than one niche. Don’t take my word for it, listen to what successful author Chris Guillebeau says.

Chris started with travel blogging, but even then he didn’t focus on a particular demographic. As he mentioned earlier, he simply wanted to connect with people who enjoyed doing fun stuff – and his content and insights could help them do exactly that.

“I wrote a book called The Art of Non-Conformity when I was first starting,” Chris said. “I went on the road to all fifty states and met readers everywhere, doing my own little book tour. In some places, there would be fifty people and other places there would be five, and that was cool. I knew right from the beginning there was something special about my community – the community, not just mine. They’re awesome people, and I wanted to do anything I could to connect them.

“It’s awesome to see great people in L.A. or Portland, but there are awesome people all over the world. I wanted to bring them together. The initial idea of my annual event was to do an in-person gathering. We didn’t make it all about entrepreneurship, even though there were a lot of entrepreneurs there. And we didn’t make it all about travel, even though there were a lot of active travelers. Or arts, or education. Our thinking was, Let’s just bring together like-minded people who share these values. The values we ended up with were community, adventure, and service. It was very organic. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know anything about running events. And maybe that was for the better in the long-run. The first year was hard in terms of logistics and getting overcharged for things, and not knowing how to do production and all that stuff, but if you have the fundamentals right – if you have the right people – then you can figure out all that stuff later. So we grew from there.”

There are More Options and Possibilities Than Meet the Eye

I sent several emails to Chris, and I love the fact that he’s responded to every single one. That’s a mark of authenticity – someone who cares enough about their readers to respond to them.

“If plan ‘A’ fails – remember you have 25 letters left,” Chris said.

We often get so hung up on a single way having to work that we miss additional options and possibilities. This mirrors what successful entrepreneur Suzanne Duret will share with us later in the book. To share a recent example from my life – used as a means to help make the point – I once again competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 2014. After competing against some of the best speakers from across the Northeast of the United States, and coming in first place, I flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to compete in the semifinals of the World Championship of Public Speaking. I didn’t win, but I came close to becoming the youngest speaking champion in history. I then used that as a springboard to start speaking professionally and getting paid for it.

Since 2014, I’ve grown and evolved as a speaker, and I’ve gotten better. Naturally, one would assume that would mean I would do even better in the speech contest, like winning the semifinals or even becoming the World Champion of Public Speaking. But in 2016 I lost at the district level, coming in third place. This was an accomplishment unto itself, but it’s a level below the caliber of competition I squared off against in Kuala Lumpur in 2014. I was a good sport and congratulated the winner, but on the inside, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

With all of that said, since 2014 I’ve also grown enormously as a person. I’ve built a strong foundation as a professional speaker, and my horizons have significantly broadened. Chris’s words of wisdom ring true in my psyche now more than ever – the Toastmasters speech contest was only one path among many to share my message with the world. There are TEDx talks, YouTube interviews, guest blogging opportunities, speaking at companies, speaking at schools, and that’s all just the tip of the iceberg.

I used that example as a vehicle to make a point that will benefit you as you face your own setbacks and disappointments. Remember that there are all sorts of options, possibilities, combinations, and permutations as to the path you can take. Don’t let one setback stop you from seeing all the other choices available to you.

Increasing optionality also applies to your career. “It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than to be on the top of one you don’t,” Chris said. Realize that you can absolutely transition into a different job or career if the one you are in isn’t right for you! Don’t do anything impulsive; think your choices through based on your life situation, but remember there are more possibilities than you may initially realize.

We often get stuck in jobs and careers that we hate, but we feel we have to do them. I’ve been there, but I also know what it’s like to transition into a career that’s better for you. I’ve lived this. I totally understand the need to grind and pay the bills, but what I’m saying to you is the same thing Chris is saying: expand your horizons, start hustling, and start applying to new jobs and careers. If you don’t have work experience that matches the job you are seeking, then use the extracurricular organizations you are a part of to sell yourself. If you are not a part of any extracurricular organizations, then consider joining a Toastmasters, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, or Chamber of Commerce club. I’ve literally gotten jobs because of my experience as a speaker, even though I’ve never officially spoken in a “job” – my paid speaking engagements have all been through my own initiatives and business dealings.

I’m not saying to suddenly quit your current job for no reason. I’m suggesting you think outside the box and creatively leverage your talents and strengths to place yourself in a better situation in the near future than you are right now. Stop putting your happiness off to someday. Realize someday is today and take massive action.

Every “Somebody” Was Once a “Nobody”

We often see an extremely successful person and think to ourselves, I wish I could do that, but I’m not as connected as they are. Here’s the kicker: Everyone who now has a lot of connections started out as a no-name with no connections. We all start off as nobodies. Don’t let the lie of society, and the media’s incessant brainwashing, make you think that some people are more worthy than you. No one is better than you, no one is above you, and everyone is your equal. Yes, someone may be ahead of you financially or career-wise, but that doesn’t mean they are better than you.

“Never despise small beginnings,” Chris said, “and don’t belittle your own accomplishments. Remember them and use them as inspiration as you go on to the next thing. When you venture outside your comfort zone, wherever the starting point may be, it’s kind of a big deal.”

Stop comparing yourself to others! As successful entrepreneur and speaker Kinja Dixon said in an Instagram post, this is your journey and no one else’s. Who cares if someone is “ahead” of you? There was never anything to compare to begin with, as you are infinitely unique. Let me say it again: This is your journey. My friend Kinja was speaking overseas, and his message to the audience ties right into Chris’s wisdom: Give yourself credit for moving forward and making progress, regardless of your starting point or where you may find yourself right now. You’re doing better than you think you are, and you’re farther along than you realize.

Give Yourself Permission to Hustle

I was reading Chris’s bestselling book The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future and I came across a very powerful passage I felt compelled to share.

“A charlatan is all talk, with nothing to back up their claims,” Chris said. “A martyr is all action with plenty of good work to talk about, but remains unable or unwilling to do the talking. A hustler represents the ideal combination: work and talk fused together.

“Being willing to promote in an authentic, non-sleazy manner is a core attribute of microbusiness success. Sometimes the best hustling lies in creating a great offer and getting people to talk about it. In other cases, you want to have as many of the right kind of customers as possible, so there’s nothing wrong with putting yourself forward.”

The reason I had to share this is that there are people in the world who think that promoting yourself is a bad thing. This is simply not true. If you’ve written a book, created a product, or put into place some sort of service that adds value to others, choosing to not promote it will actually cause you a lack of success. Chris’s insight shows us that when we strike the perfect balance between hard work and promotion, we find the happy medium of hustle that allows us to achieve success.

Notice also a key aspect of what Chris said above: Being willing to promote in an authentic, non-sleazy manner. In order to leverage the power of authentic leadership you must be willing to promote yourself, but make sure you do it in a genuine way that demonstrates how what you do helps others.

Persistence

Before we leave this chapter, I’d also like to add an insight from my friend and fellow author Heather Hansen O’Neill which complements our discussion. Heather is a leadership expert. We were chatting over breakfast at a diner one morning in Newtown, Connecticut and I told Heather that I often get discouraged when I repeatedly email potential clients but don’t hear back.

“Don’t let that get to you or discourage you,” Heather said. “I once boldly introduced myself to a conference organizer at a conference I wasn’t speaking at. She was friendly in person and seemed interested, but she didn’t respond to any of my emails. Over the course of a year, I sent her seven follow-up emails. One day, one of her assistants offered me a paid speaking engagement. In fact, it was one of the most lucrative paid speaking engagements of my entire life. Had I been afraid to follow-up with her, or if I let the discouragement of her lack of reply get to me, I never would have been at the forefront of her mind when she ended up hiring me to speak.”

This is incredibly inspirational. I share this because you may have the hustle part down, but if you are anything like me you get discouraged and upset when people ignore you. The worst – and I’m experiencing this right now – is when someone is super-friendly, engaging, and interested in your services in person, but then they go radio silent on you despite your repeated follow-ups.

Let’s use this wisdom and advice to springboard to the next level of our careers and lives. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you have to repeatedly follow-up with everyone (for example, a friend who doesn’t respond to you after two or three contact attempts may be best left alone), but from a business point of view, this is brilliant. You can be authentic and persistent at the same time. Don’t be afraid to respectfully follow-up with people and remind them of what you do, especially when they may have initially ignored you.

Hustle + Persistence = Success

Jeff Davis is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and leadership expert. For more leadership insights to help you get to your next level, check out The Power of Authentic Leadership: Activating the 13 Keys to Achieving Prosperity Through Authenticity.

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Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis is a professional speaker and the author of several books. He has done keynote speeches internationally and is a sought-after expert on self-leadership, anti-bullying, and overcoming adversity. Jeff frequently speaks to high schools, colleges, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. He’s been to five different continents and has a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He also did a well-received TEDx talk in New York City.