I don’t know about you, but I love Disneyland.
I honestly feel like nothing else matters when I’m there. It’s a great place to escape reality and get caught up in the magic of a pretend world. From the fake rocks to the imaginary trips to space, to larger-than-life happy mice, it really is place of wonder.
Then there’s the feeling at the end of the day.
You’re exhausted and have a never-ending walk to the car. You spent way too much money on overpriced souvenirs and food. You’re sick of the crowds, the kids are cranky and you can’t wait to get to bed.
Disneyland is a wonderful place to visit, but the fantasy soon wears off, as it should.
The overall theme seems to be: You are so wonderful, so powerful, so perfect as you are. You just need to realize it. And then they follow with…and you can accomplish anything if you just believe you can. Sound familiar? It all sounds so wonderful at the seminar. Then you go home and the fantasy become might thin!
Not to be a downer, but people are not always wonderful, are they? And even you are not always wonderful, right? Neither is the guru who told you that. There is probably a list of things you need to work on. Ask anyone close to you if you don’t believe me.
You also cannot become anything you want. If you’re not good at math, then you will not succeed as a physicist, no matter how badly you desire to.
I know it feels great, in the beginning, to pretend you can be whatever you want. The problem is, if you believe you should be able to achieve things that are beyond your capacity, then you spend your life failing. Worse, you blame yourself for not believing in this fantasy enough.
It is a never-ending cycle of failure. The smart thing to do in this case is get off Snow White’s Carousel and leave Fantasyland as quickly as you can.
Most personal growth gurus want you to believe the fantasies are true, however. Just like Disneyland, they want you to feel incredible when you are around them, because then you will keep coming back.
In spite of having many helpful things to say, personal growth gurus do people a huge disservice by fostering delusions. For your consideration, here are five fantasies commonly taught by the gurus of today.
You may as well face it. You are not Cinderella and neither is that person sitting next to you on the ride. None of us is all that special in the grand scheme of things. At least, we are no more special than anyone else. Let’s follow the logic. If I am super special, then you are super special and everyone, in turn, is super special. If everyone is super special, then super special is the norm, which makes none of us all that special in the end.
If you don’t want to accept that logic then you must say, ”I am super special, but you are not.” If that’s what you’re saying, then you might as well stay on the ride and change your name to Goofy.
For the rest of us, let’s substitute the word special for the word ordinary. I know it doesn’t feel as good, but at least it is an accurate starting point. Given your ordinary existence, what can you do that you find meaningful? Now, that is a worthwhile thing to figure out!
Stop worrying about being special and start doing something meaningful – something that makes a difference in the world.
Reality: You can do meaningful things that make a difference in the world.
Success? Unconditional love? To live in a really big house? Do you deserve these?
The truth is, anyone feeling entitled to have everything he wants is no more than an emotional child.
Are you going to buy your child everything he wants in the theme park gift shop? Most likely not. If you’re like me, you will probably give him a dollar limit and still want to approve what he selects even though he will whine for more. As a parent, it is really obvious that your child doesn’t get everything he wants simply because he wants it. Why do we think we deserve anything we want?
Can you have that Bentley in the next 12 months, even though you are earning close to minimum wage now? No. You cannot. Stop hoping for it long enough to grow up and set a more realistic goal, like how to get to $20 per hour in the next year.
Eventually, adult reality needs to set in and you must begin to acquire things based on merit, not entitlement or magical thinking. You will not merit love from people if you are a total jerk. You won’t earn money unless you provide value. You won’t be happy unless you understand and live values that lend themselves to happiness.
This is not a matter of deserving – the idea of deserving should have gone away when you became an adult. Stop focusing on deserving and focus on merit. If you don’t work on merit, you won’t get what you want, no matter how much you think you deserve it. Deserve is as deserve does!
Reality: You earn things you work for.
Enough for what? Pretty enough, smart enough, happy enough, foolish enough! People often harp on themselves for their perceived inadequacy, telling themselves they are not “enough.” In most cases, it is true. None of us is all knowing, all-powerful or even self-sufficient when it really comes down to it.
All of us need help and cooperation from others – every single day – just to perform basic tasks, such as taking a shower. We need help from the utility company, the soap manufacturer, the shampoo makers and the contractor who built the shower. We wouldn’t even understand the basics of personal hygiene if someone hadn’t taught us. We live inter-dependent lives and no one is self-sufficient – no one.
Of course you are not enough on your own. Why is “being enough” a goal? Focus on connecting with others and making a contribution, and receiving the contributions of others. There’s so much that we share, that its time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all. That’s at least one thing that rings true from Disneyland. But for some reason that ride is always closed for remodeling when I’m there.
Reality: You are not always enough and it’s OK to ask for help.
A prospective client once told me, “If I wanted to become an astronaut, I would need the kind of life coach that would tell me I could do it, no matter what.”
I replied, “At age 35, with no relevant experience, and given the superhuman physical and intellectual abilities required…you’d still want me to encourage you to contact NASA?”
I am not the coach for you, I thought. But I didn’t say that. I figured it would be better to wait until the ride ended, then gently escort him back to reality. However, he wasn’t ready to get off and didn’t become a client.
Can I, as a 45-year-old man, win Wimbledon? No. I cannot achieve that. I will never win Wimbledon. I do not have the talent or the endurance, even though I might want to really badly. If I do NOT accept this reality, I may torture myself (and my family) forever and never take steps to accomplish realistic, worthwhile goals.
While no one can predict the exceptional things may happen in anyone’s life, do you really want to base your future on extremely unlikely events? You would be much better off to become realistic about your strengths and abilities and go in that direction.
So many people were brought up with the fairy tales of Dumbo and The Little Engine that Could. Some use these as mantras for life, but in reality elephants do not fly and trains don’t think. They are called fairy tales for a reason. They are pretend.
Reality: You can achieve realistic dreams that fit your natural talents.
You are going to fail. In fact, failure is so common that you will be handicapped if you can’t deal with it effectively.
The ability to view failure as a normal part of the process of life is critical to accomplishing anything meaningful. In fact, no one gets anywhere without failing. It is an essential feedback loop. For many people, plan A simply fails and they have to move on to plan B, or C, or D.
Oh, that little engine that could! He knew if he tried really hard and had enough confidence in himself, he could make it up the hill. I think I can, I think I can. And he made it, of course. How different the story would be if he hadn’t! But no one would appreciate a story about a little train that failed.
In fantasy there is always a happy ending. Reality is not always that way. It takes more than just thinking you can. You can have all the confidence in the world, but it doesn’t mean that your invention will make you millions or that you will magically do something like write a bestseller without a creative bone in your body.
By redefining what success means, you can accept and learn from failure. When my wife was in art school she had a project that required her to repeat the same assignment over and over. Each time she completed it, the professor told her to do it again.
She must have done the assignment five or six times, each time hoping he would say it was good and she could stop. He never did. It turned out that he wasn’t interested in Hope getting it “right.” There was no right answer. It was about the process of learning there are many ways to approach something, with each of them leading to a different outcome.
Not knowing the professor’s plan, Hope thought she was failing miserably. She got more and more discouraged each time. This was a great lesson. It taught her to not see failure as an obstacle to be avoided. Now, she just goes for things, not getting attached to the outcome, knowing that whatever happens is ok.
Yes, you will fail. Now, learn the lesson and move on.
Reality: Failures are an inevitable part of life. Just accept that.
In my years as a therapist and life coach, I have never worked with anyone who did not make real progress in the real world by giving up harmful fantasies and magical thinking.
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