Five years ago, I wrote a post called “My 52 Mistakes” about the worst missteps I’d taken in my life, and what I’d learned from them. At that time, I was compelled to share these 52 learnings, because after living through the pain and struggle that came from these “mistakes” and trying to undo the havoc they wreaked on my life, I wanted to help others avoid them at all costs. People wrote me from all over the world about how these mistakes resonated with them, and mirrored their own life experiences.
Truth be told, I don’t really believe in the notion of “mistakes” because I’ve seen that everything that happens can be for our highest good, if we learn the right lessons and integrate them for our growth. That said, there are, without doubt, error-ridden directions we follow that lead to disaster, pain, sadness, and loss. And if we don’t understand the root cause behind these crushing detours from our highest and happiest path, we’re doomed to repeat them.
If I boil down my own biggest mistakes along with the missteps others have shared with me that caused them the deepest pain, the top 10 would be these:
Not comprehending what you’re capable of
After reviewing thousands of responses from clients of my Career Path Self-Assessment, I can see how the vast majority of us don’t have a clue of our specialness and importance in the world. We’re crushed down by demoralizing experiences around us in our jobs and relationships, and we forget (or actually have never really seen) how our talents, gifts and passions are unique and so needed in the world. For 18 years in my corporate life, I never once had a glimpse of what I was truly capable of being, doing and creating. It was only when the Universe kindly stepped in and helped me get so brutally ejected from my unhappy corporate existence that I finally “got it” and transformed my life. Not understanding what you’re capable of, and how the world needs you and your gifts, is the most crippling of all mistakes.
Associating with and trusting the wrong people
There is no question that the people we associate with, and those we allow ourselves to be in relationship with, dramatically shape who we are and what happens to us. If the people around you don’t value, respect or care for you, or if they live by values that are in stark contrast to yours (and make your heart ache), your life can’t be what you dream it to be. If you want to soar like an eagle, then you have to take that huge leap of faith to surround yourself with eagles. (Thanks, Mo Faul, for that reminder.)
Letting your beliefs and fears around money stop you living full out
Literally more than 90% of the clients and colleagues I’ve connected with over the past 10 years (over 10,000) have a challenged relationship with money or some form of money trauma from their past. These challenges, mindsets, fears and blocks aren’t all about scarcity. I’ve met scores of people who’ve earned or inherited millions of dollars yet they don’t feel they deserve it, feel terribly guilty about it, or feel like impostors. Others can’t believe that a happier life or career is in the cards for them, despite having a masters degree, and fantastic credentials and experiences. And others still dream of better jobs, careers and livelihoods but sabotage their own growth because of intense risk-aversion and deep fear around needing “security” and “safety” from money. Until you can untangle your money story and stop making money a ruthless God in your life that you need to feed and worship daily, you won’t achieve what you dream of.
Comparing yourself to others in ways that crush your confidence and life energy
I’m a fan of healthy competition, and believe it can absolutely fuel growth. But comparing ourselves to others and continually feeling “less than” ruins our lives. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to others — other business people, colleagues, peers, family members, etc. — and come up short, your life will be drained of the confidence, energy and vibrancy you need to move forward.
Refusing to learn
When we’re going through painful, crushing times, there are critical lessons we’re meant to learn, but many of us fail to get these lessons. We miss the point entirely. In fact, if you feel yourself in constant regret about what you should have done in the past, you’re failing to learn the right lessons. I failed to learn, for instance, that my deep unhappiness in my corporate career wasn’t because I wasn’t “good enough,” but because I was constantly pointed in the wrong direction, working on business outcomes that meant nothing to me. The “right” lessons empower, uplift and strengthen you, not push you down. If we don’t shift and change, and learn from what’s happening to us, we’ll simply continue to bloody our heads against the same brick walls. We’ve got to learn new lessons and modify how we operate in the world in ways that thrill us, or we’ll never break the cycles of pain that we continually co-create.
Not understanding that you are separate from your thoughts
We are not our thoughts, and our thoughts don’t have to rule and control us. But they will control us if we have no awareness of what we are thinking and why. Learning to separate ourselves from our thoughts is life-changing (mediation is a transformative tool for that – check out Lodro Rinzler for beginning meditation support). The key is to learn to observe our thoughts, and create a separation from them so that with greater awareness and wisdom, we can choose how we want to react and behave in the world. If we never gain awareness of what we’re thinking, we’re powerless to shape our reactions and behaviors.
Letting your ego and your need to be right wreck your peace, well-being and relationships
Our egos, and our need to defend our thoughts, values, and positions, can be healthy and helpful. But often, our egos run wild, and tiny sparks of narcissism can make us react in ways that burn bridges, sever helpful ties, and thwart our growth. If you’re constantly looking for validation that you’re “right,” important, valuable, and if you feel the urge to drum out of existence people who don’t agree with you or who challenge you, your ego needs some work. After all, we simply can’t build the life we dream of if we cut off and alienate all our supporters, friends and advocates.
Ignoring your body
After years of chronic illness (in the form of a terrible infection in my trachea every few months for four years), I finally learned this: your body says what your lips cannot. If we ignore what our bodies are trying to tell us, we’ll suffer, and continue to suffer, until we listen and learn. And if we’re hoping to live a beautifully rich, happy and fulfilling life but fail to give our physical bodies what they need to be healthy, supported and nourished, we’ll fail to have the energy and vitality we need to make the impact we hope to.
Failing to stretch beyond who you think you are and what you’re comfortable in
In an interview I conducted with Herminia Ibarra recently on How Authenticity Can Keep Professionals From Growing Into Effective Leaders, I realized even more acutely how an over-attachment to “authenticity” can actually keep us from stretching and moving forward. If we stay only where we feel comfortable, even with regard to our self-identity, we’ll never get to the new destination that we dream of, because we fear it’s not who we “really are” yet. The deep longing to stay put, and to feel “comfort” and “security,” creates, in the end, the most painful type of discomfort – the realization that we failed to fulfill our highest goals and potential. As Amy Cuddy shares in her powerful Ted Talk, at times you have to “fake it til you become it.”
Not doing the inner work to create the outer life you dream of
Finally, I’ve seen this in my own life and in thousands of others I work with – if you refuse to do the inner work on yourself to become stronger, wiser, more courageous, more competent, and less reactive, then the outer experiences in your life will fail to satisfy you. A happy, joyful and fulfilling life takes work, and it starts with inner work – on your thoughts, insecurities, reactivity, negative mindsets, and fears. If what’s in front of you is making you unhappy, you first have to look inward to explore our part in it (we are 50% of what happens to us). If you refuse to identify how you’re co-creating your problems and your unhappiness, and shift it, you’ll continue to bring into your life exactly the same results. And those won’t bring the peace, joy, and fulfillment you ache for.