As you go through life you probably encounter many different life lessons. Some are very good pieces of advice and you should follow them. But, some life lessons turn out to be false and you should be aware of the folly of following these life lessons. Here are 10 examples of life lessons you should never believe.
1. You should always follow your passion.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams calls passion “bull.” The writer Dan Pink says the he “detests” the question “What is your passion?” Following your passion is a common piece of career advice but not especially helpful when trying to figure out what you should pursue as a business or a career. Instead, Dan Pink suggests focusing on what you actually do. When you’re not at work, what do you do just for fun? What are you good at? What are you willing to put your effort into? As Scott Adams points out, rather that passion causing success, “success causes passion.”
2. You need to do well in school to insure success.
Yes, school is important but what you soon discover after you graduate and begin looking for a job is that no one cares very much about what courses you took or what grades you received. What counts is the skills you actually have and that you can show evidence for these skills. Getting an “A” in a management course means less than demonstrating your management skills. Having done well in school what you will discover is that it will often take more than that to succeed.
3. You can’t teach an “Old Dog” new tricks.
Most people have heard that as you grow older it becomes more and more difficult to learn new things. If you want to learn a foreign language you should start when you are young. If you want to learn how to use new technology it helps to be young. But, research on the brain and learning indicate that this is simply untrue. The brain has a phenomenal ability to adapt and learn even as you grown older and the more you learn the better the brain can continue to learn and adapt.
4. You have to believe in yourself.
In order to achieve your goals and your dreams you have probably been told that you have to believe in yourself. The essence of much self-help advice is that there is a power in positive thinking. Affirmations are also based on this idea that you must visualize in a positive way the goals you wish to achieve. But, as the author Dan Pink has pointed out, research seems to show that there is actually greater value in cultivating some self-doubt. So, instead of confidently stating “I can” begin by asking yourself “Can I?” This will put you in a better overall mindset for success.
5. Life “back then” was better than it is today.
Ahh, the “good old days.” Life was better back then. But, nostalgia often blinds us to just what the reality was in those days gone by. However far back you go in the past you can find indicators that things were not, in fact, as good as today. Life expectancy is a good example. The incidence of deaths from infections, childbirth, even the flu were much higher. People had to spend more time acquiring food, clothing, and shelter and the rate of poverty was much higher than today. As we look back to the past we often forget these realities which makes it seem as if life were better “back then.”
6. Getting ________ will make you happy.
Many people base their happiness on acquiring things. The new house or the new car will make you happier than the one you have now. But, once the novelty of having that new thing wears off, your happiness will return to its former level. Or worse, you will discover that there is a newer thing to acquire and now you need to base your happiness on acquiring that thing. In that case you have gotten on the “hedonic treadmill.” You work harder and acquire more things but are still not any happier.
7. You need another person to “complete” you.
We all have the image of love as somehow finding someone to complete us. But, this presupposes that you cannot be a complete person without that other and that is not true. It can also lead us to commit some to someone who may end up being wrong for us just to avoid being “incomplete.” But, each one of us is a unique, complete human being on our own. Being in love and sharing your life with someone special are wonderful gifts, but you should not view yourself or your life as incomplete if you are single.
8. Practice makes perfect.
For most skills improvement requires practice. By some estimates it can take up to 10,000 hours to really master a skill such as playing a musical instrument or being a competitive athlete. What can make this work seem so frustrating is that the “perfection” which is promised never arrives. In fact, practice does not and cannot make you perfect at anything because perfection is an impossible to reach standard. As the saying goes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” We often use our failure to achieve perfection as a reason to stop trying at all. Practice does lead to improvement and should be valued for that reason alone. Set aside perfection and work on being good.
9. Once I finish _________, I’ll have more time.
Everyone has probably said this at one time or another whether it is about something at school or work. But, what you soon learn is that the free time you see in the future is always receding because once you finish your current project you’ll end up with another and then another. As long as you focus on finishing things you will never end up with the free time you plan on having. The key to breaking this cycle lies with not starting things.
10. You can be anything you want if you work hard enough.
We are often taught some variation of this idea from an early age. But, it ignores an important part of life: limits. These limits are not necessarily a bad thing. Creativity arises out of limitations as artists struggle against the constraints of their medium and skill. Hard work can take you far but it cannot guarantee your success in everything you try. Because of my physical limitations I will never play football in the NFL. Because of my artistic limitations I will never play in Carnegie Hall. Recognizing one’s limits actually liberates you from the burden of being able to do everything and focus on what you can do. Ultimately, the fact that our life is limited is what allows us to give it meaning. If you lived forever what would it matter what you did or when? Likewise, if you really could be anything, what you chose to do would have less meaning.