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Don't Lie to Yourself


For years, I convinced myself (and others) that I was destined for a successful career in finance. I loved the idea of wearing a suit and tie to work daily, with a briefcase in hand, while I attended important meetings and left important voicemail messages for clients. I liked imagining people being impressed by my tardiness, too, caught up by the notion that I was late due to urgent demands of my valuable time. 

In short, I think I liked the idea of that life because I saw it firsthand. It’s the life my dad led, his dad before him, and countless neighbors and relatives. I picked up the message that “good people” (especially men) went to work all day to do business, provide for their families, and mow their lawns on the weekends. Any deviation was a bit strange or a shirking of responsibilities. 

The thing is, back then, if you had suggested to me that I was lying to myself and others, I would’ve smacked you in the mouth—figuratively, of course. I would’ve been defensive and insulted. I believed it wholeheartedly. 

In reality, almost no one wants what they want because they authentically want it. We’re all influenced by the people around us—family, friends, and the people we see as our peers online. It happens on a subconscious level. 

Rene Girard, famed Stanford professor and author, popularized the concept of the Romantic Lie, a key pillar in his Mimetic Theory. In short, the Romantic Lie is something that happens to everyone—we start pursuing things because we want what other people want, not because we are freely choosing them. 

We all have people in our minds that we put on pedestals and pay attention to how they operate. Their pursuits, achievements, and goals are not-so-subtle cues for us. We want what they want because we’re drawn to our perception of who they are, how they live, and how it must feel to be them. The Romantic Lie starts in middle school when we start mimicking the fashion choices of our popular peers. Do we actually want crimped hair, black Converse, and saggy jeans? Do we actually like U2, Taylor Swift, or Dave Matthews? Or are we drawn towards them because the people we look up to wore it or declared it first?

Deep down, I didn’t want to go into finance. But I did want security, safety, and the benefits of impressing people. I lied to myself for years, and the people around me bought the con, too. It wasn’t until I started questioning my future and conversing with an impartial mentor that I saw a glitch in my personal Matrix. 

In hindsight, I have no regrets. I found my way eventually, and way earlier than most of my peers. But I wish I had been guided through some simple, painless soul-searching. Simply, straightforward reflection exercises can help you clarify your values, interests, and aspirations and force you to think through their source. 

As we often say in the YouSchool world, it’s your life, it’s your story. Don’t let anyone else write it.


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