If there is any single thought that clouds my decisions more than any other, it’s this one…”what do they want me to say?” It leads me to putting things in my resume I don’t care about, not say things in a conversation that I do care about, and, if it guides me too long, start forgetting what really matters all along.
It’s a hold-over question. An inquiry designed for a time when being yourself was not valued as much as just being the person needed to fit in this part of the production line. In a primarily industrial based economy, where consistency matters more than creativity, knowing how to act like, produce like, or even be like someone else is a great way to get ahead.
Today, the spot on the production line changes every day. What may be needed from you, relative to what you might have originally signed up for, can often take a 180 degree turn without notice. And now, because you only said what you thought they wanted to hear, you find yourself further outside of what you actually want to do. To make matters worse, because you did not say what you wanted in the beginning, it is much harder to go back on it now.
We do this because we have been trained to do this. Because giving the teacher the answer they wanted was valued, because we had the boss who only wanted you to say what he wanted to hear, and because we bought into the idea that, if we just do what this college person is telling us, this recruiter is telling us, or this friend is telling us, then ultimately we will get what we want. Only, by the time we are in a position to say it, we’ve lost the ability to say it, or worse, the understanding of what it is that we actually want in the first place.
So now, when I hear that question from the back of my mind, when it habitually creeps in like a nicotine craving, or when my own insecurity is starting to get the best of me, I take it as a challenge to ask a couple of different questions. What do I want to say? What needs to come out into the world? What am I afraid of saying? What could I say that would make me proud? What can I say that would inspire someone else, who is also being quiet, to say what they want to say?
We are lucky to have moved out of that old economy. Lucky we get to pursue careers and lives others only dreamed about. Lucky to be in a learning economy that values creativity, ingenuity and uniqueness. But what is it worth if we only know what to say and not how to be heard? What value is the gift if I never use it to open my own creativity? And how will I know my potential if I never give voice to my passion?
What they want me to say is none of my business anymore. What they really need me to say, whether they know it or not, is that my passions have value, my purpose has direction, and that I’ll only work for or do business with those that believe I matter. Cause I do, we all do, and we just need to keep saying it until we become they.