I bet you get tons of these emails in your inbox, offering you the world on a platter and easy fortunes with little or no work. I know I do. They make promises that you will earn enormous sums of money with a click of your mouse. They tell you how you can get 10,000 followers, forty new clients in a week, or find the love of your love with two easy action steps. These messages make my blood boil.
So when I get the too-good-to-be-true sounding offers, I am pretty skeptical. I do open some of them, read on and on and on, only to close them and hit delete in disgust, mostly at myself over the time I have wasted. Why do I still subscribe to these things? I suppose it is some internal need to believe just a little bit in fairy tales, or the fact that I am probably 50% dreamer and 50% practical, as far as my personality make-up goes.
Still, my common sense takes over when I think back to the ventures in which I have been most successful in my own life (according to my own standards and not those of the rest of the world). I have rarely, if ever, had anything come to me magically and easily. Even falling in love and working at building a relationship takes the effort of introspection, understanding honesty and compromise. Certainly anything I have done and done well, with good results, has required the same.
I just don’t believe in holding out false promises or that I should encourage anyone to believe that they can reel in fish, money, clients, friends, lovers or business prospects with little or no investment. Life has definitely taught me that we don’t always get what we want but when we do, it is not accomplished through subterfuge or wishful thinking.
I outgrew magical thinking when I was a little kid. It astonishes me, though, how many adults still believe they have the power to cause something to happen merely by wishing it or thinking about it. Then there is the group that thinks you only need to work hard and success and good fortune are guaranteed. How do we account for the times that people do everything right and just don’t achieve or receive what they wanted? I do believe it is healthier to think of positive outcomes than to dwell on all of the negatives that are possible in life, but I must admit that the huge numbers of believers in The Law of Attraction have me mystified. I have lived through too much. I have seen people go through devastating illnesses and loss of all kinds. I find it hard to believe that they are at fault or somehow caused their own catastrophes, by simply not visualizing what they really wanted to happen and thereby attracting a better fate. I guess I just believe that nobody “promised us a rose garden” and that when things don’t go our way, we have to dust ourselves off and start anew, trying to use the new learning and insight we have acquired through our disappointments and failures.
I know a young couple with three small kids who moved to this country with hopes of making a good life for their family, but who ended up losing everything, including the house they had worked so hard to buy. They have tried a million different options and applied for all sorts of jobs. The wife has a job but the pay is too low to meet their expenses. The husband has gotten more and more depressed and feels he has let his family down. Some people would have them believe that they didn’t want it badly enough, were not positive enough, and didn’t envision success strongly enough to attract it. To me that is just plain balderdash (In real life I curse quite a bit but it doesn’t feel dignified to do it on my blog, read by friends, clients and strangers too.)
When I was a kid, I was taken out by a relative for a day on a bluefish excursion boat. I didn’t want to go. My parents were away and I was staying with close relatives for the long weekend. I had looked forward to time with their new baby and to lounging around without any chores to do. The baby’s mom probably wanted a break from me and some time alone with the baby. She also thought I might enjoy a new experience. I was cranky that I had to get up really early and that the weather report said it would be pretty chilly that day. I was promised that if I behaved and helped bring home some fish for dinner, we would stop at the end of the day and buy my favorite dessert, cheescake with cherries.
After I woke up enough to think straight, I began to feel like a bigshot, off with the “menfolk” on an adventure. I didn’t even know if I liked bluefish, but I convinced myself that I was going to catch a lot of them because everyone told me I would if I behaved, was quiet, focused and tried to stay out of the way. It was freezing on the boat and pretty soon I wanted to go home. I was bored, tired, cold and hungry. I was frustated because after hours of trying I hadn’t caught a thing and everyone around me had a nice bounty.
My companions, all adults, kept telling me that soon I would catch a ton of fish. They said it was easy and if I just relaxed, the fish would come. They quickly grew weary of being distracted by a child and went back to their own fishing. Nobody really instructed me much. They put the bait on the line and told me to get ready to wrestle the fish. I did get a couple on the line but they put up a fight and I lost them. When I began whining, I was reminded about the promised stop to pick up the cheesecake, so I quieted down, but I didn’t catch one fish and my line kept getting tangled with other lines, which didn’t please the seasoned fisherman in the party. Pretty soon the experienced fisherman told me to just sit and keep quiet because I was disturbing them. My relative/babysitter said not to worry because he would tell the rest of the family at home that some of the fish he had caught were mine. I didn’t much like that and thought it was an outright lie. I sulked. I never learned how to catch fish, had a miserable day and to add insult to injury, when we left, the grownups said they were too tired to stop to get the cheesecake and I could just have to be content with a cookie after supper.
My fish tale reminds me a little bit of the old Chinese proverb, “ Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That proverb isn’t about promises but it seems to me that handing things to people and misleading them by trying to convince them they will be rewarded if they do little or nothing is doing people a great disservice.
I see all of this as applicable to many aspects of life, including parenting. Kids whose parents make empty promises that are rarely kept often grow up not trusting others and have low expectations in life. There are parents who don’t believe they are making empty promises to their children, but they spoon-feed everything and make life too easy. The promise that is unspoken is that the world outside of the insular family will work the same way, and it doesn’t. Kids raised this way are left without the coping skills to face challenges and disappointment.
It applies to business too. I could promise my prospective coaching clients that a few months of working with me will miraculously change their lives and as a sign-up bonus I will give them enough ready-to-cook fish filets to stick in the freezer and last for a long time. It is true that if they are committed to looking at the truth, exploring new ideas and perspectives and doing the work needed to accomplish what they want, their lives will change. In my opinion, this won’t happen as a result of any miracles, handouts or simply visualizing success. Hopefully I would lead them in a good direction and facilitate some of the change, but I would not be responsible for it. I could tell them that my magic techniques will resolve all of their problems, fulfill their most fervent wishes and more. The truth is that I don’t have techniques that will blow anybody’s mind or that are amazingly new or unique. If I did, I would be rich by now and last time I checked, I was definitely not. If the people are tired of the status quo, tired of suffering with the kind of pain or inertia they have been feeling and want things to be different, they will find we can work together to create a synergy that sets everything in motion for them. The operative word, though, is “work” and false promises are just plain destructive and destroy trust, enthusiasm and real gains.
Instead of offering an array of freebies, I prefer that clients choose to work with me because they like my approach and sense that I will support them in any way they need in order to reach the goals they set. I want them to know that I will never lie to them. I will use everything I possess to spark their learning and creativity. I will help them find their own strengths and capabilities and I will never, ever give up on them, if they don’t give up on themselves. These are promises I can and will keep.
What I won’t do is all of their work and I won’t catch the fish they are going to bring home for dinner. We don’t want to reward people for doing nothing or train them to expect rewards will come to them just because they are nice people. Everyone, though, needs encouragement, support, enthusing, respect and honesty. Everyone needs help in acquiring skills and knowledge that will enable them to be independent and successful. Very few of us wake up, having magically mastered while asleep, the life skills we need. Instead, of giving people the equivalent of plastic Happy Meal prizes, I believe we must aid them in learning how to fish and must let them know that sometimes life is hard, but we can make it through and can make things better (even if we fail).
I like to encourage others to look out over the blue waters of their lives and out toward the horizon. In front of them they may see choppy waves, or even menacing sharks in the nearby waters. There may be clouds overhead and rainstorms, but if they look far ahead enough, hopefully they will be able to see the horizon and soon, the big picture. The solutions are there but they have to first put in the time and effort to discover them. They may need to cast their lines over and over before they catch anything, and maybe the first catch or two will be an old shoe, instead of a fish. . They will have to figure out the best waters for fishing, the most effective implements to use, which fish they want to catch and which ones are work keeping. I suspect there may be struggles when something lands on the line. If they have the tools and understanding ready in advance, they will know what to do. If it doesn’t work this time, they can reassess and maybe next time will be the magic one.
When you think about your own life, who were/ are the mentors, supporters, teachers, important figures who helped you acquire or achieve something significant that you desired?
What were some of the methods they used or things they did that were most effective in your eyes?
What happened to your hopes, dreams and projects when you perhaps realized that someone who had made promises to you was not going to keep them or did not?
What did you feel about that person?
What did you feel about yourself for having fallen for the promises and for not checking things out more thoroughly?
What has given you the most confidence when you were trying something new?
Have there been times in your life when what you wanted to have or do happened easily for you and your expectations were met?
Did you have the same kind of learning from such an experience as when things you wanted were more difficult, or when your expectations were not met, no matter how hard you worked? Why? Why not?
Were you able to use your learning to make things better or easier for yourself when attempting something at a later date?