I speak professionally and have received some really interesting invitations lately. Earlier this year I was invited to speak on two different continents, on two completely different topics. One group wanted something inspirational/motivational (with a little flamenco dancing thrown in for good measure), the other wanted me to wear my doctor hat and share health and wellness information.
As I emailed back and forth with the two different clients, I was struck by how very happy I was that I’d totally ignored the advice I’d been given repeatedly throughout my career.
“Pick a lane,” I was told by mentors and coaches, over and over again. “If you want to succeed as a speaker and expert, pick one thing you want to be known for, and focus exclusively on that.”
They’d look at my website, where I was writing about everything from nutrition to relationships to life balance to happiness to living your dreams (with a whole section focused on my flamenco dancing), and they’d groan and shake their heads.
“This will never work,” they told me. “It’s crazy. It’s way too much.”
One well meaning mentor even told me that I’d be wise to focus on the booming health care industry, speaking exclusively about health care reform at hospitals and similar facilities. He was quite excited about the idea but I couldn’t imagine anything more tedious; he seemed to be exasperated by my resistance to such solid advice.
I also could never seem to come up with the right “elevator speech” to explain what I do.
“Hi, I’m a medical doctor/wellness expert/life coach/flamenco dancer who helps people get unstuck and live healthier, happier, more passionate lives” just sounds weird. It’s all true but seriously, who talks like that? Most people’s eyes boggle when they hear doctor and flamenco dancer in the same sentence so they stop listening to me by that point anyway!
In so many aspects of my business I kept getting standard advice which really did seem to work well for lots of people, but it just didn’t sit right with me. So I just kept doing what I’m doing. I write about whatever I want to write about, and every time someone asks me what I do a different unscripted explanation comes out. It usually ends up being more of a conversation than a “speech”, which I think is more engaging for everyone anyway.
Ignoring the best advice, repeatedly, was one of the best things I ever did for my career. I’ve been on national television a number of times and it seems that every time it’s for a different topic that I’m passionate about. For example, The Ricki Lake Show invited me on to talk about stress, and The Today Show asked me to talk about success (they also flashed some flamenco photos on screen and asked me to do a few moves – now THAT was an experience! So many people thought my dance "career" was a ridiculous idea for a doctor, so what a moment it was to have my crazy choice affirmed on national television like that, oh my goodness).
I get to talk about ALL the stuff I love, I haven’t had to give up a single thing (as I would have, had I “picked a lane”).
It’s really hard to stick to your guns when you’re new to something and multiple successful people with much more experience and wisdom than you keep telling you that you’re doing it wrong, that you need to listen to them if you want to succeed.
Whenever I heard their advice about narrowing my expertise down to one topic, it felt wrong. Whenever I’d take a course that encouraged me to focus on one tight marketing niche, and speak in a scripted, rigid way about it, it felt wrong. I just couldn’t get excited about it, I couldn’t get any forward momentum with the idea. It felt wrong to force myself into that tight box.
The reason I’m writing this is that I really want to encourage you to listen to yourself. There will be so many situations that you come up against in life where people with more experience will insist that you do things a certain way, or will warn you that you shouldn’t do what you would really love to do.
They could be right, but if someone gives you “expert” advice (or tries to discourage you, based on their expertise) and it just doesn’t feel right, take a chance on honoring how you feel.
If I had listened to all those people who had told me to focus exclusively on serving one demographic, or who told me to focus on one topic, I would have missed out on so much joy and so many wonderful opportunities, not to mention income.
Is there a direction in your life that you long to go in, or a unique path that you want to carve? Many of the best businesses, books and works of art in the world were created by people who blazed a completely new path, who surely were told by others that they couldn’t do it, that “it won’t work if you do it that way.”
Be yourself. Blaze your own path. By all means listen to good advice and information and implement it, but only if it feels right and resonates with what you know instinctively to be true.
If someone says something to you and your gut tells you that it’s wrong (even if your gut feeling goes against common wisdom), take a chance on your gut. Sometimes that feeling in the center of your being is the only signpost in the world that is pointing you toward the unique life and success that awaits you. The only person who can feel that inner knowing for you, is you.
Advice, however well-intentioned, is usually given from the head. I’ve learned to listen to my heart.
Have you had an experience in your life where you’ve ignored well-intentioned advice and been really glad that you did? I would love to hear about it in the Comment section below!