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When People Try to Keep You Down, Remember This Story

This is a joke!” screamed an overly amped-up koala. “These trees are way too big! I don’t know a single monkey — let alone koala — who could possibly make it to the top!”

Shaking slightly with quickly growing self-doubt, the nine brave koalas attempted to claw their way up Lonely Eucalyptus —a patch of trees so tall the furry animals believed thunder was a result of their branches tickling the clouds.

And sure enough, the negative noise from the ground began to impede the positive advancement above as each minute that passed the faster the koalas began to drop.

“Ha ha ha!” belted out caffeine koala from the top of his lungs. “Ha ha ha!” joined in the others. “It’s called Lonely Eucalyptus for a reason! You’re all fools for even trying. No one has ever made it to the top and no one ever will!”

But to the amazement of the crowd, one young koala kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And after two hours, she’d done the impossible and was rewarded with a view no koala had ever seen before and quite possibly a view no other koala would see again.

“How’d you do it?” shouted the masses once the young hero had finally put her little paws on the firm ground. “We gotta know your secret!”

“You’re wasting your time!” replied her father while giving his daughter the two-thumb salute in typical koala fashion. “She’s deaf!”

I like to make up stories for my kids while we’re laying in bed at night. Most of them are pretty awful. But they like this one. So do I. It serves as a strong reminder that the ultimate form of personal slavery looks a lot like allowing the public to define what you can and cannot do.

If you want to be a writer, write.

If you want to be a designer, design.

If you want to be a teacher, teach.

This may sound obvious but during the eight years I spent as a career advisor I can’t begin to count the number of people I met who acquired a pair of cement feet due to the passing comments of others. “I heard this!” “Someone said that!” Much of the time it wasn’t even people who really knew them. But despite this, they allowed the words to shackle them.

The beauty of getting older is patterns begin to emerge. One of the most glaring is that the day you prioritize the words of others over your own internal signal is the very day you can kiss your dreams goodbye.

Maybe you don’t reach the top. You may not even come close to reaching your goals.

But that’s not the point.

Building your confidence or being able to sleep well at night isn’t only achieved by getting things right or what society defines as “winning”— it also comes from trying. You never know, you may find that by embracing that attitude you’re presented with opportunities you hadn’t even considered before as the opinions that matter come from those who understand the importance of consistent effort.

I recently got asked to give weekly lectures to MBA students on how to communicate with clarity and persuasion. I don’t have a fancy education. If I’d listened to the people who told me a guy with a speech impediment had no place in the communication world, I never would have left my house let alone put in the work to get to the point where I now attract the jobs I want.

The same thing happened when I began writing. “You’re embarrassing yourself!” I can’t count the number of people who told me this despite doing something as harmless as publishing articles online. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. I wasn’t hurting them. I may not have always gotten my message right, but I certainly wasn’t doing anything wrong. It’s true what they say that the only way some people feel big is by keeping others small.

I could go on and on about how many of the things I’m most proud of were met with criticism. Taking a sales job out of college with my stutter drew a particular amount of heat. The same goes for moving to Spain after being financially wiped out in Central America. People in my hometown in the US even had a bet going of how quickly I’d be back asking to sleep on their couch.

True freedom isn’t tied to money. It took me a long time to learn that. True freedom is found by having the courage to bet on yourself.

You gotta create your own green lights when others yell red.

You gotta give yourself permission to be bad so you’ll eventually get better.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting laughed at. In fact, it’s often a sign you’re on the right track as most people don’t have the stones to risk humiliating themselves. It may hurt. You may even get a few scars. But so what? If you take the time to dissect the multitude of things you got right that eventually led to a perceived wrong, you should identify loads of things worth building upon.

Plus, the older you get, the more you should begin to realize that it’s our scars that make us beautiful. They show you actually stand for something which is a helluva lot more attractive than spending your days tossing words at others from the sidelines.

Think hard about what you really want. Get clear on the one thing you’re willing to do even if it means being laughed at. Remind yourself that the last thing you want to realize when you’re old and grey is you sabotage yourself because of what other people say.

We have one shot at this life.

The next time you catch your internal self-doubt is a response to external noise, remember the story of the little koala. Then put your head down, block the noise, and do the one thing you already know how to do — climb.

Thank you for reading.
My best to you and yours.

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