To Be You or To Be What Others Want You To Be

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – November 20, 2023

I’d like to share an old parable used by Mark Twain that I feel illustrates the dangers of searching for, or succumbing to, the control of others regarding what you should do in life.

A schooled military history buff died and was met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates. The man curiously asked for the identity of the most talented general of all time. To the man’s surprise, Saint Peter exclaimed, “There is no question who that is,” and pointed out the individual.

The man replied, “I knew that man when I was alive. He was no general. He was a grumpy lawyer, unhappy and frustrated with life.”

“That is correct,” Saint Peter replied. “He was a lawyer and frustrated with life, but had he been who he was and not what others wanted him to be, history books would have documented him as the most talented general of all time!”

This parable powerfully illustrates the pitfalls of searching for, or succumbing to, the control of others regarding what you should do in life. If you let the beliefs, desires, wants, and judgments of others guide the decisions you make in your life, you run the risk of seriously miscasting yourself. Let’s explore.

As a coach, I find that, for many of my clients, the most common and powerful barrier to their career is that they have allowed others to control what they do in life. To me, this is like going off to search for buried treasure (i.e., talent) after being given the wrong map (i.e., paying attention to the wrong thing) based on what someone else believes would be good for you. Consequently, you end up searching in the wrong place for the wrong thing that will be of no value to you if and when you find it! How frustrating is that?

Recently, I witnessed an acquaintance in the legal field rewrite her history book. She was unfulfilled with being the lawyer others wanted her to be, so she tossed the “map” she had been given and began listening to her internal compass (i.e., her passion) only to discover it had always been and still continued to point to her calling in life. She just hadn’t been listening. After getting comfortable with her newfound map, and using her internal compass, she left her job in favor of who she believed herself to be and joined the Peace Corps.

The key question I’m always curious to ask those frustrated by life: How does it serve you in your career life to be what others want you to be if it conflicts with who you are supposed to be?

2 thoughts on “To Be You or To Be What Others Want You To Be

  1. Very critical and so true. Unfortunately, most of us are eyeball-deep in our ‘must-do, must-be’ notions that we’re often many decades old before we become clear (again) about our true calling.

    1. Eyeball-deep in our “must do – must be.” That is the issue. So often, people are in the weeds… lost in the details, and they never pause to look at things in a bigger context. Thanks for your comment.

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