So that we might succeed in life, there are rules set for us and boundaries explained to us from the time we’re young by the people who have come before us. The advisement usually comes from successful people who have used their wit and determination to achieve greatness in their given field. That advice trickles down to us through television, a drunk uncle, or the leader of whatever place one prays at. Knowing how to separate the positive advice from the useless can be a hard thing for anyone, especially when the advice is coming from a figure of authority like your parents or your boss.
When I was 17, I was enjoying mediocre success at the top international level of figure skating. I was the shiny, new thing among the skating elite and for the first time I was approached by a man who wanted to help manage my career.
The agent came from a prestigious sports agency, with a list of great clients and wonderful credentials. As I was a minor, my mother was included in our discussion. He laid out his list of clients as well as how he’d personally made them huge. Huge may be a mild overstatement here as there are very few “huge” figure skaters in the modern era. In any event, he’d gotten this one a TV show or that one an ad campaign, and he had strict stipulations on what and who I had to be if he was going to lay out his prowess for me.
Let me paint you a proper picture. I was at an awkward stage in my development. I was finishing out the remainder of my pubescent growth spurt. I had horribly died red hair that was growing in a minor afro-curly-fuzz kind of way. And I was just wrapping my head around the whole gay thing in a grown-up way.
I traveled with my mom, roomed at competitions with her instead of my teammates, and was classically under-acclimated to social situations because of my rigorous work schedule as a young person.
The first stipulation to this guy’s proposal was, “If I’m going to represent you, you can’t be gay. Gay doesn’t sell. … You also need to assure me that you will continue to improve and win competitions. I’ve never represented such a young person before, and you need to promise it will be worth my while.”
He then went on to describe how we would make me into a teen heartthrob, all-American poster child for children’s excellence. He told me who I should be training with, where, and how. Needless to say, we didn’t accept his proposal.
Finding your personal success doesn’t always come in a cookie-cutter shape, not even on eBay. There are people who respond well to a business plan set forth for them. “You will have a 4.0 GPA, you will go to an Ivy League university, and you will become a highly successful doctor, lawyer, or business man.” Those people may run the world in many ways, but some of us are born to play with that thin red line. Some of us have the beautiful opportunity to forge our own path and make a difference in our own idea of what success is.
Through my career, I stayed very loyal to people I believed in, even though they weren’t necessarily favorites among the people who paid my bills or advanced my career. I chose unpopular music. I let my personality shine when I was told to dye it blond and smile for the cameras. I did what worked for me, because in life, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
With a position of power comes responsibility, and one of the most annoying responsibilities is listening to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who want to advise you on what they think could work better for you – and as I hear it, everything you’re doing wrong.
My advice to anyone is to take the path that will work for you. While you will fall flat on your face many times, the finale will be sweet: You will reach your goal and you will have your own brain to thank. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, so use yours wisely.