Is it realistic for me to think I can open my own business and make it a success? Is it realistic for me to look for a six figure job? What’s realistic for me to aim for, given that I don’t have a graduate degree? Is that realistic for someone my age? These are some of the questions I hear several times a week dealing with “reality.” I put reality in quotes because the only true reality is what is going on in the present moment. The past is a selective remembering, and the future a selective projection. Let me take a moment to elaborate on that last sentence.

The past is a selective remembering because we as humans have an innate need to stitch together experiences so as to create what seems to us to be a sensible narrative. That inevitably means that the vast majority of our actual experiences are ignored, edited out, or forgotten while a select few are emphasized to create the narrative….the story….that we use to interpret what’s going on. That narrative acts as a lens through which we experience “reality,” but just as with most lenses there is a certain amount of distortion involved.

From a career standpoint it’s essential to examine your competency narrative to see if and where distortion may be occurring. For example, perhaps you’ve been fired. In most cases, you were only partly to blame. First step is to investigate and take responsibility for your part. Then examine whether you are allowing that development to distort and diminish your sense of self worth? Almost inevitably it will, but that sense needs to be restored if you want to move ahead.

ANY narrative is going to influence the way the future unfolds for you….positively, negatively, or neutrally. Note that our narratives are often hidden – kind of like the operating system in a computer. It can be hard to accurately discern the “operating system” which is running your experience of “reality.” A professional therapist or counselor can be very helpful in identifying what’s really going on for you.

That is not to say that there are no “objective” realities. Of course there are. You can’t legally practice medicine unless you’re a doctor. You can’t join the Air Force if you have a bad back. You can’t become pregnant if you’re in your 70s. But sometimes people tend to confuse TENDENCIES and REALITIES.

It is objectively true, for instance, that making a good living in the arts is more difficult than in tech. It is also objectively true that by the time troubled couples begin couples therapy, in the majority of cases too much damage has already been done to repair the relationship. But does that mean that one should forego the arts as a career? Or that couples counseling isn’t worth the effort? No.

Success in just about any endeavor requires lots of effort, and SHOWING UP. Doing what needs to be done with a positive attitude. If you want to be a writer you need to write. If you want to be a singer you need to sing. If you’ve begun couples therapy to improve your relationship you need to listen to the prescriptions of your counselor.

Too often insufficient effort is invested in endeavors because of the pre-existing narrative that dramatically limits perceived possibilities. Or the endeavor isn’t even begun. Most people can readily grasp the concept that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But the same could be said for much of what the average person thinks about Reality – it is very much in the eye of the beholder.