Kids are the most decisive people on this planet. They know what they want and you’re going to have to convince them otherwise. They have mastered intuition and listening to their desires. Whether it’s a snack or a onesie, they can look at the option and pick without pause. It’s a skill I wish I had.
I know I was like that once based on the stories my family tells, but somewhere along the way I misunderstood my own desires for the ones the world demanded of me. The ones that are never said but simply implied.
I learned to adapt really early as the new kid at 13 different schools before I turned 18. My decision making skills quickly evolved from listening to my gut to changing based on context clues. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, but what would make me fit in that I needed to do. I felt this constant pressure of fitting in and making an impression. To be memorable. Ultimately, an attempt to feel connected.
It was just like the teenage romcom moments when they’re walking into a loud lunchroom scanning for a seat. The tension of making a decision that felt like it could impact my life. Every choice felt like it was life-altering. I took that into my jobs, too. Always trying to fit in. Be the one they’d choose.
Living my life believing every choice could change everything for me or my career was exhausting. I can see pretty clearly that formula for an anxious human being written into my ability to make a decision all the way back to the lunch tray. It made me too tired to push back on the things that made me feel bad. Still at 36, I found myself smiling and nodding my way through conversations just like I did when I was 6.
Then I took a turn into a world of unknowns by leaping into van life last December. It was the first time in my life that I accepted there were things I just couldn’t know. Things I couldn’t plan. Decisions I couldn’t overthink, although I sure did try. But still, I chose a life where I didn’t quite fit into anyone’s expectations, especially for someone whose business card says CEO.
It was the first time I made choices based on my desires. I was intentional about accepting I wouldn’t fit in. I wouldn’t keep doing the things that hurt me. I wouldn’t work so hard. No more 9 am to 9pm work weeks. I wouldn’t be locked up in a hotel room or office constantly. No, I was going to work when I had the energy. Experience the sky when I felt still. Listen to my intuition instead of writing pro/con lists. Break all the rules I made to survive, fitting in to those lunchrooms all those years ago.
All of this while listening to this voice that started as a whisper and sometimes screamed saying I couldn’t be as successful if I stepped aside from the rigor of life. If I stopped making choices “the right way.” If I stopped choosing to focus on fitting in.
As I reflect on what happened at Three Ears Media and in my life the last year, I wasn’t as successful as I’ve always been. It was so much better than my wildest expectations. This choice delivered more opportunities to do exactly what I wanted whether it was speaking engagements, mountains, or beaches. It also made me disappoint a lot more people. I learned to say no over and over. I chose not to fit in because for the first time in my life, I was willing to disappoint everyone but me.
I think we’re all conditioned by society to think that fitting in is the first step to a happy life. Living this way has challenged that notion. I stopped choosing to fit in and found a life that fit me. For all the things I thought I’d lose, I only lost the things that weren’t serving me. For all the things I thought I’d gain, it was better than I ever imagined. All because I stopped following this unspoken rule of putting what everyone else expects of me first.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.