When We Need a Reality Check More Than a Cheerleader

When validation isn’t enough, real feedback might just tip the scale.

Quinn Cornell
Jul 11 · 5 min read

What do you need most to reach your next life breakthrough — another inspirational mantra telling you how limitless you are, or a reality check from an honest friend?

Whether you’re shooting for a promotion, hoping someone you’ve been seeing commits to you, troubleshooting a friendship conundrum, there’s a “next level” we’re all trying to break through to. And if you’re human, things are in your way. Hence, the birth of motivational speakers and writers. Well, I’m not one. Although I do consume the material here and there.

I’m a 30-something woman who runs a tech business, occasionally writes on the side under a pseudonym (can’t risk upsetting stakeholders by going off-script in an article), and have my fair share of social and relationships problems, not to mention the usual challenges of running a business.

Recently, I decided to seek out a life coach, uncertain what this effort would bring. I also started heavily consuming inspirational articles online, most of which, while enjoyable and quite easy to digest, didn’t tell me anything I haven’t known since the ninth grade. Of course, the reminder to develop a morning routine, value my time, be present, etc... doesn’t hurt.

So I started by googling “life coach los angeles,” “executive coach startups,” and a slew of other search terms in hopes of finding someone who could offer some insight. Even checked Yelp. After filtering through the inevitable share of “masseuse and life coach”-style listings, I eventually drew up a list of 13 people who seemed solid. The search is still ongoing. But in the meantime, I can say that in the four conversations I’ve had, I’m hearing a few things consistently: that I am a whole person, that everything that has happened was meant to happen, and that all my experiences lead me somewhere I am meant to be. Well, I’m not to going to argue with someone if they want to rationalize all my bad choices by saying it was meant to be. But I do think it would be more useful if I could find a way to stop making bad choices, rather than to rationalize them after the fact as part of a universal grand plan.

I’m not questioning that motivational articles, self-help books, articles reminding us that we are awesome, we are where we are meant to be, we are whole, we are enough, etc… have their place. I love the stuff. It’s dessert. It’s like cookie dough ice cream with the hot fudge that I microwaved right before pouring it directly into the ice cream container.

But like with ice cream, I’ve been asking myself lately — is all this validation what I really need right now? Is it helping, or is it just keeping me in a self-satisfied sugar coma from which I’m too gluttonously full of my own enough-ness to question some really big assumptions that are running my life off into a ditch?

I, for one, am human and of course enjoy having my feelings, achievements, and hardships validated. Like with many people, having my hardships validated is particularly delicious. This seems to amplify achievements even further. Everyone likes to be the underdog as it makes the wins more savory.

But really, do we need more validation? Or might it actually be more pragmatic to have a real friend shake us, wake us from the coma of self-satisfaction, and point out the things we’ve been afraid to see but that are blatantly obvious to everyone around us?

What if, the next time I spoke with a friend, she felt comfortable enough to say, “look Quinn, the reason Mark stopped asking you out is because you kept making him do all the work. It’s time for you to bring something to the table as well if you want to date solid guys looking for a partner.” Or, “Quinn, you keep feeling sorry yourself instead of peeling yourself off the couch and doing something about X. You’re not going to fix it until you stop being such a victim.” Or “(Insert name), the reason you are tired all the time is probably not that you need to take it easier on yourself and relax more– it’s probably that your gluten-free keto diet that you’re on for no apparent reason has thrown your body into a long-term state of ketosis and is taxing your kidneys. So go eat some carbs, quit whining, and get a job.”

Ok, maybe that last one doesn’t apply all that broadly (although in Los Angeles, you could throw a stone…). But the point is, imagine your whiniest friend suddenly being able to receive feedback like this. Now imagine, what if a version of this is you? And what if you were suddenly able to hear feedback like that, instead of being told that you are enough and you are on the journey you’re meant to be on, etc…? It might sting, but wouldn’t it be a gift? You could save hundreds of hours of reading motivational books about how deserving you are, and possibly save thousands of dollars on coaching and therapy. Maybe the answers are already available to us, and we just need to muster the wherewithal and humility to ask the people who know us best for them.

Of course, this also requires the all-important ingredient — the ability to hear something unflattering, and find a way to use it, rather than getting offended. This can prove difficult. There is a whole canon of inspirational idioms and quotes teaching us not to care what others think of us and to drown out all voices that bring into view our limitations. Eg. “what other people think of me is none of my business” and other postcard quotes. But if others see into your blind spots, aware of something that you aren’t, wouldn’t you want to know — for the strategic value alone, if nothing else? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to hear the feedback from the shadows, than to keep blissfully dancing to the beat of the “you can do it” mantra, while making no real progress?

You might hear something negative, or something that doesn’t resonate from time to time when you start asking for honest feedback. But our tanks are so full of positivity already from the self-affirming language we see every day, that most of us could probably stand to take a couple hits in service of working toward a breakthrough.

So perhaps, and when the next big life challenge presents itself, do the hard work first — find someone who can be honest with you and give you the reality check about what pitfalls you keep getting trapped by. Get the real story…If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who will provide this gift. Then take a pep talk for dessert.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Quinn Cornell

Written by

An opinionated pragmatist and over-analyzer of culture, people, and the causes and effects that often go unnoticed in daily life.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.