Should I Follow a Guru?

“So, who’s your guru?” she suddenly asked. I admit, I was a little stunned and didn’t know how to respond. Did she mean the one writer I look up to as my idol? One, whose every word I follow because I want to be like her/him?

There isn’t one. Should there be one?

I follow many successful writers, and they take turns in popularity with me. There are so many excellent, successful writers out there who love to share what they know, and I feel I’d miss out if I limit myself to one or even a few.

Maybe it’s an old habit of mine to always spread myself out too thin. I want it all, a bit of everything at once, rather than one thing at a time.

But, here’s the thing about all these amazing, knowledgeable, and experienced writers:

  • They all know something I don’t.
  • Each one has something unique to offer.
  • No one knows everything.
  • Each one has great ideas, but no one is always right.
  • They all keep continually learning.
  • What’s right for one scenario may be wrong for another.

I actually think the trick is to be open to all their wisdom and pick out what’s right for me at the time that it’s right for me. The best people to learn from are the ones who’ve succeeded in something I’m struggling with.

How Sweet the Comfort-Zone!

The real challenge is not to listen to the advice that sounds the sweetest and that keeps you in your comfort zone, but the guidance that leads to success.

When you admire someone, after a while, anything they tell you will sound sweet and smart. But that isn’t necessarily what you need to hear. It has become comfortable, and it has worked so far. You think. Or, if not, maybe it will this time.

But you’re not going to find your own success if all you do is keep follow someone else’s path on the way there. Eventually, you need to walk your own path to bring the best out of yourself. And that’ll be a lot easier if you’ve learned different approaches, and tried different ways.

I’ll go even further and say that some of the most important lessons are learned when you decide to follow someone you don’t like or who does things in ways you don’t like.

Follow What You Need, Not What You Like

I had a colleague once, a rival, and I … well, disliked her. She didn’t work half as hard and organized as me. Instead, she talked a lot, socializing all the time.

But guess what? She was successful. She moved up while I remained where I was. There was no way I could make my superiors see my excellent work. She had better relationships.

It made me bitter. But I also started watching her. How did she do it? I observed how she built useful connections, nurtured them, and used them when she could. I noted how she made sure the right people were aware of her accomplishments.

It was even more bitter to realize that what I resented about her was what made her more successful than me. To me, she was a kiss-ass. The painful part was that no one cared, as long as she presented results. Eventually, I had to admit that there was logic to that.

Now I had to decide: did I want to remain self-righteous, or did I want to succeed?

If I wanted to succeed, I had to stop trying to be the hardest working person in the office, accomplishing my tasks perfectly and quietly without showing off. I needed to shift my energies away from the actual work towards socializing with people. I needed to work less to accomplish more – how weird! (I was very young ;))

I felt phony, like I attempted to use people. Everybody liked me, wasn’t that enough? It felt wrong to chat rather than work – until I started seeing results. Then, building relationships became part of doing my job.

The True Lesson

Don’t learn from the people you like, but from those who have the knowledge or skills you need. I didn’t like my rival and what she did seemed wrong. But she had skills I lacked. Because I lacked them, I wasn’t even able to acknowledge the value of her skills but tried even harder to do things my way. It worked like quicksand: the more you struggle, the deeper you dig yourself in.

When you’re stuck, try looking towards the people who do the opposite of what you believe. It’s time to start considering ideas you never approved of and listen to people you never liked. Open your mind to ideas and concepts you’ve always dismissed. Maybe that’s the reason you’re not progressing.

Everybody has something to offer. Dare to open your eyes to what that may be. You may not like it, but it can be the solution you are looking for.

And you never know, you may end up feeling great about it. Sometimes you only realize what suits you after you’ve tried it. If you only bought clothes that look great on the hanger, you’d never find the perfect outfit.

And the Answer Is

I think I just gave myself the answer: No, I don’t need a guru. A mentor, yes, teachers, yes. But I don’t believe in following the same smart person all the time.

At some point, something they do or say will not be right for you anymore. Then it’s time to move on. That’s how you discover your uniqueness.

Originally posted on my website RuthWriter.

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