We have all heard that statement at one point or another in our careers. The meaning of the phrase “stay in your lane” is interesting as it conveys many different messages. Depending on the tone and the Messenger, this could be kind or threatening. It could also be a message born out of fear-based on the Messenger’s experience. The issue I have with this phrase is that all too often, the Messenger themselves has not surveyed the landscape and is simply reacting rather than responding to a situation or belief. Therein lies another hidden truth – what we believe is what we see. Change your belief and you can widen your lane to include more of what you truly are born to bring into being. Change your belief and you can switch lanes when necessary to achieve your goals.
Let’s unpack “stay in your lane” so that this might become clearer. What does it mean and what can it mean? Here are some not so hidden messages when someone uses this phrase:
· You are in my way, so get out of my way.
· You are interfering and stopping me from achieving my goal.
· You are drifting on the road and could cause an accident.
· It is safer to stay within what you know.
· The unknown is a scary place.
· Single focused individuals are more successful.
· Your zone of genius is the best place to play.
· You can only choose one area of expertise if you want to excel.
· It is safer not to rock the boat.
· Don’t spread yourself too thin.
· You cannot “become known” for more than one thing.
· Stay small.
· Stay under the radar.
· Don’t stick your neck out.
· Don’t make too much of a stir.
· Don’t be seen.
· Stay safe.
· Don’t get distracted.
· Focus yourself on what you know.
· Focus yourself on what you are good at.
What is important to note is that some of these hidden messages are positive and some are negative. Only you can decide what is best for you on your business journey. For many years, I waffled between several different business and career concepts and brands. I listened to all the experts and read all the best books and was in search of what was next for me in all my business ventures. I traveled the globe, wrote several books, stood up three separate businesses of my own, and worked as an Executive in many industries. The experts kept telling me I should focus on one thing and “stay in my lane”. The problem was they each defined “lane” as my “zone of genius” and they each chose a different version of what that “lane” was. Why would this happen? They each had a belief of what the world needed and they each had a different opinion. One told me to just focus on The Allergy Ninja. Another told me to just focus on Leadership. Yet another told me to just focus on writing. Another told me to focus on Executive Coaching. This happened over and, over again with all of them contradicting the others as they thought they knew what was best for me. Then, of course, there were those that wanted to make sure I did not choose something they were already building themselves.
One day, while I was still trying to figure this all out, my phone rang. It was one of the experts that I admired calling me to ask me for help. I was a little surprised since I thought she had it all together and was beyond a place of needing my help. I was shocked to hear that she had taken time to look at my LinkedIn profile and do some additional research on me and realized I had a different level of experience in the world than she had believed. Her assumption had been that I was less experienced in business and that my ideas were too large for me to handle, so she had always counseled me to focus on small and specific areas that helped me “stay in my lane”.
What a revelation that perhaps the experts I was following did not have all the information needed to provide me with full and proper counsel! Mind blown, I went about thinking through all the different business ideas and concepts I was building to see if indeed there was a common thread or “lane” running through them all. I realized the issue I was experiencing was that I loved them all and I was good at them all and did not want to jettison any of them completely. I looked for a way to weave them all together in a way that made the most sense to me. Voila! The birth (or rebirth) of my dream career with all my businesses under one roof and in “one lane”. There is a common thread running through them all and one is a passion project, while the others take center stage.
The bottom line is we can find the right lane or lanes for each of us. We can do everything we want to do, and we simply need to work out how it all fits together so that nothing becomes a distraction from the larger goal we have for ourselves. What lane or lanes do you find yourself in most often?
Cheryl Marks Young is the CEO of Creative Blueprints for Leaders, a Vistage Chair, and a Premier Success Coach from the Central New Jersey Chapter. She is a business coach, national speaker, entrepreneur, author, and board member.