Lessons from a Former Gatekeeper (and 3 Killer Strategies to Get Past One)

My first position out of college in 2006 was as a campus recruiter for Walgreens. Besides representing the company at career fairs, college/university events, recruiting events, and networking galas, I was also their acting gatekeeper. Simply put, I was paid to keep the bad apples from getting in. And let me tell you, they wanted in. Badly.

But sometimes, the “bad” for one person (in this case, an entire company) may be truly radically powerful and innovative for another person (or another company). Isn’t it all relative, wouldn’t you say?

There are many, many gatekeepers, ranging from:

  • Security officials at airports
  • Publishing houses
  • Literary agents
  • Modeling agencies
  • Theater directors
  • Recruiters and recruitment firms
  • Hiring managers
  • Secretaries
  • Bouncers
  • Police officers
  • Immigration officials
  • The S.A.T.
  • The A.C.T.
  • College/university applications and entrance exams
  • Your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife
  • Your mom/dad
  • And finally … even you

When we’re trying to do something, especially if it’s something truly unconventional, radical, different than the norm, and causes others to look at you with a queer eye, some people will go to extreme lengths to stop you from achieving your dreams or goals. These are the vampires.

(Side note: Ironically, I did not realize Chris Guillebeau uses the same analogy as me. This was purely coincidental. I’ve been using the term “vampires” for the past 3 months; Chris, for much longer. Well, at least it gets the point across!)

To better help understand how to get past a gatekeeper, learn from a former one myself:

1. Do not conform.

Repeat, do not conform. Society and people want you to go by the rules. There will always be rules to adhere by. But when following the “rules” goes against your unique identity and who you truly are as a person, what good is that?

Following a script during an interview just shows you know how to answer certain pre-determined questions “correctly.” What if you can’t box your answers in a fashion that makes you sound intelligent, competent, capable, and driven? Does that mean you’re a failure? Absolutely not.

You have your own unique gifts and traits no one else has, in this whole wide world. Believe that. And then, show that to the world.

Those who will accept you for who you are, crazy and goofy as may be, will be the ones you can change the world with.

2. Become your own authority figure.

Blindly listening to those who are “above you,” older than you, or who holds a more powerful title than you is not a very smart thing to do.

Because these folks are also people. And people are sometimes wrong. They don’t necessarily know what’s best for you, be it for a job, the major you should select at school, the kind of person you should marry, where you should live, what you should eat, what religion you should adopt, how many kids you should have, what car you should buy, how much money you should be making, and so forth.

I don’t ask a thousand questions before doing something. I just do it.

For instance, when I paint, I don’t ask my teacher exactly what angle I should hold the paintbrush, what colors I should use, what brands I should buy, what I should even paint, what size the canvas board should be, etc.

As Martin Ritt puts it, “Art? You just do it.”

Doing it your way means you can then find your own voice, follow your heart’s calling, be true to yourself, and live a more passionate life. One in which you completely and utterly feel alive. It’s truly a great feeling, it really is. You should try it sometime.

3. Ignore the gatekeepers. Instead, jump the gate entirely.

Who needs gatekeepers if you’re blazing a path to freedom?

The whole point of freedom is to be free. To actually do something with your life, something that is of your own wanting.

I know a number of self-published authors (in print and digital forms) who thought long and hard about which avenue to pursue. The traditional publishing house method or the upload it onto e-junkie or Amazon today and your book is available today method?

Both avenues have its pros and cons. In a world still encumbered by what’s always been done is what must be inherently right, we are slow to shifting our viewpoints to new and different methods of reaching others and of doing it ourselves.

So during the worst night of my life while in a fight with my mom over my dreams of being free, I was told that unless I had my books up in the shelves of Barnes & Noble, I will never be a “real” and “successful” writer and author.

Does this mean that my paintings, just because they’re not showcased at The Art Institute of Chicago, means I’m not a “real” and “successful” painter?

Does this mean my writing here at this blog, just because it’s not ranked #1 in Technorati or Digg, means I’m not a “real” and “successful” writer and blogger?

Preposterous! Being “real” and being a “success” is all relative, as I’ve already indicated in my numbers post.

I don’t need to bring home the Gold medal every time I compete at the U.S. Karate Open and U.S.A. Karate Nationals in order to be considered a real and successful martial artist.

(Fun fact: I did bring home the Gold once, at the U.S. Open in April 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Yes, it was exhilarating. But that’s not the end-all-be-all of my capabilities as a person. A medal’s a medal. But a person’s characteristics, integrity, ethical practices, honesty, and values are so much more valuable than any title, medal, certificate, or anything else one can ever say about the person.)

Take being radical for example. Colin Wright moves to a new country as voted by his readers every 4 months (currently, he’s in Bangkok, Thailand). To many lifestyle designers and unconventional thinkers, we think this is superbly awesome and fun and hey-we’ll-see-you-around-the-world-sometime! To others, not so much. It’s all relative.

Or what about Everett Bogue? He talks about throwing your death tube that is your TV off your rooftop, burning all your stuff that is your crap, selling your gaz-guzzling SUV that’s been sideswiping bicyclists as you chow down on chicken nuggets and drink a 42-ounce Coca Cola.

Or what about Brandon James? He quit his corporate day job in order to let go of our current beliefs about how the world operates and instead, create the world we envision for ourselves. He’s doing this by bicycling from Berlin to Beijing! Bicycle!! That’s so cool!! (To me.) But to others? Maybe a little crazy-sounding.

You see, it really is all relative. So instead of trying to figure out the tricks of the trade and sneaky ways to make your gatekeeper your friend, why not create your own tricks, create your own trade? Jump over the gate and wave hello to the gatekeeper on the other side. Or better yet, karate kick the gate, take the gatekeeper along with you in your travels, and show the world who’s boss.

It’s your world. It’s your life. Do it. You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for. Believe in yourself.

View Comments

  1. says:

    Excellent. Never back away from a challenge. Just because someone says no, doesn’t mean that is all there is. If you want, you must go get it yourself. Trump the naysayers! LOL.

  2. Hailey Smith says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today, Nina.nThank you so much,.

  3. Nina Yau says:

    Very happy to hear that, Hailey! Hoping you have a fantastic day!

  4. Jay (uk) says:

    Currently dismantling a profusion of gates! However, more and more I realise that being true to myself and doing what I believe in makes it so much easier to stay strong in front of the gatekeepers and I start to hear the tinkling of keys. Yay for keys (and boltcutters!).

  5. Jay Uk says:

    My original comment seems to have disappeared into the ether – probably for the best ans waffled on about bolt cutters, keys and a profusion of gates! Another thought provoking post, this blog is quickly becoming one of my favourites :)

  6. Nina Yau says:

    Ah, those invisible digital gatekeepers! They ate your comment! But glad to see you’re enjoying the blog. :)

  7. zalary says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m trying to learn to jump the gates. :)

  8. zalary says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m trying to learn to jump the gates. :)

  9. Brandon says:

    The reason I know you’re a great writer is because reading your work does something indescribable to my body, greatness! Who says that it’s that fun inside the gate anyways! Why not just stay outside it and rock out! Thanks for the shout out Nina, it reminds me of how much fun it is to just do what feels right and not listen to what other people think is right…

  10. Nina Yau says:

    Wow, that’s so wonderful to hear, Brandon! I am incredibly humbled by this. :) You are just fantastic, that is why you’re living such an inspirational and happy life! Hope your travels are going well and hope to see you soon!

  11. Nina Yau says:

    Jump it, you can do it, Zalary! Those who have done it are waiting for you on the other side. :)

  12. Matt says:

    Awesome Nina! I’ve been told I’m crazy for planning to move my family to Indonesia. Guess what? I don’t care! I’m doing it anyway because that is what we want to do. We are following our hearts calling and being true to ourselves. What gates I say?

  13. As always, you have come up with another inspiring post. nn I think it’s great that so many authors today can get their messages out without waiting for some publishing house to give them the ok. The same goes for artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds. More and more people are breaking past their limitations and pursuing their dreams. This is really an exciting time to be alive!

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