How 7 Step Plans can be Straitjackets (#MythOfNormal)

Classic-Straight-JacketI’ve talked recently about the myth of normal in our culture, how there is a story culture tells us of what a successful, happy, life really is. I’ve spoken about the importance of discovering our own identity and being the unique person we were created to be.

But there’s something more here.

This myth of normal is not something which just applies to the bigger stories of our culture. In each area of life, there is a story of what constitutes success, achievement, and failure.

And there are often 5-step or 7-step plans which promise guarantee success in these and many other areas.

Now, these can be very helpful and constructive – indeed, I’ve written a book on ‘5 Steps to Encouragement’. There is no doubt they can make a huge difference to our personal development. However, there is a danger inherent in these step by step formulas.

hat can happen is these become seen as the ‘only’ way, or ‘accepted’ way of doing things. They become a formula for success, to be stuck to legalistically and religiously. They become the ‘normal’ way to do things. Rather than a guide, they become the gospel for that particular area of life – when history shows they are clearly not – and ironically, they were probably never intended to be either.

When this happens we can begin to feel if our story doesn’t fit within this structure or model we can’t be successful, can’t be who we were called to be.Which causes tremendous damage.

In fact, it can become a straitjacket to us discovering our identity.

For example, in my area, writing, there’s been a story fed to me and others about how to achieve success. A formula which, I’ve been told,  if I follow will guarantee I get more readers, more exposure, and more success.

But this story has handicapped me as much as it’s helped me. It’s not that it’s a bad model, or that it’s not useful – but what I’ve discovered is that what has worked for others doesn’t necessarily work for me. And I’m not the only writer I know who has experienced this too.

Too often we’re fed formulas for success, and when we don’t achieve the success of others, we feel a failure. And we feel frustrated and downhearted. Which can lead us to give up.

Now of course, part of this is down to impossible expectations and the lethal sickness, which is preveilant in our culture, of comparison. But one of the major problems is that of us believing the formula or steps which are sold to us as the only or best way, are the only way.

I love writing. Above all, I love writing books. I’ve realised over time writing books, as well as my blog, is my primary calling. So I’m going to try and build the best blog I can, and write the best books I can. I’ll take advice from different people. Maybe take some tips from major authors, and from some courses.

But what I’ve realised is that I have to follow my own journey. My story will be different to everyone else’s.

Because the truth is, not every ‘successful’ writer has followed these steps, and they have somehow still been roaring successes. And the most important thing isn’t status, isn’t selling millions of books (though I admit, that would be great). It’s being true to who God made me to be. Living out my story in the way God designed me to.

And knowing the way other people achieve success isn’t the only way to achieve success anyway.

That’s important for all of us, whatever area of life we work in. Whatever our calling is. Recognising there’s no one way to build a successful business. Or grow a church. Or have a writing career.

Or any kind of career.

There’s no one formula for fulfilling your calling. Never believe the lie that there is. (you can tweet that here)

So whatever your career, whatever your calling, take advice from others who’ve walked the path before you. Pay heed to it. Even try out different recommended plans or strategies.

But don’t see them as foolproof.

And don’t be afraid to do things differently. Have no fear of living out your own story, in the way you were uniquely designed to live it.

To paraphrase Paul, don’t comform to the pattern of this world. But be transformed into your divine identity. Tell your own story.

That’s the one we need to hear. Those are the stories which transform the world.




Do you feel like your life has to fit into a 5, 7 or 12 step strategy?

Do you ever feel like you’ve failed if your story doesn’t fit?

Did you know it’s okay to have your own journey?





Let me know in the comments below!



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  1. Chris Morris on October 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Dude, this is a good post. Takes real courage to post this, especially with some of the connections you have. I am proud of you as a friend for stepping out and finding your own path

    • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Thanks man, that means a lot to me. This isn’t meant at all as a criticism of any 5 step plan, or Tribe Writers – all can be useful and have been blessings to me, but they aren’t the only way. And Chris, one of the biggest people to teach me this lesson has been you – so thank you.

      • Chris Morris on October 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

        James, I didn’t read this as a criticism of anything at all; only a reflection of your growth as a person and as a writer.

        I am honored to know that my stumbling, bumbling walk has been an encouragement to you. What an awesome thing to read.

        • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

          I’m glad you didn’t read it that way, it wasn’t intended that way at all. Happy to encourage you Chris – you have no idea how much you have been an encouragement to me.

  2. Pilar Arsenec on October 7, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Excellent post. I agree, which is why I’m doing my own thing. I don’t have a big audience or a lot of followers, but I realized everything being sold to me wasn’t going to pan out the way it did for those said individuals. I agree with Chris, it took a lot of courage to write this. I wrote something along these same lines in the beginning of this year. I am not following anecdotes for success, what may have worked for other individuals, may not necessarily work for me. I’m not those people, nor am I willing to do what they are doing either. I have a different road, yes, it’s a bit lonelier, but it’s my road, the road God has for me. I’m not a follower anyway, I follow the One, but not human beings, no matter how successful or popular they may be. If this means, being alone, even if I’m not part of the clique, so be it. I rather be me than lose who I am to be accepted by a famous person and their followers. I want to be known for who I am and what God has gifted me with, instead of who I know and who I hang with. If anything, let my character reflect that of Christ, I wouldn’t want to be like anyone else but Him anyway. So kudos to you, James. I big high five. 🙂

    • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      Thanks Pilar, that means a lot. This honestly wasn’t directed at any one in particular or specifically about Tribe Writers – I still think the Tribe Writers model works totally for some, and there’s a lot of elements of that I’ve taken benefit from, and will use. It’s a great course and a great community. I’ll always recommend Tribe Writers.

      What I’m really saying is that those plans can be useful, but we shouldn’t see them as gospel, they shouldn’t be at the expense of us being who we truly are. I am certain Jeff won’t be offended and will totally understand what I’m saying, and no offence was intended whatsoever. It’s really a matter of putting these steps into proper perspective – which is something i struggled with for a long time.

      • Pilar Arsenec on October 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm

        I agree. I am very grateful for Jeff and what I’ve learned at Tribe Writers. I was just speaking in general. I am in agreement with you that sometimes formulas or anecdotes don’t work. Whatever worked for Jeff, it’s great, and I admire him a lot, however, just because I will follow everything step by step, doesn’t mean that I’m going to get the same results he has. He and I are very different people with different callings. I admire his work and his accomplishments, but I don’t believe that if I follow everything he says, that it will work out quite the way it has for him. I’m almost certain of it actually. The reason is, because God has a different plan for me as he does for you and Jeff and everyone else. Plus, I’m actually am exhausted with all the selly sell things and conferences and this and that. I have done all that and haven’t gotten any further along. The bottomline for me is, to sit on my butt consistently and do the work… that’s the only thing I need to continue to do faithfully and put the work out there and slowly but surely, I will build my following and audience. There is no quick way or short cut to this, it will happen through hard, dedicated, consistent work and showing up. Anyway, this is solely my opinion, and everyone has one. HA! 🙂

        • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

          Thanks for sharing Pilar, appreciate your encouragement & support – means a lot to me.

          • Pilar Arsenec on October 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

            Likewise, you have been very supportive of me too, and I truly appreciate it.

          • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm

            No problem at all.

    • Joan on October 8, 2013 at 3:00 am

      Pilar, I remember when you stepped out and wrote that post. I admire you for doing so. I have a real problem when people (Christians included) follow every bit of advice from a certain individual or individuals. We are to obey the One who called us into this sometimes lonely world of writing. I am beginning to find my niche, and like you I don’t have a big audience. But I will write in obedience. I will write what is on my heart. I’m growing weary of these “7 steps to….” I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, but there comes a point when we have to march to the beat of our own drum.

  3. Benjamin X. Wretlind on October 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Great post! Follow your own road, not the road someone else followed–it may not be right for you and the destination may not even be where you wanted to be.

    • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks Benjamin, appreciate the encouragement – thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. Elyse Salpeter on October 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    This topic is so true in so many areas of life – like in teaching and educating children – these mandated step/education plans don’t work for every child – especially the ones coming into the systems with disabilities – people are like snowflakes – no two are alike so while step plans are great, across the board I view them simply as guides… great post.

    • James Prescott on October 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Absolutely Elyse, couldn’t agree me. We’re all different, and we all learn differently and grow differently. Fantastic comment, really appreciate your wisdom & encouragement.

  5. Gina Stoneheart on October 7, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Excellent post, James. You said it best when you stated, “It’s being true to who God made me to be. Living out my story in the way God designed me to.”
    This is absolutely 100 percent true and you nailed it right on the spot. No matter where the journey takes us, as long as we are honest with ourselves and our own passions, we can’t go wrong. Because when you take your passions and dreams and put them in the driver’s seat, the outcome of opportunities is endless. Not everyone is going to like our writing, and that is OKAY. Our stories weren’t meant for every single person on this planet. But if we manage to move or inspire just a few people with our intellect, experience and thoughts, then I think we have managed to hit a home run.

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 5:34 am

      Thanks Gina, really grateful for the encouragement and glad the post resonated with you. Totally agree with your comment too, thanks for sharing.

  6. Devani Anjali Alderson on October 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    James … hit the nail on the head! I believe that the ‘7 steps … etc…’ is a great spring board for people who need a kick start or some motivation to get going, but once you get the wheel rolling in whatever endeavor you choose, then you should start discovering the ways the work specifically for you … it’s a fine balance of using the ‘steps/programs’ as a spring board but NOT as a crutch or ‘safety net’ to avoid branching off.

    GREAT post… you know I love the topic!

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 5:33 am

      You get the point exactly Devani – these plans aren’t bad as kickstarters and pointers, but we need to be willing to go on our own journey. Thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement Devani!

  7. Onisha Ellis on October 8, 2013 at 1:00 am

    James, you seem to be on the freedom highway. Enjoy the journey.

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 5:31 am

      Thanks Onisha, that means a lot. Grateful.

  8. Joan on October 8, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Another excellent post, James. And, as Chris said, it took courage to post this. I like what Devani said “7 steps…etc is a great spring board for people who need a kick start..” We do have to discover what is right for us.

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 5:31 am

      Thanks Joan, really appreciate your support and encouragement.

  9. Bryan Hutchinson on October 8, 2013 at 9:55 am

    This is one of your very best posts, James. Totally agree. We can read guides, we can take courses, and we can copy others, but ultimately, we take all of that and we create our own brand, who we are and go from there. Good job.

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks so much Bryan – that really does mean a lot coming from you. Glad the post resonated with you. Thanks again.

  10. Joy Lenton on October 8, 2013 at 10:38 am

    An insightful, reflective, honest, brave and truly helpful post. I particularly love this, “It’s being true to who God made me to be. Living out my story in the way God designed me to” Yes and yes! This is key for us all. A fundamental truth which can bring release from the “lethal sickness” of comparison. I’m delighted by these insights and how they reveal your personal growth as a man of God, writer and individual in his own right. Well done, James! 🙂

    • James Prescott on October 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind, wise and encouraging words – you always encourage me so much Joy, thank you. Love your comments!

  11. Anne Peterson on October 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent post James. Honest, straightforward and yet, not offensive at all.
    It is a freedom post for you. One I hope you take out and read from time to time. Sometimes when I write others will remind me of articles I’ve written that I need. 🙂
    Great job.

    • James Prescott on October 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks Anne, really appreciate your kind and encouraging words – it really does feel like a freedom post for me, and I will do exactly as you suggest. Thanks so much Anne.

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