One of my greatest challenges in my life has dealing with success. Not because I consider myself successful but rather quite the contrary.
I’ve become very good at understanding and admitting my failures and absorbing that as part of my brand. I’ve found it easier to acknowledge a lack of skill or knowledge which has resulted in ‘failure’ rather than take responsibility for the components ‘not to fail’ or what many would consider as success.
In fact it seems that I’ve made failure my comfortable little home and have pitched it to myself and others as the best place to be because you’re in a constant state of learning. As if somehow to suggest that success doesn’t teach you anything.
My whole life I’ve been surrounded by people who love and support me in their own way. I’ve been told I can be whoever and whatever I want to be and every time I’ve applied myself to something I’ve achieved a fair to pretty good result. But I don’t feel I’ve ever achieved great results and I’ve been personally instrumental in sabotaging myself to prevent that success. And naturally I’ve lost sleep over wondering why.
I’ve always struggled with being confident, being proud of my achievements and taking comfort in my achievements preferring to strip myself down aggressively for my failures. I’ve only known how to be my own harshest critic and at times it has driven me close to the edge. Many have thought I was mad and haven’t always understood how someone ‘as confident as I am’ could be so self conscious and critical. Sure it hasn’t always stopped me from trying but it has certainly coloured my attempts and the subsequent results I produced.
And yet most would cry, but you’ve come from such a loving background! Well I have, but it’s often the subtle fine print that dictates the sales, not the bright and broad strokes. Ironically, the constant ‘you can do it’ votes of confidence had a negative affect on me as the truth for me was held in the everyday commentary not the supportive pick-me-ups. Anyone can be the ‘you can do it’ guy when you ask for it.
I’ve toiled with massive self-doubt my whole adult life from my sport, to relationships, business, music, art and so on. Not because I don’t want success in my life but rather my entire mindset for 28 years was built on a platform of others telling me ‘be realistic’ and ‘don’t get ahead of yourself’ rather than take the time to take responsibility for success and push the envelope out further. It meant that most people helped me read existing maps and follow the well worn path rather than help me create new ones – and be genuinely confident about it. However to be fair, they didn’t know how to draw maps either, they were just teaching me what they knew.
They were referring to being realistic about my abilities and my opportunities which was based on their perception, beliefs and experience. They were supportive up to the point they knew possible and I don’t ever feel there was intended malice but it was scary how often their support turned to ‘constructive feedback’ and a back handed vote of support phrased as ‘oh but by all means prove me wrong’. It’s like they were angry with me because I wanted to try a way they didn’t understand.
When someone asks you to prove them wrong, it may sound like a great and enjoyable challenge to have one up-man-ship and to make them look silly, but most of the time it feels like a vote of un-confidence. And in a world of social proof, un-confidence means social exclusion – you’re on your own.
They ‘just have your best interests at heart’ but to you it feels like it’s their way to be uncommitted and deconstructive about what you’re doing and yet somehow maintain their right to provide ongoing feedback, advice and opinion in your life. And it feels the worst when it comes from those closest to you.
Suddenly your life becomes about preventing the failure of this challenge that was imposed on you rather than lead by your own desire to succeed, independent of what anyone else thinks. When you have this enough times in your day/week/like, you become good at deflecting critics by semi-committing and finding valid reasons for failure beyond your control rather than being aggressive and focussed in your own success. The cut-throat belief that ‘with or without you, I’m going.’
Last night I played for my music class with a song I learned about an hour before the lesson. I was ok, somewhat under-prepared and couldn’t remember all the lyrics. But they seemed to like it a lot and I received some nice feedback. Afterwards I felt incredibly depressed because again I had cheated myself of taking responsibility for my success preferring to only try a little bit and blame the lack of polish on things ‘beyond my control.’ Socially this seemed cooler than being the guy who gives it everything, may not get it right and is thus shunned/laughed at.
I hate living my life with this fear. It’s toxic and it frustrates the hell out of me. Slowly but surely I have more up days now than down days and I can see why this is often a life-long journey for most. I know I’m not alone here and I hope this helps someone else out there add another brick to their tower of confidence.
I can’t say how, when or even if I’m ever going to complete this in myself or whether you will do it either. What I can say is that a good way to confront and deal with this feeling of doubt and failure in your life is to start by helping someone else gather their confidence. It might seem touchy-feely but if you can make a concerted effort to help others draw new maps, just maybe you will gain the self-confidence to responsibly draw your own map and to feel proud of it.