In last week’s post, It’s 2013: WTF Am I Doing w/ My Life?!, we got a comment from the lovely Vanessa saying…

“My mom always used to say (and still does at times) that I’m so special and and meant for great things. I grew up believing it and thinking that everything would fall into place for me cause she said so. At university I then met so many people who are so gifted and more talented than me which was a real awakening. It’s not that I thought I was the best at everything but seeing all these people being so much better than me really put me in a bit of a shock and instead of wanting to get better, I dropped everything and moved on to other things instead of working on the things that I loved cause I got so intimidated by how good everyone else was. Nobody warned me about that ;)”

Well, here’s a warning for everyone else who feels special and destined for greatness in life, but who’s waiting and wondering WTF is taking so long for things to fall into place. Does it ever feel like other people seem to have it all handled already? So how come you’re not already living with a deeper sense of purpose while killin’ the bank and being recognized for your greatness?

Could it be that we’re not as divinely awesome as we imagine? And that perhaps mom and dad lied to us when they said we were the best-looking cookie in the batch and the sharpest-tipped pencil in the pile?

Before you stick yourself back in the oven or snap yourself in half, you’ve gotta understand the culture we were raised in. In this post, I’m going to zoom out, help explain what’s going on in your world, and then give you some invaluable advice for how to pursue your passion when your peers seem to be better than you. Let’s rock…

80’s Babies

We’re a generation raised to feel special. Just ask Nas whose world this is. Our school hallways told us that if we believe, we can achieve. And that we should shoot for the stars, ‘cuz even if we fell short, we’d land amongst the clouds. Undoubtedly, these inspiring messages, coupled with everyday gold-stars and trophies for just showing up, instilled in us a propensity toward self-admiration.

We grew up in a culture of over-protection. If a bully fucked with me after school and my mom got wise to it, she was at the dean’s office the next day. And if we were friends, before I was allowed to sleep over your house, you better believe my mom and your mom were talking on the phone. There’s nothing wrong with our parents caring about our safety. But there comes a point when this natural inclination to protect and defend us stunts our character development.

What do you think happens when our parents and educational institutions care more about our self-esteem than our intellectual and emotional development? Could it be that as we continue our maturation, we start to compromise our aspirations and authentic self-expression in order to prevent jeopardizing our ego?

Of course, there’s more to this landscape. Pass me a moon-man – MTV and Hollywood don’t slide away without getting a shout-out here.

Does My Ass Look Fat In These Jeans?

If you consumed mainstream media growing up (like everyone did), you probably started to feel like popping bottles with models wasn’t a fantasy that was too far-fetched.

Okay, yes, we knew it was a stretch of the imagination, but even if we did come back to a more grounded perspective, every possible sign encouraged us to believe that we’d end up with an awesome job, making a ton of loot, with a flexible schedule doing work we love.

Ironically, although our parents raised us with a propensity toward self-admiration, consumerism raised us with a propensity toward self-hatred. Talk about mixed messages.

At an incredibly vulnerable and impressionable time in our lives, TV, flicks, magazines, and the advertising industry painted a superficial, skewed, and glorified picture of reality – telling us to value bling, beauty, being a baller – and that obtaining these ideals should be easy breezy, cover-girl.

Make no mistake, the message was clear: We weren’t good enough the way we were, but wait wait wait, if we just bought THIS (insert product name here) and THAT (insert another product name here), THEN we’d deserve to feel better about ourselves.

It’s hard to over-emphasize how big a role this played in our lives. It didn’t just affect our value system, spending habits, social interactions, and overall attitude, but it also affected our understanding of who we are and where we should be in life.

“Envy Is Ignorance. Imitation Is Suicide.” –Emerson

Think back to Vanessa’s comment above. I know she’s not the only one who’s battled with the brutal forces of social comparison. Why? Because social comparison is an innate part of our nature.

Social Comparison Theory states that “we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (for example, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success). Most of us have the social skills and impulse control to keep our envy and social comparisons quiet but our true feelings may come out in subtle ways.” (via Psychology Today)

The problem is, comparing ourselves to other people can poison our self-perception.

If we’re “better” than the person we’re comparing ourselves to, it gives us an unhealthy sense of superiority. Our ego inflates – kaboom! Our inner Kanye West comes out! If we’re “worse” than the person we’re comparing ourselves to, we usually discredit all the hard work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made.

As the video above so deliciously depicts, often what we’re comparing ourselves to are virtually unattainable definitions of normal, good, and cool. Our culture has learned to photoshop much more than its pictures. In other words, on some level, we’re all walking around faking the funk, pretending we’ve got it all figured out when really we’re questioning our worthiness, decisions, and perceived success.

If you haven’t seen this trending quote on Facebook lately, allow me:

Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. Your dirty shameful secrets are no match to another’s carefully crafted Facebook-esque persona.

Social comparison can be especially crippling when we’re trying to make a living doing something we love. It’s hard enough to deal with doubt, confusion, and the lack of support from our family and friends, but when we start evaluating the likelihood of our success based on where others currently are in their process, we’re setting our self-esteem up for a backslapping.

Last week we spoke about the fact that success is NOT about innate ability. It’s not about brilliance. And people who get very good at what they do, do so through effort and experience. But so many of us are terrified to take a baby-step forward because we’re suspicious that we won’t be good enough and don’t wanna be exposed.

Stop Lying To Yourself: Are You Good Enough?

Listen, it’s all in your head. And I don’t mean that in a neurotic, Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets kinda way. I mean that it’s in your mindset.

In the interview I did with social psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant Halverson for our upcoming virtual-conference (coming in April… sign up here: WTF Should I Do w/ My Life?! ), we spoke about an idea that she’s dedicated much of her work to. The work stems from her mentor, Carol Dweck, and is based on the notion that most of us have one of two different ways of thinking about things. Here’s a reference from the blog post earlier this month where I talked about it. I’m sharing it again because it’s THAT crucial. We either focus on:

  1. Being good (*fixed* mindset)
  2. Getting better (*growth* mindset)

The person who focuses on being good tends to think that people are fixed, static, and don’t change. Kinda like, you are who you are. Since they view people as being “the way they are”, people with the Be Good mindset tend to spend their energy trying to PROVE that they’re good. It makes sense; if you can’t change, then you’d spend your time trying to PROVE you’re good. This often leads to higher levels of anxiety, helplessness, and dejection. These are the perfectionists who often never show their work to the public.

But when people embrace the Get Better mindset, instead of spending their energy trying to PROVE themselves, they spend their energy trying to IMPROVE themselves. The Get Better mindset helps us cope with uncertainty better, move through challenges more effectively, and ultimately even perform better. These are the people who are willing to fail their way to success. (Again, for more wisdom on empirically researched and highly-acclaimed ideas, sign up for free to hear the details: WTF Should I Do w/ My Life?!)

Okay, here’s how you can use this:

Write out the major goals you have, whether short or long-term. Write them out the way you would normally say them to yourself. If you notice the way you’re writing them is in a Be Good way, rewrite them in a Get Better way.

  • Instead of saying “I want to be wealthy and make a dent in the universe,” say “I want to grow and develop my skills to get paid and change the world.”
  • Instead of saying “I want to be a world traveler and live a ballin-ass lifestyle like Jacob,” say “I’m cultivating my ability to travel and live autonomously by taking consistent baby-steps daily.”

Get it?

Take it from focusing on the *outcome* and reframe it to focus on the *journey*.

If you’re a recovering be-good-er, it’s important to remind yourself of this often. You can do this by putting these new versions of your goals in places where you’ll see them all the time. You can also redo the exercise each month since your goals will probz slightly shift.

When it comes to creating a life where you make a living doing work you love, while impacting the world, there’s no doubt in my mind you’ve gotta be filling to apply Get Better thinking.

When we stop defining our self-worth by the outcomes of our actions, it allows us to engage in activities we care about, even if we think we suck.

Wait. One more time. Really get this…

When we stop defining our self-worth by the outcomes of our actions, it allows us to engage in activities we care about, even if we think we suck.

Think about it… What would you do if nothing threatened your self-esteem? Can you imagine the freedom you’d feel if you didn’t have to protect your self-worth?

Call the person you’ve got a crush on? Apply for the job of your dreams? Mend a broken but meaningful relationship? Plan a dream trip to an exotic getaway? Work with a life-coach and make this your reality?

Success and failure are two sides of the same coin. The more successful you wanna be, the more failing you’ll need to do. And if, like so many of us, you were raised to believe that “failure’s not an option” and the word freaks you out, think about it like this…

You either win or you learn, but you never fail. 🙂 Make it a game.

See if you can have fun failing (aka Getting Better), knowing that you’re doing the things most people never will in order to create an extraordinary existence.

And if, for some reason, you still can’t stop comparing, compare yourself to an older version of yourself. That’s the growth mindset, baby!

Freedom: Breaking Through To The Next Level

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you wanna experience how it feels to be free from the exhausting trap of never ending self-scrutiny? If so, apply to work with me. It’s simple… apply here letting me know that you wanna work together and I’ll let you know if we’d be a good fit.

Can you imagine the freedom you’d feel if you didn’t have to protect your self-worth? What would you do if nothing threatened your self-esteem? Drop a comment below and let us know!

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