Think of something in your life that you’ve wanted to accomplish but haven’t. Something deep down. Whether it’s because you haven’t gotten around to it, are too timid to go for it, or you took a shot and failed spectacularly. Conjure up in your mind that big failure of your life. Perhaps you’re in the middle of it now.
In the years I’ve spent helping other people overcome their personal issues, I’ve often been asked what the biggest cause of failure was that I’ve come across.
Some people have relationship problems, some have money problems, others have anxiety issues, etc. But the biggest problems I’ve seen in many of these people were not specific to relationships, money, confidence or whatever. It’s easy to figure out how to ask someone out, or how to start a business, or how to just do something even when you’re afraid. Dealing with your fear of abandonment, or your toxic money habits, or your screwed up beliefs about what others think about you? That’s a tad more involved.
Chances are, a profound struggle in one area of your life will bleed over into other aspects of your life. The principles of failure are rarely prejudiced. The behaviors and thoughts that sabotage you in one area of your life will stalk you in other areas. That reticence to ever ask someone out on a date probably plays out in your failure to move to a new city, to take that new job, the timidity around your domineering co-workers, your passive-aggressive relationships with your family members.
When confronted with life’s biggest opportunities, most of us got scared and then we enact a number of strategies to avoid the pain and pressure inherent in reaching for our dreams. Below are some of the most common strategies for reluctance I can think of. We’ll start at the shallow end and work our way to the deep end. Read it and absorbed.
- YOU’RE AFRAID TO STAND OUT AMONG THE CROWD
Emerson wrote, “Society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the self-reliance of every one of its members.” People don’t like it when other people change or do something that makes them feel awkward or insecure. Pushing ourselves to reach our own greatness threatens the complacency of those around us, shining a light on their own squashed dreams and failed potential. In many cases, these people lash out. It makes them question themselves, which is difficult for most to handle.
Simple fact of life: if you want to do something incredible, something that makes you stand out above the rest, then you have to become comfortable being different from the rest. People will think you’re weird, crazy, selfish, arrogant, irresponsible, obnoxious, stupid, disrespectful, fat, insecure, ugly, shallow, etc. Those closest to you will often become the harshest. If you have weak boundaries or are not confident with your own ideas and desires, then you’re not going to make it very far.
- YOU’RE NOT PERSISTENT ENOUGH
Alibaba’s founder and CEO is the perfect example for persistence and determination. From learning English a decade ago through giving free tours to tourists, to his rejection from KFC when he applied to work there, Jack Ma’s story is an inspiration we should all take notice of. Jack Ma was rejected from 3 universities, his first internet venture failed miserably and he failed many times in middle and high school for his lower grades. Most impressive of all, Jack Ma was rejected from Harvard 10 times!
He applied to 30 jobs when he was looking for work and was rejected from all of them, including a job at KFC where 24 people applied and they hired everyone but him. He wrote to Harvard for a total of 10 times and was knocked back every single time.
Embracing rejection as an invitation to work harder and try more often is a mantra that successful people adopt in their everyday life. If Jack Ma can get rejected a thousand times and still become the founder of a $200 Billion+ company, then you have no excuse!
Most of us give up on something we’re passionate about too soon. And anyone who’s been successful has a tale of struggle and perseverance to share. As the cliche goes, nothing worth having comes easy.
- YOU LACK HUMILITY
There are many people out there who accomplish a little bit and decide that they are an expert. Humility is knowing what you don’t know.
In the world of online marketing and internet business, I began to notice a trend a couple of years ago in the business owners I met. The people who had a big mouth, who regularly went on and on about what they accomplished, exaggerated their successes and sapped the attention from the ether around them — they were moderately successful at best. Sometimes they were not successful at all; i.e., they still had day jobs or even lived with their parents. Yet they were more than willing to dole out their sage wisdom to anyone and everyone who would listen.
But the people who were legitimate, self-made millionaires, the ones who actually did scale to the peaks of their industries, they often admitted they did not know an answer, they downplayed their successes (or usually never even mentioned them). Instead, they regularly pointed out their weaknesses and how they needed to learn more.
This did not strike me as a coincidence.
- YOU’D RATHER ARGUE AGAINST ADVICE INSTEAD OF TAKING IT
Guaranteed express ticket to sucking: trying to be right instead of good. I don’t care what it is, if you’re more invested in arguing your point of view against people who are trying to help you than you are in improving yourself, then you’ve effectively given up. And for all of your brainiac debating, you’re still too stupid to see it.
To succeed at anything, there’s a feedback loop that must be in place: try something -> get feedback and results -> learn from feedback and results -> try something new. People who are dead set on arguing why what they already believed is right (despite not working) are effectively breaking the chain off and not accepting feedback. Therefore they will never change.
Not to say that everyone should always take advice from everybody, but you should accept feedback whether you believe it’s relevant or not, not try to argue your way into looking like you were right all along.
- YOU DON’T BELIEVE IT’S POSSIBLE
People who overestimate what they’re capable of are far more likely to actually, you know, get off their ass and try. And when you try and learn from your failures, you can eventually lead yourself to success. So, a little delusion of grandeur goes a long way.
- YOU’RE AFRAID TO CARE
Many people catch the indifference bug. They lack a clear, true passion. They’re reluctant to invest themselves top-to-bottom into a venture, project or pursuit. Many of them give up quickly. Others just lose interest. Many lack the wherewithal to even begin.
Chronic indifference is an insidious defense mechanism. It undermines the drive and motivation required to overcome it. Unconsciously, many people are terrified to invest themselves into something because investing themselves into it could potentially lead to failure and failure could potentially lead to a lot of thoughts their psyche is not yet prepared to face: questions about self-worth, competence, being worthy of love, etc.
Look, I’m no Freud, but in my experience, people crippled by indifference don’t overcome it until some other emotional issue in their life is uprooted, confronted and kicked out.
- DEEP DOWN, YOU DON’T THINK YOU DESERVE WHAT YOU WANT
Many (or most) of the bullet points above are actually top-layers for this underlying cause: believing you don’t deserve what you want. Many of us, at our core, have buried beliefs and feelings about ourselves that aren’t so savory. Maybe we were teased a lot growing up, or our parents and teachers told us we wouldn’t amount to anything, or we were punished for being smart by our peers. Whatever happened, something happened. And something inside us makes us feel uncomfortable with the idea of accomplishing too many great things as a result.
For many, getting what they want summons that worm-tongued voice in the back of their mind, prodding their insecurities and fears until they find a way to destroy everything they worked for. It may be a relationship with the best person you’ve ever loved; it may be a dream job you can’t bring yourself to take; it may be a creative opportunity of a lifetime which you ignore for more “practical” pursuits; it may be merely hanging out with people who you actually admire and feeling like a ghost.
Whatever it is, the sludge pool of doubts bubbles up and finds a way, always finds a way, to ruin it for you — to make you ruin it for you — and that’s the hardest truth. It’s you. There is no other in this equation. And as much as you deny it, that fear will always linger and remain as an invisible barrier, a clear film separating you from happiness, pushed through and never broken. These issues can be overcome. But it’s painful and gut-wrenching. And then there’s always just another layer, simmering further below, more fear, ever-present, something we all eventually face over and over and over again.
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.