There was a time in my life where I felt like I had a clear direction and plan of action to get there. Then I hit all my goals and was kind of like…now what? I felt like I had no vision, no purpose in life. I was doing okay but my life felt stagnant and un-motivating. It was a really strange feeling that I bet plenty of people go through— essentially a quarter life crisis. It stunted my growth during a time where I thought the most exciting things would happen; I’d become a professional and start making bank; I’d meet the love of my life; I’d maybe have kids; I’d live some version of the white picket fence happily ever after. Literally not a single thing I just mentioned actually happened… and that’s okay. The problem was I wasn’t sure what I wanted or how to get there.
There are two dilemmas that can stunt your growth: having a vision for what your life should be but not knowing how to get there and/or setting goals with no clear reason why you wanted to accomplish them. I was suffering from the latter. I had vague goals, which weren’t goals as much as they were societal expectations, and I wasn’t super clear on whether I wanted to accomplish them or not. I guess that’s why I didn’t. I really had to dig deep and think about what it was that I really wanted, I had to seek clarity before I could seek action. As it turned out, once I found the clarity I was looking for, I was still stuck! This time though, it wasn’t because I was confused, it was because I was afraid. Fear, and particularly fear of failure, is one of the 3 things that can stunt your growth, along with imposter syndrome and a negative mindset.
Thing 1 : Imposter Syndrome
Thing 2: Negative Mindset
Thing 3: Fear of Failure
Thing 1: Imposter Syndrome
If you get to asking, it turns out many people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Maybe you’re a new mom and you have no idea what you’re doing or you were an amateur chef and you nailed your dream job at a prestigious restaurant. You feel that you don’t belong, that you are pretending to know but you really don’t know and that any minute now someone will discover that you actually do not know.
The thing is…no one knows.
People have no idea how to do something until they actually do it, and even then, things are always evolving and changing, creating new ways to do the same thing. Think about that. All the people that you consider experts in whatever you’re doing, once upon a time, maybe not even that long ago, also didn’t know what they were doing. They had to do it over and over and over again to do it well. And there’s always room for improvement. One way to shift your perspective is to consider the possibility that in fact, no one is an expert at anything. We are all just students, learning as we go, evolving as the situation evolves, mastering and re-mastering. Consider the fact that your mentors have mentors, and their mentors have mentors. There will always be someone who knows more or less than you do at any particular time but in reality we are all just learning as we go. There are other benefits to having a student’s mindset in life, such as the ability to image uncharted possibilities. If you are wise enough to embrace that you only know what you know and have much yet to learn, you will constantly improve because you will be open to the possibility of learning more. Whereas, if you are constantly worried about what you don’t know instead of what you might learn, you will be in a constant state of playing catch up.
Thing 2: Negative Mindset
Sometimes we are faced with a block in the road, and that block is ourselves. Our mind is the block. It started with our self-assessment. Our self-assessment of whether we can do something or not is about an 80% indicator of whether we will do that something or not. We either suffer from a negative mindset or a limiting one. If it’s negative, we exercise the mental script that tells us we cannot do something because of xyz. If it’s limiting, we exercise the mental script that tells us we can do X, maybe Y, but definitely not Z.
The thing is…you’ll never know.
A negative or limiting mindset acts as a defense mechanism to protect us from potential failure. If you stop in your tracks before you even start, you won’t have to deal with disappointment and failure. In some ways, a limiting mindset is worse because it gives you wiggle room to try just a little, but you’ll never reach your full potential because you tell yourself you can only go so far. Sometimes we unintentionally limit ourself because we cannot envision who we could be and only see who we are. You might wish to be the Executive Director of your company but never set out to accomplish that goal because you don’t think you’re cut out for it. Instead you work towards Associate Director. Fine. You get Associate Director and your coworker who has the equivalent experience and knowledge as you gets Executive Director. It could have been you.
The Thing is…we can’t see the future.
Telling yourself you can’t do something stops you from trying, just like visualization increases your chances that you will try and likely succeed. The obvious alternative to a negative mindset is a positive mindset, but I say start small— switch to a neutral mindset. This is one where you are neither pessimistic nor optimistic about the outcome, you just don’t know. You let go of expectations and just try and see where it gets you. The goal of this approach is to detach yourself from the negative, limiting voice in your head telling you it isn’t going to work out. You tell yourself, “I don’t know how this will go, but I will try and see.” Couple the neutral mindset with the 40 rule. Jesse Itzler seemingly brought this concept to the general public’s attention in his book “Living With A SEAL.” According to Itzler, the rule is that once your mind starts to throw in the towel and you feel like you can’t possible go on anymore, you are about 40% done. That extra 60% is the untapped potential that you didn’t realize was still in you. In one sentence—, combat a negative mindset by trying anyways; have no expectations; and when you feel like stoping, keep going.
Thing 3: Fear of Failure
As I’m writing this, I realized that these 3 things are compounding. Imposter Syndrome can lead to negative mindset or a limiting mindset (I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t do this, I’m not good enough), which can lead to a fear of failure, which can ultimately lead to inaction. The good news is that in this version of the game, you can skip jail, pass go and collect $200. In other words, you don’t need to have imposter syndrome or a negative mindset to hold yourself back in life, all you need is an uncontrollable fear of failure. Fear of failure is all it took in my life to be completely immobile. I knew I could do it, I wanted to do it, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t even realize I was scared to do it until after I finally starting doing it! I called my friend Michael and told him I was becoming a life coach and he reminded me of a conversation we had a year ago where I mentioned I wanted to become a life coach. WOW, an entire year flew by and I didn’t realize I was holding myself back because I was just scared.
The thing is…failure is temporary.
The book “Think and Grow Rich” introduced to the concept that failures only come permanent once we give up. It was as if a lightbulb had turned on for me in my darkest hour. As long as I continued to try, I could never fail. It reminds me of Percy Fawcett and the exploration of Z. Will we ever know if he found Z? Probably not, but he was unwavering in his pursuit of the lost civilization and even though he knew he might fail, I suspect he wouldn’t have lived his life any other way. His legacy carries Z into existence and into our wildest dreams. Then there was Thomas Edison who is heavily cited in the original Think and Grow Rich. The author, Napoleon Hill, did not want his reader to forget the 1,000 times Edison temporarily failed, until he didn’t. When he succeeded it upstaged all his failures, no doubt about it. The key here is to reset your thought patterns surrounding failure. Just like with imposter syndrome, you have to train yourself to think of failure in a new light. Repetition creates new patterns. It’s up to you to constantly tell yourself you cannot fail, you can only learn what doesn’t work for next time.
The Bottom Line
The moral of the story — we often have a reoccurring script in our minds telling us what we can and cannot do, or what we shouldn’t do to avoid failure. Our minds are the most interesting and powerful tools in goal reaching, so much so, that those who learn how to train it can accomplish amazing things. Like most amazing things though, training our minds take an incredible amount of work, time and commitment. In return we grow confidence, self-assurance and self-worth and most importantly, a new perspective on life. I’d say it’s worth it, wouldn’t you?