Each of us are really good at doing & achieving many things. It’s the honest truth and it’s not bragging or being too prideful – I genuinely feel that all of us are very talented and capable of achieving so much in anything we may wish to try.
In my own case, I really enjoy trying new things that resonate with me. These are the things that I know that I’ll be motivated to work on. However, I often reach a point where there appears to be a symbolic threshold to cross and for many years, I’ve stopped from crossing over.
Stepping over that perceived boundary would take me into the territory of feeling that I would need to be more “professional”, or to shift that activity that I would think of as a “hobby” into a livelihood. So, why do I stop after reaching a certain point?
There are three incidents from my past that I would like to share with you. While they are all related to my musical education, the underlying behaviours and beliefs have also revealed themselves in other areas of my life.
When I was very young, maybe Grade 2 or 3, I was given the opportunity to switch to a music-focused school specifically for choir. I remember singing when I was very young and apparently, I enjoyed it, according to early report cards. I sang in the school choir in elementary school. Somehow, this opportunity didn’t feel safe and I backed away from it.
Much later, I was preparing for university entrance auditions. I had been playing classical guitar and enjoyed it very much. I worked pretty hard at it but did experience stress when performing. It felt different than playing in a band – I perceived that there wasn’t much room for error or tolerance for straying “outside the lines”. After being accepted at the university of my choice in the performance program, I started to meet other individuals I would be studying with. At that point, I felt out of place and didn’t think I deserved to be in the performance stream and instead switched my focus to history & theory.
After university I expanded my interests into audio/video production while still playing bass when I could around my day job (my own company). The opportunity came up to work with a songwriting duo. The music was great, their energy was tangible, and they were very supportive. Then came the announcement that they wanted to go on tour, cross country. I thanked them for the chance to play with them but didn’t feel ready to leave my job to go on tour and bowed out of their band.
Let me describe what this feels like to me in the moment:
- I feel that taking the next step is somehow committing to something more permanent as a one-way journey, with no turning back or hope of return.
- I feel that if I fail that I may think that my time to that point has been wasted or that I didn’t try hard enough. This relates to some points that Seth Godin has made on over-generalizing a situation and immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario.
- I feel that taking something to the next stage (and being more public about it) will make me feel more vulnerable and that I will compare myself more against others who I feel are more talented or deserving. In other words, “impostor syndrome”.
- I feel the perceived safety in “dabbling” instead of focusing on one area where I would need to be accountable. This could be a fear of succeeding but in my case, I would also believe that there’s less risk in not standing out. Staying in the background can feel safer and over time, like a stalactite, your trust from others and reputation grow in a safe and predictable way. But, for the growth that is meaningful, stepping out of the shadow and into the light is necessary. I may feel that I am now responsible or accountable for bigger changes or more people, but in reality, I’m still accountable & responsible regardless. It’s just my perception of the impact has changed.
- I feel that it’s too risky to pursue this path because I put too much stock in the idea that my success is only dependent on other people liking & accepting what I do. I can be too attached to my “art” being a representation of my own value & worth.
- I feel that it may not be possible to earn enough by focusing on a single path. The counter-arguments to this are that it’s really about authentic connections, coming from a mindset of abundance instead of lack, taking advantage of the new gig economy & making your life out of a varied fabric of activities.
- I get comfortable with what feels easy.
So, why do I think this happens?
Comparing myself against others is one reason. In that process of comparing, I may feel that:
- I don’t have the same accreditation as others;
- I don’t have the same behaviours or dedication as others do towards their craft or profession, or;
- I haven’t accomplished as much as they have, and it would be difficult to catch up.
In other words, comparing myself against others would make me feel that I’m not as worthy. You can start to see how destructive comparisons can be!
Comparing myself would also set the foundation for starting to distrust my own abilities, even though I had accomplished quite a lot through my efforts. I’ve come to learn that is a typical sign of Impostor Syndrome.
Lastly, opportunities to make an impact or to create something meaningful sometimes means that you will stand out and be unique. That would sometimes make me feel self-conscious, especially related to the points above. Backing away from the spotlight would help me to minimize those feelings.
This process of learning, being curious, and breaking down these ideas has continued to help me understand and work through these challenges. Here’s what I now do to change these beliefs:
- I get feedback from others often and seek it out proactively. Getting feedback in this way is a sure-fire way to help me grow, and to get objective insights from people I trust.
- I appreciate Seth Godin’s advice which I’ll paraphrase here: don’t start from the idea that achieving success will make you happy, just start from being happy – changing your state is under your control. I’ve read the same concept from Tony Robbins as well. No one can make you feel anything – that’s up to you.
- I look back to my past for experiences where I did stretch and ask myself “what was different then?” Who was in my close circle? What stories did I have for myself at that time? Looking back objectively at past experiences can be a helpful exercise.
- I stay practical: I understand that I may still be working a day job while pursuing my passion on the side. That’s totally fine – how else would I be able to learn what is important to me?
- I release myself from my own judgement. I know that I’m not valued by what I am perceived to succeed at. It’s sometimes challenging, but I don’t view my self-worth as being based on my success. And accordingly, I don’t judge others in that way.
- I trust the process. My best friend once told me that “what’s for you won’t go by you”. Everything is happening exactly as it is meant to happen.
- I spend time getting to know my motivation, my “why”. In uncovering my purpose, I also try to recognize patterns of behaviour that might be distractions or things that get in the way of me achieving my “why”.
- I try to not overgeneralize and jump to conclusions: Seth Godin has often spoken of situations where we think about what could go wrong when we leap. We tend to have thoughts that we link together in an increasingly negative trajectory that leads us to believe that any failure in our path will lead us ultimately to death. Tim Ferris has spoken about “fear setting” instead of “goal setting” and while I’ve found value in better understanding my fears, I try to not let them stop me from taking action.
- I’ve come to understand that leaping into the unknown is hard but that’s where the real growth happens. Making your “art” means standing out and being unique.
- I’ve been becoming more comfortable with the idea that the world is changing and that means that it’s possible to take advantage of the “gig economy” and to make an income in more creative ways. Examining my relationship with money is important as well. I now try to approach life from a perspective of abundance instead of lack – it may help you attract more positivity into your life.
- I understand that part of having integrity is knowing that my accountability & responsibility for my actions doesn’t change. I may believe that the impact of what I’m attempting is bigger than before and that might be true. However, my own accountability & responsibility for my choices & actions is still required. In these cases, I try to break down the process & impact into smaller steps or components so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. This in conjunction with the points above helps me make the leap.
This is still an ongoing process for me but breaking this down and sharing it with you continues to help me to understand this and to know that I’m not alone in this challenge.
I thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this, and I hope that it has resonated with you in some way.