“I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything” – Charles Darwin
Think Elon Musk does all his crazy stuff effortlessly and gets it right the first time? Nope. He works insane hours, has learned from a ton of mistakes, and has “terrible lows and unrelenting stress”.
We think successful people don’t have our problems but they do. We pretend like all of their success is effortless and we’re failures because we can’t achieve the same success on our first try.
I cannot put this any more bluntly:
They are not better than you. They are not different from you. They feel the same stress as you, the same anxiety, the same fear, the same depression, the same uncertainties.
I once got lunch with an old friend whom I respected very much. We were both doing well in different fields, we were in different romantic situations, and had taken different paths in many other areas of life.
She seemed successful to me. She seemed confident. Her accomplishments seemed effortless, inevitable, and she seemed so certain about her path in life. In comparison I thought I was absolutely making everything up as I went along, I thought I made a ton of mistakes, and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be in many areas of life.
After the initial pleasantries, however, I realized she felt the reverse about me. She thought I was the one who had their life figured out. She thought she her life was a mess and I was the one who knew what they were doing.
What was really true? We were both doing fine, we were both too hard on ourselves, and we both had off days now and then (because all human beings do).
We only see ourselves through a broken mirror, and we only see the highlight reels of the lives of others.
This is the most ridiculous universal truth I’ve ever heard of and it needs to stop. So many people feel like they’re a screw up and they think that everyone else knows what they are doing.
Stop it. Stop right now. For one thing, you’re beating yourself up. For another thing, you’re acting like they have something you don’t. Like there’s something keeping you from having the success you want.
Guess what? If these successful people can feel the same insecurity and stress and uncertainty we feel, then we can apply the same persistence and hard work they did. Those negative emotions did not keep them from succeeding, and they aren’t a reason we can’t get what we want.
They are human beings just like us. The reason they are on billboards is because of that one last time they got up when they were knocked down. Because of the many hours of sweat and hard work they put in. Because they decided to take each setback as a teacher instead of a death sentence.
I know you feel lost sometimes. I know you doubt yourself and I know you’ve tried a thousand things that haven’t worked. I know other people’s success can seem effortless, and can make you feel like a failure.
I feel like that too. Every human does. Everyone thinks everyone else has it figured out. What if, just for a day, we assumed everyone was fighting demons very similar to ours? What if the feelings we have right now didn’t mean we were weak or broken or inadequate? What if having them meant we were human? What if having them meant millions of other humans could hug us as we cried or vented and they would know exactly what we were going through?
Your journey is your own. There’s no other one with the exact same details. But the feelings you have, the struggles, and fears, the hopes…that part of it is the human experience.
Don’t be so hard on yourself thinking you’re the only one who missed the memo. There was no memo. We’re all winging it. We’re all learning from our mistakes (hopefully), and that’s okay.
Here’s the crazy part: If you can take a leap and open up to someone about these feelings, you’re BOTH going to feel better. They have the same feelings, and they’ll feel relieved to know you’re a work in progress just like they are. Connect with someone, listen to their story. We’re all in this together and you’ll feel better knowing you’re not alone on this one, far from it.
Further reading: If this message resonated with you then I think you would get a lot out of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck, PhD. She does a fantastic job of outlining how people often use self-defeating measurements of their self worth. Everyone can improve with practice and learning from mistakes and persistence, and her research makes a great case for the outlooks and perspectives that best support long term success and prevent feeling like a failure on the journey.