When you pursue long-term objectives in life, there are inevitably grueling days when it just does not seem like you are going to make it. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. No one supports you. The goal is not tangible, and you don’t feel you have the energy, or money or drive to even make it.
The worst part is, you may still be years away from the objective.
I’m not even talking about failure. No. Failure is in some ways an easier thing to deal with. Why wouldn’t it be? You have no choice, because it’s over. You failed. You’ve burned it to the ground and now you get to start over. You learned some valuable things and now you are stronger and smarter for the next round. Start over, or start something new. It’s that simple.
But, what I am talking about here is not that easy. It’s about that day when you really just start to question all of your decisions to even be pursuing this goal in the first place.
You haven’t really failed, but you can’t tell if you are even moving forward. You are doubting yourself. And guess what? Every fucking person around you is doubting you, too!
It’s also not like you can just look to a long list of people who have done what you want to do, from the position you’re in, either. You just flat-out do not have any support, not even from yourself.
The self-talk goes on the attack, “I am crazy for even thinking I could do this.” “It is going to be so humiliating when I fail in front of everyone on social media.” “What makes me think I can accomplish such things?”
When these days come, how do you deal with it? How do you push through and come out on the other side with your drive and your confidence intact, ready to take on the next few years, to get to where you want to be?
I am interested in what others do in these moments. I have those days, for sure. I have climbed some pretty big mountains: legal wins against the State, achieving rare restorations of my rights, working and excelling in fields that I literally was not allowed to be in under any other circumstances. I’ve even owned and operated multiple businesses, some of which I literally touched the top of the industries in…
So, I’ve taken a few hills. But no matter how many impossible things you pull off, the black cloud of self-doubt will have it’s way with you for a full day (or week, or month) every now and then.
Honestly, the best cure I have developed is to just not care. Now, before you jump to conclusions, this is more intricate than it sounds. There are a lot of things tied to my success that I care about very deeply.
How my success or failure affects my children and what my patrons and consumers get from our relationship being among the top of those concerns. I’m speaking more about the things that cause negative feelings and negative stress in your own mind.
Here are my top 3 reasons for not caring enough to fear failure:
1. The Opinions of Others
I ask myself, “If I lay dying tomorrow, which would I care more about: what someone thought about my failures, or what great things accomplished with my one shot at this short life?” Ultimately, anything someone says will be forgotten, at some point.
Most things are forgotten pretty quickly, especially in the age of social media because, quite frankly, you’re just not that damn important! Unless you’re caught red-handed burning down the proverbial church full of orphans, everyone (the haters) will quickly move on to the next tainted thing to mock.
So, I just don’t care what people think, or what failure makes me look like to the world. What I do care about is the quality of my own life and knowing that I am doing the things that enrich my soul. I care about my customers, my students, my patrons and supporters.
I exist to bring value to them, it is what I do. The critics? I won’t even remember most of them in a month or two. And in a few years, they slip into oblivion due to the lack of significance that they really have in my life.
So, for those pursuing a public persona as part of your personal brand:
Bless the haters, because they always come bearing gifts.
This applies if you are ambitious and are constantly working hard to be at the top of your game. If you are doing it, the haters will come. Understand, they are essential in the process of bettering yourself and hardening a bulletproof presentation and reputation.
The hater is driven, by who knows what, to attack whatever they can find to attack. They will seek out your percieved vulnerabilities attack them. Like a lower-order predator, they only attack what they percieve as weakness.
Like the vile coyote, they wait for the wounded, or swarm the less aggressive prey with numbers.
For the strong, haters are like small dogs nipping at your calves. It may sting, but the information they offer is more than worth thier shallow teeth marks. They point out small vulnerabilities you may have missed.
Even when their perception is erronious, you learn enough to strengthen your presence and further eliminate any indication of vulnerabilities, whether real or imagined, that your foes would want to use to take you down. That lack of intelligence we despise, often gives us the gift of greater intelligence.
So, as you work hard to push yourself up and be the best you can be, be thankful every time the little hater shows up to remind you of some exposed skin you’ve left uncovered.
Simply kneel down, cover the vulnerability, and give the little hater a nice pat on the head in thanks for making you now that much harder to attack.
2. Losses are Training and Practice
I also don’t care about losing, I have already suffered some pretty catastrophic losses: being sent to prison as a teenage kid for 5 years, two divorces, two business failures with one pretty much destroying my life at the time…just to name a few.
If I am doing good work, failures are powerful training and practice for the continued education and improvement to make that good work even better. When self-doubt is pouring in on you, ask yourself, “what is the worst that could happen?” Your next question should be, “how tough am I, really, compared to that worst case scenario?” I’ve probably been through worse.
In my case, I’m damn sure I’ve been through worse than going bankrupt and failing at a business like, I don’t know, an abusively violent childhood and a young adulthood in prison maybe? And I obviously survived those with my soul intact.
But what each loss or failure did was to teach me things of great value that I would not have learned anywhere else. It’s kind of like sparring or competing, if you never get out and validate your ideas, skills and strategies, you never will know if they actually work or not.
When life exploits your weaknesses or slip-ups, you learn to build those into strengths, avoid putting them first, and better cover your ass the next time. Life and business and fighting are no different. Take your knocks, and you become stronger, faster and smarter at your craft.
3. It’s Never THE BIG ONE
I gave up on thinking my next big move was THE BIG ONE! upon which all of my future success depended. It just isn’t true. You will always have new ideas, new opportunities, new ways to approach your dreams.
Hell, your dreams and visions will change, and so will your strategies, as you get out and validate which one’s work and which ones don’t. James Altucher, a wildly successful businessman and best-selling author, has started 20 businesses 17 of which failed miserably. Walt Disney went bankrupt and had several failures. It’s just a fact of life in the pursuit of virtuous accomplishments!
I have owned a personal fitness training business, a custom car shop, a music store and custom guitar shop, and a self-defense training company. For those first three, each time I thought I was going to get rich, accomplish “success” and be done.
How wrong I was! And how absolutely happy I am about being wrong. The truth is, they weren’t fully aligned with my purpose. However, they did teach me immense lessons about business, and dealing with people both as customers and in interpersonal relationships in my life.
All of this knowledge is still a part of my current business model and future plans. It’s never a true loss. Looked at appropriately, it’s always a net gain in lasting value, albeit sometimes an expensive one.
My fourth and current business, the training company, was one I approached very differently after a while. I began to realize that it is all just training for the next step. It’s really not “the one”, it’s just another part of the path to this self-actualization that people like me seek.
Once we are able to detach our project or business from that all-inclusive, life-or-death notion of importance, we can step back and relax about our decisions and our losses a little more. Which then, in turn, let’s us have less days of self-doubt and fear.
It also allows me to feel free to expand in other directions (which is partially why this blog exists) and take advantage of opportunities outside of my singular business vision. This is all beneficial.
Choose Fear, or Choose Relaxation
The opposite of fear is not courage, at least not in my mind. The opposite of fear, for me, is the ability to relax and have confidence in my course and decisions. It’s not even having the need to muster courage because I am relaxed and confident.
I used to live under such an immense amount of stress. Unbelievable amounts of it. In fact, I’ve landed myself in the hospital over it when I fought desperately to hold on to some singular idea that just wasn’t working out in the real world.
I failed to adapt, to take advantage of different opportunities, and I paid the price. It’s not worth that. It’s not worth your quality of life, and it’s definitely not worth your health. The truth is, once you have your vision, your flexibility and you have removed negative or unsupportive people from your immediate circle, your mind can begin to relax and you will honestly make better decisions.
You might even find out that you have already “made it”, if you just take the time to enjoy today and stop worrying exclusively about tomorrow.