The Mythology of Success
History has often celebrated those who chose to swim against the tide, and win. Folks who dared to play out a different script, with an irreverence for conventions and disregard for conformity. It’s all very well to try and model their method, to replicate their success. There's one trouble though. "Failure" often invites the kind of rigorous scrutiny that'll put even the most sophisticated state-of-the-art microscope to shame.
But we often tend to look at success with tinted glasses, with our confirmatory biases, as though deep in our minds, we always "knew". What ensues is a "canonization" project where the devil in the detail is neatly exorcised! Vivid images of fantasy and reality (more of the former) get neatly entwined. And there’s one more thing that this near "deification" does. It distances the object of adoration from the hoi-polloi, the "rest of us". It is easy now to pretend that their "super-human" or at times "weird and eccentric" abilities are what made it all possible. Something that not many of us are "gifted" with.
While we're at it, let's also qualify this success. The success that I'm talking about here, is not the over-hyped steamrolling, near-marauding kind. Rather, it is an expression of one's potential that leads to a sense of genuine fulfillment. The quantum and size of the outcome is only a by-product, and can vary from the small to the massive. Instead, the rallying point is the experience of getting to this state of fulfillment and staying there. The marauding kind may at times be a bit easier to emulate, especially when one is consumed by a singular obsession to win at all costs. So yes, you can filter out many names from history (and the contemporary world too) with this criteria of success.
Now that we're done with this important cleanup procedure, let's proceed.
Now, take a look at the names that remain. If I were to ask you to figure out their success formula, and the key turning points in their journey, you'll soon crash into a benign wall of mythology! No doubt, this is thanks to the "extra-humanization a.k.a. canonization" process that we spoke about earlier. So, off we go to easily spot some magical silver bullets. Won't be that tough given the scale of myth-making that has taken root.
We've downloaded precious tid-bits and pieces of formula that we can now adopt in our lives. With great gusto we start implementing them, but alas! Somehow, these formulae don't seem to stick that well. We desperately want it to succeed though. As it often happens, the usual grind in life intervenes with "routine" priorities and issues. Before long, we get tired of trying to sustain the mythology. Some of us end up in a spiral of self-blame. What's worse, a few of us eventually defect to the "tried-and-tested blockbuster ways" of the marauding success camp.
Is there a different way of doing it? Also, by focusing on silver bullets, are we missing out on the more meaty (albeit) deglamorized ingredients, that seem to be hidden in everyday ordinariness?
Well done, if you’ve decided to stay put. There aren't many you’ll find with these nerves of steel like you! And there you go, that’s all you need, actually. These simple nerves of steel are precisely what you need, to work with the everyday ordinariness of this journey.
And since no-frills is the flavour of the season, this is also the right time for me to talk about cultivating a relationship of “Authenticity” to oneself. This is not just a potent fuel for dogged perseverance, but is also a wonderful internal compass. An internal compass that lets you confront reality in a very objective manner, with strength, presence of mind, and above all, clarity after shedding “excess baggage”. This internal compass is a vital component of adaptability too. Adaptability to not just get by, but also to dare to step out of the beaten path, when that’s just the right thing to do!
Let’s explore a few practical ways of realizing this spirit of authenticity. There are more aspects for sure. But, in this article, I’ve purposely chosen these four (see below). Shedding of excess baggage is at the core of this authenticity. It allows you to free yourself and avoid getting weighed down. You get to focus on what really matters to get you the outcomes you want.
The alternative is inauthenticity that can be very harmful. Strong emotions and the drama around them together negatively impact your ability to focus on productive actions and choices. You may suppress, deny, or camouflage the negative emotions, but at huge cost. It drains you of vital energy, resilience and leaves you feeling powerless. Your internal compass is malfunctioning, and it is easy to get your attention diverted and dissipated. The actions you take often produce sub-par results, even with disproportionately high efforts. The resulting frustration can trigger a vicious cycle with more damaging consequences.
Practicing a relationship of authenticity to oneself can be very demanding at times. It forces you to lean in and delve into discomfort, by facing the situation matter-of-factly. It is these small but significant steps and wins (with the pain involved too) that are missed out when we indulge in fantasy and myth-making about “successful” people, and settle for facile formulas.
Realizing the Spirit of Authenticity
Fear, Jealousy, Regret and Image-Trap. These are the four areas I have chosen for this article. Not dealing effectively with them can severely restrict our ability to break through limiting patterns of beliefs and actions. Your risk appetite also suffers enormously. A few quick notes about each of them below. Thereafter, we’ll look at an “Authenticity-Builder” model that is generic enough to use for each one of these areas.
Acknowledging your fears
It can be quite tough for us to acknowledge our fears to ourselves, forget talking about them! The unknown, unseen and the uncertain have the ability to keep us stuck. Fear may sometimes also lead to harmful psychosomatic conditions. Sometimes, we may hide fear beneath faux-aggression.
Decoding your jealousy
Jealousy is sometimes hidden beneath anger or even fake contempt. Admitting to one’s feelings of jealousy can be even more difficult than fear. There is a sense of shame, and many of us will do all we can to hide our envy! Jealousy often stems from comparison, self image issues, insecurity, threat perceptions, and even confidence issues.
Releasing regrets with grace
Regrets are often caused by expectations that went unaddressed and weren't met. Again a tough one for authenticity, as our regrets when exposed can make us look incompetent, careless, lacking discipline, thoughtless, and even silly at times. Openly talking about regrets is akin to broadcasting our failures and weaknesses. So, it can be tempting to hide it beneath anger and frustration.
Avoiding the Image Trap
Living up to real and imagined images can be very taxing. Some of us may pull off the pretentious act like consummate smooth operators, but not without costs. It’s almost like living in a parallel universe. Precious energy may get wasted and genuine problems get the short shrift. The cost of maintaining the pretense can become overwhelming at times.
This is really about spotting the right options, possibilities and opportunities to move yourself forward. Be it fear, jealousy, regrets or even the image trap, what mini or micro change will make it possible for you to get to a slightly better frame of mind, to begin with? What outcomes can you work towards?
The thumb rule is to acknowledge these feelings, but not dive deep into them. Use them as signals for change. Work with what you can influence, and train yourself to stop worrying about things over which you have no control.
As you start shifting your energy for the better, keep looking at bigger outcomes so that you can maintain the new momentum. That’s the only way in which authenticity can be sustained. Also, bigger and more radical change will need more than simple cosmetic makeovers. You can get more ideas from my article on Systems Thinking. As you work with the deeper layers of the iceberg, there are greater impacts. For example, it maybe an inter-personal issue or something in your organization that needs a drastic overhaul. For this, you may need to identify changes that are inline with the deeper areas like purpose, values, and attitudes, rather than merely changing certain behaviors and actions.
A Spirit of Inquiry, as also an ability to reframe setbacks and failures can also be great assets. You can read more details at “Reimagining the Rebound”, “Resilience”, Spirit of Inquiry.
The unpleasant feelings around experiences of authenticity may also point to the need to deploy some of your strengths that were hitherto not harnessed enough. Or maybe, you’ve got to develop new capabilities and lessen the impacts of some weaknesses.
How about using the negative experiences as learning opportunities, to reflect on skill gaps? Do you think better communication skills can help you overcome these fears? Or maybe analytical skills? When you examine your jealousy, is there any competency that can help you avoid feeling disadvantaged? Do you think you can do with some more crisis management skills? Take a closer look at the factors that seem to cause all that regret.
What kind of skills, talents and strengths will help you bring back the zing?
What skills, competencies and capabilities can take you to your outcomes? A spirit of exploration and an attitude of celebrating one’s own conquests over one’s limiting patterns can be great assets in this endeavor.
Strengthening your self-belief is critical to give you the fire-power needed to get ahead. We’ve already seen how authenticity can be tough for you, especially when you’re nudged and pushed out of your comfort zone.
Key areas to strengthen include:
- Self Regulation: Focusing on Present Moment Awareness can work great
- Expanded Awareness and Perspectives
- Acknowledgement of positive shifts
- Aligning with your unique and special talents, skills and strengths
- Cultivating an attitude of Optimism
- Enhanced Support System and Leveraging People Networks
- Improving your Self-talk with positive energy oriented routines and statements
- Creative Visualization
- Staying aligned and true to your purpose, values and attitudes.
For more ideas, you may also check out my articles on Optimism, Resilience, Smart Buzz Pack, Systemic Thinking, and Beliefs.
As you can see, taking the offbeat trail will need nerves of steel to stay the course. This is especially so when you stay tuned to your authentic self. The idea is not to blithely mouth platitudes about authenticity, but to do it in a practical, structured manner. Use and enhance the Authenticity Builder framework to do your best in this journey!
Before long, you’ll have your own success primer emerging out of all these rich experiences. Let me know how it goes!