The Somebody Trap

…most of us are raised to be somebodies and that is a no-win game to buy into, because while you may turn out to be much more somebody than somebody else, a lot of other people are going to be a lot more somebody than you. And you are going to drive yourself crazy.

Bird By Bird; Anne Lamott

I have a hard time letting go of the fact that I may not be somebody someday (my ego bristles as I write it). Add high-achiever with a dash of perfectionism into the mix and accepting this idea becomes as easy to stomach as trying to hold down some syrup of ipecac.

The allure to be somebody is strong. We all want to be like our heroes. They are our heroes, after all, for a reason. Their contribution changed us for the better. And, perhaps, you dream of making an impact on the same scale. 

The truth is, in order to make our fullest contribution, we have to hold space for the belief that we are worthy of making such a contribution. But, the subtlety here is that the focus should be internally versus externally.

The desire to be somebody keeps you grounded in the finite game of comparison. There will always be someone better than you. Yet, the high-achiever and perfectionist holds themselves to the standard of their heroes. This becomes an impossible benchmark to clear, making it harder to start. 

Looking back, this is exactly what held me back from starting a blog. I wanted to write like my heroes. I expected myself to operate at the same level completely glossing over the time they had invested into their craft. 

When I reflect on the times where I felt less than, I seem to find comparison at the center of it all. Comparison, as they say, is the thief of joy. 

The cosmic joke of it all is that this is an instance where what you need is the complete opposite of what you want. 

When you are able to shed the desire to be somebody, you allow space to make mistakes and do things for the joy of it. It becomes a practice to improve yourself versus proving yourself. 

This allows the roots of inner strength to take hold and enables you to withstand the deluge of the external world. 

You may not end up being somebody. But, that’s the point. Fulfillment comes when we make peace with the fact that we have everything we need in front of us. 

We just need to free ourselves of our ego and take the first step with no expectation other than the joy of the journey. 

What do I actually want?

A great question cannot exist on its own.

It requires we think on and actually answer it. That may sound obvious, but it’s easy to put off answering it until later.

My dad’s journey with Alzheimer has taught me that there is no point in putting off until later. He’s 67. I’m 36. Alzheimer exists on both sides of my family. I may not get later. 

All I have is right now. 

In truth, that’s all any of us really have. 

It’s a sentiment that may appear melancholic on its face. But is actually quite liberating. Because it forces us to stop putting the important things off. 

So, I ask again – what do I actually want?

I want to build a legacy for my daughters, for my family, for my tribe and for my larger community. I want to contribute in a way that ensures the infinite game of life can continue exponentially better than the current state. Even if that means I am not here to see it. 

I want to honor the generosity from mentors, teachers and my community and pay it forward in buckets. 

I want to challenge those committed to a journey to contribute remarkably AND remember to enjoy the ride.

I want to hold others accountable and I want others to hold me accountable. We both win when we hold each other to better. 

I want to live purposefully, aligned to my deepest values and without reservation.

I want to live life focused on the opportunity there is for joy and generosity and service. 

I want know myself on the deepest level; only then can I make the contribution that is mine to make.

I may not yet be able to concretely define what I actually want. It’s still quite aspirational. But, I’m closer.

And like an infinite game, the point isn’t to win. It’s to keep playing. So I’ll return again to this question. Until I have whittled away its chocolatey exterior and am left with the candy core that fuels me.

Now it’s your turn to not put this off until later. Later is right now.

What do you actually want?

An Examined Life

The unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be a musician, tour the world and move people by my art. I saw the road of greatness ahead of me and believed that I was destined to walk it. 

But, of course, reality wrapped itself around that dream like the big wet-blanket that it is and smothered that idea. 

The sting of that first bite made me put guardrails on my ambition. I avoided anything that strayed too far outside the lanes of certainty and assurance.

I stayed away from anything too creative that required dealing with the tension of uncertainty. I moved closer towards the spectrum of adulthood that in my youth I avoided – safety, responsibility, conformity.

I muted the part that expands and amplifies possibilities. I silenced that which moves us when we experience something that stirs us to our core – a breathtaking view from a mountain, a song that brings us to tears, a work of art that moves us.

I began to see the world as a place of fear and avoided failure at all costs. I kept my ambitions safe and with a high certainty of success. 

I think part of growing, the part that makes it so enriching, is examining the things that we’ve continually avoided dealing with. Maturity (a product of growth) is replacing fear with curiosity and identifying that fear is not the only perspective. 

The world is not just black or white. It is both and it is neither. Every yin has a yang. 

It’s recognizing that fear of failure has another side. Muting ourselves by living in the shadow of what we are capable of doesn’t have to be the only path forward.

We are worthy of making a remarkable contribution. 

Our contribution does not need to be grandiose in scale, but it must be remarkable and to the best of our abilities.

If we’re going to make the most of our short existence, we must examine the things that hold us back.

And then perhaps we will have lived a live worth living.

Why we fail to leap

Sometimes we just need more practice. We haven’t leapt enough times to be a good judge of the size of the gap between where we are and where we want to go.

Other times, we surround ourselves with others who tell us the reasons why leaping is dangerous.

Both of these can be overcome.

Leap often and reflect. Knowing your abilities comes from pushing your limits and finding the edges. 

Surround yourself with people who aren’t insecure but rather invested in your journey of growth. The generous skeptic sees what you are trying to do and pushes you to do it better.

Each approach is powerful enough to stand on its own.

But it’s the combination of the two where growth is unlimited in its possibility. 

The Message Behind the Message

I came across an article that discussed how dyslexic entrepreneurs have a competitive edge (And here is another one, and another one).

 Among the list of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs were Ted Turner, Richard Branson, and Jamie Oliver.

Who doesn’t love success stories of people taking control of their life inspite of the challenges they face?

In fact, it wasn’t the first time I’d come across an article like this. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote about how he believed dyslexia could be an advantage in his book, David and Goliath.

A quick google search of dyslexic business leaders will yield some impressive results and stories of some really successful people overcoming this learning disability. 

When I first read this, I remember thinking, “wow, this is impressive! If only I had dyslexia so I could have the same edge and level of success.

But I don’t, so I filed it away in the “interesting but not applicable” folder of my brain.

….HOLD up a second! Did I REALLY wish I had dyslexia? What the funk is that all about? 

Did I really simplify their success as the result of a specific challenge? And the absence of it in my life was enough to justify not learning from their journey?

I used to find myself dismissing stories like these because they weren’t perfectly suited to my own situation. I found it easier to romanticize about others success stories and list all the reasons how it doesn’t apply to me. I wouldn’t dig deeper to find the nugget of truth and apply to my own life to make meaningful behavioral change. 

No one’s journey is going to perfectly match mine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to learn from others. 

What’s the message behind the message? 

Challenge yourself to back against the urge to simplify a story and write it off if it doesn’t apply perfectly to you. 

Our ability to grow is rooted in our worldview. 

And these stories can either seen as a source of learning opportunities or as a bunch of interesting stories that don’t apply to you.

The Hidden Opportunity in Low Expectations

I’m a people pleaser. I care deeply about what certain people think about me. 

For a long time, I used to pretend, told myself, I was the type of person that didn’t care what others thought of me.

But anytime there was conflict or a simple criticism I would start to slowly replay it in my head to the point where I’d ruminate on what I could have done differently. It made me realize that I did care and I had been lying to myself. 

I’ve been working on embracing this trait.

Doing so has helped me stop fighting against it with self-deceit. It’s allowed me to learn how to harness it. So I can become aware of when to use it for the better or notice when it fills me with shame and helplessness and question why.

By leaning into this personality trait, I’ve found an endless amount of easy opportunities to make a difference in someone’s day. And being the social creatures we are, these are opportunities to build tighter bonds with the people in our community and tribes (and if I’m being frank, I love the feeling of knowing I have the power to impact someone’s day for the better).

It’s a power we all have. And it’s surprisingly simple.

All it requires is that you pay attention to the low hanging fruit around you. These are the opportunities that exist in our day-to-day where the expectation of a moment is so low, that a slight positive deviation from that expectation could lead to a pleasant surprise.

In a world of back-to-back video conference calls, no one expectes you to have a positive upbeat and energetic attitude. But doing so can completely alter the interaction for the better and garner greater engagement. 

When you speak to a call center rep, they don’t expect you to be delightful. Most people probably yell at them or express their disappointment. Imagine the level of service you’d get if you surprised them and talked to them as you would a dear friend; if you showed interest, excitement and a willingness to partner with them towards a solution.

Imagine being a co-worker or client in need of assistance only to get your automatic out-of-office reply. They expect the standard corporate boilerplate robot response. They don’t expect a message indicating you are at Space Camp or on a pirate adventure or something playful and farcical in addition to who can assist in your absence. But imagine if that’s what they got? Sure, you aren’t there to help them, but there is still opportunity to fold delight into an otherwise boring and unmemorable moment. 

There are many opportunities like these where the expectation of the interaction is low. These are the gems to look for, the opportunities that are ripe to transform an experience. These are the moments to create surprise and delight because neither are part of the expected outcome.

And it’s an opportunity to practice serving others from a place of joy. Not because you have to, but because you get to. It’s an opportunity to remind others that there are good things in this life and we all have the power to create these moments. 

It’s what makes us human.