This is a guest submission from Sarah Moore from PositivelyDreaming.com
Lots of people spend lots of time looking for lots of scapegoats on which to pin their bullshit. They rustle up elaborate excuses for their failed or stalled dreams, lovingly weave them into self-soothing tall tales, then make the rounds trying to convince other people to buy what they’re barely selling to themselves.
They become little bullshit factories whose entire business plan is to soothe the ego, whose main product is false solace, whose board of directors is composed of the myriad devils on their shoulders.
We’re all guilty of this. I freely admit that I’m the first person to hand out reasons why my latest venture didn’t succeed or my newest hare-brained idea flopped. When I’m particularly disappointed or embarrassed, I’ll look for comfort from any corner, spinning my sadsack story to whichever poor sap I can find. I practically canvass the neighborhood.
It’s all ego, of course. You feel crappy about your failure, loss, defeat, retreat or whatever, so you make up for it by crafting an elaborate story as a defense mechanism. The more people you can share your story with, the more people who will sympathetically nod their heads, the more people you now feel are corroborating your story and making it true. Consequently, the less you have to feel the sting of your mistake.
Unfortunately, this is hands-down the WORST strategy for dealing with failure. In the short term, it makes you feel a lot better, especially paired with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, a bottle of red or a Netflix marathon (or all three). In the long run, though, this is a soul-sucking, dream-wrecking habit that you should quit yesterday if you want to get anywhere in life.
How Does Your Ego Wreck Dreams?
You don’t have to look far for proof that egos constantly sabotage the best of intentions. Bookshelves, TED talks and blogs galore all extol the virtue of failure as a teaching mechanism and just trying as the best way to succeed. We practically worship at the feet of the successful, looking for chinks in their armor and begging for the stories of Before They Were Hot Shit. Yet typically, we don’t take their advice (shut up and keep working, generally) to heart.
We’re so afraid of feeling another blast to our self-esteem that we give up on the book deal/coaching business/Etsy shop/nonprofit dream/overseas move. Instead we dig in and begin to spend our energy convincing ourselves we don’t really mind, this is what we wanted all along, we’re not that young anymore, who were we kidding anyway?
The ego’s fear of looking stupid or slipping up puts the kibosh on future possibly idiotic (possibly brilliant) ideas, and there you have it: Dream over.
Okay, fine, you’re thinking, you’ve diagnosed the problem of weenies everywhere. But what do we do about it??
Glad you asked. I’m no expert, of course, but in the last year I’ve born a child, started a business, kept another going, lost my chance at a book deal, launched a website, worked for free and for hire, told everyone about my dreams and regretted it, told everyone about my dreams and been glad, expanded my offerings, reduced my offerings, completely changed my offerings, spun self-aggrandizing and self-soothing stories galore, and basically learned more than I cared to.
Through it all, my ego’s been there, pushing hard for me to just crawl into a safe hole where only ice cream and people that love me are allowed. So far, I haven’t given in, but I do know a thing or two about the ego’s absolute and utter heinousness when it comes to chasing dreams. I’d like to share that with you in the hopes that you can avoid even one of my mistakes … possibly more.
Quit Going for Glory
Glory is elusive and stupid. Investing your blood, sweat and tears in any enterprise for the sake of glory is like doing it because you might win a million dollars, or Angelina Jolie might notice and fall in love with you, or pigs might fly and liberate themselves from stockyards everywhere. Your probably aren’t among the infinitesimal percentage of people who will achieve it. I’m not either. Get over it.
Unfortunately, letting your ego pull a big, fuzzy glory blanket over everything clouds your judgment and limits your enjoyment of life. Small victories get lost because they aren’t big victories. You have a harder time taking pleasure in the process.
You base your decisions on moronic metrics like how much something will buy, or how great it will be when you rub everyone’s face in your success at the high school reunion. It’s shallow and ultimately unfulfilling, and in the meantime you bounce around from one half-baked idea to another waiting for the glory to appear.
Unfortunately, it isn’t going to until you decide to invest in something for its own sake. Maybe not even then. And if that’s a problem, then you and happiness may not be made for one another.
Stop Listening to Other People
Other people suck. They’re happy to laugh when you’re doing poorly, and they’ll rain on your parade when you’re doing well. We do this to other people too, and even the nicest among us get a funny feeling about others’ success. That makes us suck, which sucks harder.
The cure? Stop listening. Stop caring when other people have something you want. And when other people don’t support you, screw it. If you aren’t enough support for yourself, then stop reading this article and call your insurance company to see if they cover therapy. (I’m serious.)
If you try for something worthwhile, you will fail along the way. You will work hard with little progress, and you will suffer waiting for results that aren’t coming fast enough for you. Too bad. Spending your time replaying nasty comments or inventing the zingers people are unleashing behind your back (because they are) is pointless.
Spend that energy developing your craft, honing your writing, pounding the pavement, networking like a boss, whatever.
Okay, fine, so some whims you should definitely quell and move on from before they ruin you. This includes binge drinking on a Tuesday afternoon, sleeping with your best friend’s ex, experimenting with hard drugs, abandoning your children (what?? I would never), and any and all ideas that involve plastic explosives.
But some whims are great. Unfortunately, once you’ve followed a whole bunch of them and they haven’t yet resulted in a golden egg, your enthusiasm can start to flag a bit. Don’t let it. If you’re still experimenting, then do so with abandon. Painting, making small Sculpey models of American presidents, starting a blog about the unrecognized merits of the common garden snail … whatever works for you, go for it.
And for God’s sake, cut yourself a break. If you don’t, you’ll never get the gumption to go for that dream. Don’t do it. Take all that wasted energy your asshat ego wants you to spend making it feel better, and put it into something that matters.
If that dream fails, avoid the temptation to lick your wounds and just repeat the process. There’s a reason everyone loves to hear stories of agonizing failure from the Now Successful: because it happens to all of us. Square your shoulders, remind yourself of that, and tell your ego to shut the hell up.
One day, it will thank you.
Sarah Moore is an illustrator, writer and creativity sleuth aiming to find the best ways to stay happy, healthy and inspired at work and play. You can find her at Positively Dreaming, where she helps people dress up their online presence so they always feel their best.