In the age of instant self-gratification, yesterday was the time to arrive and today is never good enough. We’re conditioned to believe whatever we might have done to date pales into insignificance compared to what we will do. A striving culture demands we keep your head down, show willing, and work hard so that tomorrow might reward us with everything we seek, need, and want.
But you can’t build a house without a solid foundation or architectural design. Focusing solely on how amazing the roof is without taking into account the building supporting it makes no sense.
For example, editors are fond of telling their staffers and freelancers that a journalist is only as good as the last thing they wrote. And yet, it takes years to master reporting, feature writing, and op-eds so this mindset is a little too unforgiving. If the idea is to prevent practitioners from getting too big for their boots, remind them that writing is service, and promote a culture of humility, it can also go against developing the confidence people need to keep innovating. This is the reason why many will stick to what they know once they get established instead of branching out.
Regardless of what industry you’re in, a striving culture turns failures into tragedies we experience personally rather than an organic part of any work process. Fear of failure keeps us trapped into our respective comfort zones and so we don’t improve, we don’t acquire new skills, we don’t grow.
Yet we persist in the erroneous belief that we deserve to be successful if only we keep doing the exact same thing the same way for long enough.
When tomorrow turns into today, it’s another disappointment because we still didn’t get what we expected. We still didn’t get what we wanted. We still didn’t get our dues. And if our situation is in any way precarious, chances are we didn’t even get what we needed either.
And yet, we worked ourselves into a stupor again, we gave our all, we did our best but that wasn’t enough to move the needle. It wasn’t enough to make a significant difference. So we hastily conclude we failed, letting dissatisfaction crush us a little more. Get one too many thumbs down from the universe and you could end up wondering whether you should give up.
What if instead you gave yourself permission to step back for a moment and survey the situation from a different perspective? And what if the problem were a chronic lack of trust in your abilities making it impossible for you to appreciate either process or progress?
Focusing solely on results enables frustration; focusing on every step you take empowers you.
Overnight success isn’t a thing but our collective appetite for fairy tales is insatiable. The more we spectate the lives of our peers, the more inadequate we feel, the more we hunger for quick fixes and shortcuts. ‘Comparisonitis’ is a killjoy, it’s affecting our mental health and makes us vulnerable to mirages like the innumerable get-rich-quick schemes that abound online. Big shots sharing their secrets against a steep fee never tell you it takes experience to get to expertise, or that human disempowerment is their stock-in-trade.
Time to give frustration the boot and reframe how we approach challenges so we might free ourselves from obsessive and crippling self-doubt.
Look, we’re all works in progress. No matter what level of expertise we’re at in our chosen careers and creative pursuits, no one has ever got it made, not really. Even Pulitzer prize winners still need the diligent ministrations of editors to make their prose shine, even top chefs need to keep innovating if they want to keep their Michelin star(s).
It takes self-compassion to weather failure with grace but many of us don’t have enough. We beat ourselves up for not having achieved what we set out to do, for not earning enough, for not being well-known. But apologizing for who you aren’t yet is preventing you from harnessing the confidence you need to keep going.
Accept your best today will change tomorrow and think of adversity as a teacher rather than an enemy.
Welcoming difficulties activates your problem-solving mindset and forces you to find new ways to do things. The quickest way to feel helpless is to tell yourself there’s nothing you can do, which is rarely applicable. When someone dies, you can’t bring them back to life, but that’s thankfully about the extent of our limitations as humans.
For everything else, there’s agency. You don’t need to impress anyone, you only need to take action.
To combat dissatisfaction, take stock regularly of how far you’ve come and how many steps it took to get here. Then figure out how to take that extra step and the one after that. Iterate, play, add new ingredients to the mix but don’t stop just yet else all your efforts to date will have been in vain. And instead of hungering for more than you need, try and keep your expectations reasonable.
And always, always give yourself a pat on the back whenever progress happens, no matter how tiny. Make yourself record and document it so you can enjoy and revisit the many discoveries you’re making along the journey instead of torturing yourself for not having reached your destination yet. If you’re in a financially unpredictable situation, take pride in everything you’re doing to extricate yourself from it and remember progress is incremental, not linear.
Why not make yesterday’s best today’s only benchmark, not what your colleague, your neighbor, your friend, or your partner did?
Trust you already have everything you need to achieve what you want, no matter how long it takes.
Because we all do; failure is how we unlock our potential.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.