We men have a common story that repeats itself through our lives that looks something like this:
Achieve something, time passes, start to feel insecure about whether or not you still have it in you to do it again, go out and try to achieve something again to feel better about yourself.
This cycle affects all levels of your life from your day to day tasks to your long term goals.
Successful entrepreneurs wonder if they still have it in them to start another business or if the first time was just a fluke. Middle aged men who played high school football wonder if they could still keep up with the younger men. Computer gamers battling for Warcraft rankings wonder if they can still defeat their arch enemies in the next face off.
The storyline even affects your intimate relationships as the women in your life don’t seem to get “why you have to go prove yourself again.”
The cycle isn’t inherently good or bad. On one hand it can cause you to do stupid things like continually defend your crown as the champion of “chicken” on your local stretch of highway. On the other hand it can propel you to new heights in business and personal success.
Understanding and acknowledging the “could I still do it again?” cycle is perhaps the single most high leverage thing you can do in shaping the direction of your life.
Overcoming Fear with a “Warm Up”
The rubber really meets the road when you dip into the insecurity phase, because with that insecurity comes fear. Before you can go on to tackle the next challenge, you first have to deal with that fear.
If you don’t overcome the fear, you are paralyzed into inaction and procrastination. For some tasks you can use a “warm up” to push through the fear.
As a sales person, I often experience this fear before my first sales call of the day. It doesn’t matter how many sales calls I make, that first call of the day always puts me on edge. Can I still sell? Can I still explain the value of my product in a clear way? Will the prospective customer have invented some new objection that I just won’t know how to deal with? With all this nervousness can I still keep it together enough to command the attention of yet another bank CEO? It’s enough to make me want to hide under my desk and not call anyone again ever.
I get around this fear by placing my least important calls at the beginning of the day. The ones that I can completely screw up and it won’t really matter. These “warm up” calls help restore my confidence and move on to the more important calls of the day.
The Insecurity Phase and Long Term Projects
The insecurity phase becomes downright insidious when dealing with long term projects where you may not be able to realize the results of your efforts until much further down the line.
This often comes up when looking for a new job. You might even be a high-level manager, but you are still plagued by questions like, “Is my resume still competitive for the kinds of jobs I want to get? Can I still impress at an interview? Can I still command the same or better salary as what I’ve been getting?”
It gets even more complicated if you say something like, “I’ve been a successful employee, now I want to be a successful business owner.” In your own mind starting a business feels like a natural continuation of having learned how a business operates from working inside one, but it requires a different skill set and it’s not quite the same thing.
Achieving the goal is sort of like being at the bottom of a staircase looking at step 100. When you are on step 1, step 100 looks so far away that not only are you insecure about your ability to tackle the goal but you’re depressed that the goal looks so far away. In fact, the staircase is so high that you probably can’t even see many of the steps.
You descend into inaction and worse, depression and hopelessness. It feels like you are fighting yourself every step of the way. Even though the only way to achieve happiness is to reach step 100, every time you look back at your progress it still feels like you are lingering around step 1.
To be honest, I don’t have all the answers on how to get around this one. At the current time, I believe the best solution is to commit to the process and not to the goal. Stay focused on the next step and not the end result. Step 100 may still seem very far away, but if you’re standing on step 1 then you probably have a pretty clear view of what step 2 is.
If you’re looking for a new job, focus on connecting with people in your industry. If you want to build 20 lbs of muscle, focus on your next gym workout and your next meal. If you want to start a business, read a book or talk to someone who has started a similar business before and start at the beginning. Ideally break the long term project down into smaller, repeatable steps that you can apply the warm up technique to. The blog of a 1,000 posts begins with a single post.
Avoid Doing Stupid Things
Give up your title as the king of chicken.
If your “could I still do it again?” cycle prompts you to complete ever bigger, ridiculous, and more dangerous stunts then I suggest you short circuit the cycle. Pointless risk of death and dismemberment for a temporary burst of confidence isn’t doing you any favors.
You might also lump situations into this like being a successful business owner who feels like he has to go start another one to prove he can still do it. If by some stroke of luck (or skill) you hit it big and your bank account has swollen to $100 million dollars, you might re-evaluate your motivation for trying to do it again. Do you really have some motivation like you want to revolutionize the golf club market with a set of clubs that guarantees a perfectly straight shot every time? Or are you just trying to keep up appearances and “prove yourself?”
In these situations, I would just be clear about your “why.” If you truly have some vision and drive, then you should go for it. If it’s just some ambiguous feeling of having to show that you’ve still got what it takes, you might want to pause and reflect on whether it’s really the highest and best use of your time. You might have other projects that are more meaningful to you like spending a year traveling the world or spending more time with your family.
Being Aware of the Cycle
Simple awareness of the achievement, insecurity, feel compelled to prove yourself again cycle can subtly and subconsciously change the way you tackle life.
As a simple exercise, simply try to realize and identify where in your life this cycle comes up for you. Once you acknowledge that this is just part of how your brain works and that it will always be a part of you, you can let the cycle be a springboard to new success or short circuit the cycle when you see it taking you down the wrong path.
How does this cycle come up for you? Leave a comment below and discuss where you see yourself feeling insecurity about being able to achieve again and how you deal with it.