Right now it may not feel like the beginning of anything. Maybe you’ve felt kicked around by life for years now and you just can’t imagine starting over again. I know how this feels. But there is an opportunity today that is different than any other day. Today is the day you will hear my message. And I’m hoping it will resonate with you, like other messages haven’t. I want this for you. I want you to feel free.
Let’s begin by looking at some of the things that we pessimists often believe to be true and how they don’t work for us anymore. (Yes, we, I’m recovering from this disease too!)
Firstly, pessimism is the belief that things are not going to turn out–because they never do. At least not for us. The job, the part, the break, the woman/man seem always out of reach. We believe that the worst will happen, and never believe that the best will happen. We even rarely believe that the huge area in between is a possibility.
But in order for us to believe that the worst will always happen, we have to have a skewed view of the world and how it really works. Our basic foundational beliefs about the universe are inaccurate and faulty programming. The premises are wrong, so we can never come to the right conclusion. But we can change this.
For many of us, these beliefs are because of our upbringing and how our parents, teachers, and peers saw the world. We were little sponges that were trying to make sense of this amazing and wild world, and sometimes when we are not in the right environment, we get it wrong.
But, I’ve seen those magical unicorn people that had a ton of healthy love and support. They had a strong peer group and they were accepted by the larger social networks around them. They seem to let life’s disappointments run off their backs. They pick themselves up, and dust themselves off, and move on. They reassess their strategies and their goals. And they don’t always blame themselves for everything that doesn’t go right. They are amazing to behold.
And surprisingly, they don’t have more beauty or talent than anyone else, but they always seem to get a lot further in life. But most importantly, they are happier. And you can be more like them and have more success and happiness in your life too. You deserve it. It’s been a long time coming.
So let’s break down your faulty programming and begin anew. Let’s look at three common fallacies that might be causing you pain.
My failures prove I’m a loser
We live in a meritocracy
I will never win, because that’s how things work out for me
Fallacy One: My Failures Prove I’m a Loser
Wow, this fallacy is the most damaging to hold onto. If you only take away one piece of information from today, please take this: failure is an option, failure is guaranteed to happen sometimes, and you are an amazing, valuable person regardless of your failures or successes. I know this doesn’t feel true yet. So let’s unpack this and walk through each step.
I have always bristled at the idea that failure is not an option. When someone gets up on the podium and shouts to the world that they are there because they don’t believe in failure, I shudder. Failure is a reality. If you have winners, then it follows, that there will be people who don’t win. It’s that simple. And those who win, also have many instances in their lives in which they lost!
But the Hollywood story is so much better when you finish on a high note. You end the movie when the guy finally gets the woman of his dreams. Or the curtain comes down after the woman finally sells her company for 10.5 million; the company that no one believed she could create.
However, in real life, the story keeps going. The guy and his dream woman have a few tough years of marriage. Maybe she even leaves him. The business woman doesn’t invest well and loses a lot of her financial windfall.
This is the truth of life. What goes up, can come down, and sometimes it does. (Also, it is important to remember that it doesn’t always come down.) But if things fall apart, this doesn’t make us any less of a wonderful, valued person. And a failure is not indicative of our ability to win again. And you will win again, I assure you. As long as you keep trying.
What Is Failure? There are different types of failure, but it can often teach us something. Sometimes we can learn how to do better by rethinking our strategies, and sometimes there is only the lesson of humility. At other times, we are reminded that things are completely out of our control. We can try our hardest to win the race, but someone can still be faster.
Some people say that the only failure is not getting up and trying again. This is mostly true. Of all of the successes I’ve had in my life, and of those that you have had, I’m sure that they started with failure. Anything worth doing, doesn’t come easy. And failure will be a part of your journey.
Imagine the first time we got up on our two feet to walk. We fell a lot. We got frustrated. We might have cried, but we got back up again. It’s time for you to get back up and it’s ok to remind yourself that tears and frustration are a part of the process; they are not a sign of your weakness, they are a sign of your desire to do and be better.
So your failures simply prove that you are trying something new, that doesn’t come easy. Your failures will teach you that you may need to change your strategy, or even your goal. Your failures are just telling you that you have to get back up and try a little harder. Success is around the corner.
So what Is Success? Success is as varied as our concept of failure, but I want to take this opportunity to dissect the meaning of success so that you can be free from some of our socially held illusions about it.
Fallacy Two: We Live In a Meritocracy
First, we do not live in a meritocracy. We say we do. And this works for a lot of people who want to believe that they have earned their place in society. But we are aware that many people get a “leg up” in life. In fact, my degree in sociology focused on the fact that life is not fair and things are not equal. I have the statistics to back this up, and I find them eye opening.
So knowing that things are not always fair should give you a new sense of freedom. if you are a part of a group that has been historically held back, we know your challenges are greater, and that should be acknowledged. You and your effort should be acknowledged. Have compassion for yourself and the challenges that you encounter every day.
The second part you should take from this truth is that you will have to work harder. Just because your mountain is higher, doesn’t mean you should stop climbing. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and I hope that we can work together to change this. Let us never give up trying to extinguish these inequalities, but remember, getting back up and trying is still important. Don’t let them win by stepping away from the competition. You deserve a place at the table. Even if our culture says you don’t.
As a woman with a disability I have been told many times that I am not wanted at the metaphorical “table.” Sometimes I just have to elbow my way in, or I have to make my own table and invite others to join me. It’s not easy, but I have to keep going.
But even for those with privilege, life can sometimes be a kick in the yarbles. If we are not born into an environment that is encouraging and supportive, we can easily get lost. Maybe our natural gifts never get developed. Maybe our minds and bodies were never trained for success in this changing economy. We feel left behind. We feel like a failure.
That isn’t your failing, that is our collective failing.
You have value, even when the rest of our society doesn’t see it. How do I know? Because I see the world around me miss out on the best parts of people everywhere, because we choose to judge them by old, outdated means of measurement. At one time we believed that people’s intelligence and character could be rated according to the size and shape of their head. Now we find the study of phrenology ridiculous.
The sad thing is, we still do this to people today when we measure them by their income, beauty, the color of their skin, a particular ability or disability, their age or their gender, or their sexual orientation. We judge people on their worthiness every day.
One of our greatest challenges, as a society, is how we look at people. Most of the time we look at what people can’t do, or what makes them different, or at what they don’t have. But there is a new way of looking at people and communities. It’s growing slowly, but I’d like to offer it to you as a new way of also viewing yourself.
Instead of looking at your deficits, look at your strengths, assets, and resources. What do you bring to the world around you? What gifts do you have to give? This is a more accurate view of yourself than focusing on what didn’t go right or at what you don’t have.
I feel it is important now to talk about what some of your gifts might be, because it is easy to fall back into our socially held consciousness that judges ourselves by its old standards. (money, beauty, youth, intelligence, race, ability, etc.) So let me tell you about a man I knew.
Sean was not a handsome man; he was tall, overweight, with bad teeth, red hair and a red wiry beard. He was in his 50’s and moved from one low-wage job to another. He worked at a gas station, a bar, a local supermarket, and a handful of other tedious time wasters. Many people saw his life as a failure. Then one day he went home after work and took a nap that he never awoke from.
It was a complete shock. HIs wife and friends were devastated.
A month later, I went to his funeral and I was blown away by everyone who got up and spoke. They had the same experience with him that I had had. His magical gift? A loving sense of optimism and an ability to make you feel heard.
It turned out that he held an entire community together. He saw the value each person had and he acknowledged their struggles. He never made you feel like a misfit. He always made you feel like you belonged when you were with him. I’m crying now, just thinking about what an amazing gift he was to everyone that knew him. He had no money, a ton of debt, he foreclosed on multiple homes, and he was a shining example of what a human should be.
Please remember that all of our accomplishments, awards, money, and property are all illusions. When I say this, I don’t mean that they don’t exist, what I mean is; they aren’t what matters. They are not the measurement we should be using on others, or ourselves.
When a young boy cuddles with a sick sibling and offers them comfort, does it matter that he has down syndrome? When an accountant finds an error and saves the company millions, does it matter that she is blind? The truth is, her blindness may have made her double check the figures, which allowed her to find the error. She may take a bit longer at the same job, but she is more thorough. This is the power of difference!
This is what our society keeps forgetting–and getting wrong–our differences do not make us weak, but they offer a strength to the larger group. Your difference is your strength. Even if society doesn’t recognize it yet.
Evolution doesn’t support homogeneity, each species needs diversity in order for it to grow and survive. We are the ones that assigned a value to humans according to ridiculous measurements. It is not natural. And even if we can’t get rid of these outdated beliefs in society yet, you can do yourself a favor and get rid of your limiting beliefs about yourself today. Your difference is beautiful. We are all better because you are here.
So let the fact that we don’t live in a meritocracy help you to have more compassion for yourself and stop comparing yourself to those that have had a “leg up.” Let it be a reminder, that although you have it tougher than others, you’re going to keep on trying. Lastly, let this truth remind you that you do have value, even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it yet–someone does see your value and that’s why they love you, even if they don’t always say it.
Fallacy Three: I Will Never Win, Because That’s How Things Work Out for Me
Well, this one is extremely common with us pessimists. We don’t think that we will ever win. No, we believe that we will always lose, or come in last. The truth is, if ten people run a race: one will win, someone will come in second, third, etc. and only one person will come in last. That’s just how the rules are set up. So out of ten people, one is the winner, one is the loser, and the other eight are somewhere in between. And sometimes a person’s standing in the race is decided by a fraction of a second. Never decide your value by a metaphorical fraction of a second.
Why do I want to emphasize that your value is not decided by your place in the race? Because if you believe that you are less than others and do not deserve a spot on the team, it will be that much harder for you to get back up and try again. And the most obvious way to win is to stay in the game. You don’t want to bring yourself down by devaluing yourself. It weighs too much. You may already have a big mountain to climb and you don’t need the extra burden.
So in this imaginary race 8 out of 10 people are somewhere in the middle. The chances are you will live in this space a lot more often than in the winner’s circle, or with the sting of defeat. That’s one of the beautiful things about life. Most of it is pretty good. We all win sometimes, and we all lose sometimes, but most of the time, we are somewhere in the middle.
But changing your opinions about failure isn’t the only way to deal with your pessimism. We have statistics! And here’s the cool thing about statistics–Why not you? If I give you a quarter and we play the game “heads or tails,” you’ll win some of the time. Depending on whether the coin is flipped or spun changes the probability of which side will land face up. But even with the unfair game of “heads or tails” you still will win some of the time. That’s a great metaphor for life. Keep flipping the coin, it’s bound to land in your favor some of the time.
Yes, the math shows that even those of us who aren’t given a “leg up,” still win. But the only way you can win is if you keep getting back up, after getting knocked down. I know it’s not easy. Seriously, it’s one of the hardest things you will do. But getting back in the race is the best thing for your self esteem and your sense of purpose. Never let losing a race keep you from running. Run for the joy of feeling the wind on your face. Run, because it makes your heart sing. Run, because it’s in your blood. Run, because it’s who you are, deep down inside.
Never forget, sometimes you win.
Become Your Own Magical Unicorn Person
Remember at the beginning of this piece when I mentioned those magical unicorn people who don’t let failures slow them down? They seem to have more “luck” than the rest of us. They don’t take things personally when it doesn’t go their way. They try to learn from their mistakes, but they also don’t attribute all of their losses to their own failings.
Now that you are older, you can give yourself the right to be happy. Free yourself of the ridiculously outdated standards that one “should” measure themselves by. Stop telling yourself you know how this story will end. The truth is, your story is like so many other people’s stories. There is bound to be tough times and good times. So, why not you? Why not now?
You can nurture yourself and your new way of thinking, so that you too can be a magical unicorn person; someone who feels whole and alive every single day. You get to decide how you feel.
It isn’t going to happen over night. Our thought patterns are deeply rooted. But with self compassion and diligent action, you will wake up one morning and stretch and smile, and you will say to yourself, “Today is my day!” You can be that magical unicorn person that inspires someone else to keep going.
And sometimes you will come in seventh place, and fourth, and third; but sometimes, you get to win too. It’s just math.