Your Harshest Critic and Your Strongest Ally

Photo via  Flickr

Photo via Flickr

When I sit back and look at what I've accomplished in life, I have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be grateful for. A strong education, good jobs, great family and friends, and so on. Many of these accomplishments came not only from hard work and sacrifice on my own part, but that of many others as well.

So why do I feel like a failure sometimes?

The truth is, we all feel like failures sometimes. Chances are that if you're reading this, you're the type of person constantly pushing yourself to achieve, to strive for greatness (in whatever way you define greatness). We do all of this in the hopes of becoming something unique and setting ourselves up to accomplish what we're capable of. To create lasting change in the world.

Greatness doesn't come from being average, though by definition, so many of us are closer to average than we'd like to admit (myself included).

We look at our achievements over the past year, and think, "Is that all I was able to do in a year? That was 365 days, I thought I could do more...that person over there achieved/launched/built so much more than I did."

If we step back and take a look at our lives as the sum of each day, we see progress and achievement. But that's not what we do. It's difficult in the heat of the moment and thick of things to look at our lives in totality. Instead, we focus on the here and now, on what we can and can't do, on what we did or did not do. We look at where we think we should be and fill our head with doubt and frustration.

That focus makes us our own harshest critic.

Take any big project that you may have worked on recently. I look at writing Crazy Enough To Try, but there are plenty of other smaller projects that we come up with throughout our lives. Each project consists of a series of steps, with most being fairly simple. In the example of writing a book, it looks something like this:

  1. Think about an idea for the book
  2. Write an outline
  3. Find people to interview
  4. Talk to these people and write down what they said
  5. Collect their thoughts and edit for clarity
  6. Format the manuscript
  7. Publish the book
  8. Sell books online and in stores

Simple enough, right? So why don't more people who say they want to write a book do it? The reality is that each step took a series of smaller steps, and those steps require even smaller steps still. Realistically, step 6 (Formatting the manuscript) looks more like this:

6. Format the manuscript.

  1. Learn what types of formatting are desirable for a book
    1. Learn about the variety of styles that can be used
    2. Learn why some styles are preferred for a particular genre
    3. Compare the styles to other books in the genre
    4. Decide what style makes the most sense for this book
  2. Learn how to format the draft for this style in a particular writing program
    1. Research all of the functionality required that isn't used regularly in most writing
    2. Test functionality to ensure it works as expected
  3. Format the draft according to guidelines
    1. Format headers and footers with correct content
    2. Choose appropriate font and size and test within the draft.
    3. Format paragraph styles with correct spacing
    4. And so on...

You get the idea. And that's just part of one of those steps.

We almost never document all of the small steps that take up our time when crafting our projects. Thinking of launching a new website? Many of the same processes I outlined above apply there as well. What about planning an event? I can tell you from the experience of wedding planning (and watching my fiancee take on the brunt of that work) as well as planning other events, there is no end to the number of research, discussions, and decisions that need to be made for even the simplest of tasks.

So when we go on to tackle these audacious projects, it's incredibly easy to ask ourselves "What did I do today?" and come up with the erroneous answer of "Not much."

But hope is not lost.

Let's look at this from a different perspective. If you were to have you boss come up to you after a crazy day at work and ask you what you did, my guess is that you'd be able to rattle off a series of tasks that may have been small but were critically important in accomplishing your responsibilities.

Why don't we do the same thing when we're our own boss?

You are your greatest ally in telling yourself (and your internal boss) that you've been very diligent in getting things done, and that progress is being made.

Keep a tally and look back it from time to time. I bet you'll be surprised at how much progress you've made. And when you do realize that, give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate your success. Because if you don't, who will?

- Ryan