Humans are complex creatures. We often don’t do things for simple, straightforward reasons, even though we’d like to believe the contrary. Processing just how complex our motives and actions are can be exhausting, so we understandably simplify things or else we would never accomplish much of anything.
Understanding this is key to understanding yourself. And understanding yourself is key to unlocking your full potential. That should be self-evident, but there are many who will argue against this endlessly, at least that’s what I’ve found.
As a creative professional of any kind, whether you’re a writer like me, a photographer, a visual artist, any kind of performer, etc. you know that finding a way to dig deeper and go further is key to your success. That’s certainly easy to acknowledge, however doing it is a different proposition.
There are many things holding you back in life. Some are very real. Others are more a thing of perception, even though their effect on your growth is just as great. The logical conclusion is that you must find ways to get past, go through, or eliminate as many barriers as possible to secure your success. Again, that’s far easier said than done. Even just identifying what all those obstacles are might be a multi-year process.
We might share obstacles to our success with others, while some could be quite unique. One of the universal obstacles is blaming others and your environment for your lack of success. While other people and your environment certainly have an effect, we often over-inflate their magnitude. Doing so allows us to duck that thing which seems to be so unfashionable: personal responsibility. If your professional career isn’t headed in the direction you want, it’s up to you to figure out what’s keeping you back and do something about it.
Nobody’s life is an uninterrupted trajectory to a lofty goal. There’s a saying that life is when you make a plan, then something different happens. While admittedly frustrating, things which throw off your trajectory might help you realize correcting your course is necessary. More often than not we’re headed in the wrong direction, whether it’s based on inexperience, incomplete/bad information, improper conclusions, or our own internal biases. We will take many detours before reaching our maximum potential. That trial-and-error process should teach you much, but you have to allow it. There’s much to gain from the struggle, pain, and sacrifice required to achieve worthwhile goals.
Another common obstacle is feeling like you aren’t good enough to be a success. Believe me, everyone feels that way, except many clinical narcissists or sociopaths, so you’re not weird or wrong. Everyone falls short of the mark, but to use that as an excuse to not put forth your absolute best effort isn’t helpful. Go out there give in your all. You’re probably going to fail to one degree or another. Learn from it, then go out and do it again. Repeatedly failing can be a humiliating process, or you can turn it into a a learning experience — the choice is yours.
What about being surrounded by people who say you’re not good enough? Ignore them. Don’t waste your time associating with those who drag you down. Your talents are too precious to allow others to convince you that silencing your creative voice is the thing to do. As you put your work out on display for everyone, you’ll find people who are supportive, those who don’t take joy in tearing your work down.
When you create something new, hold nothing back. Don’t stop short because you’re afraid you won’t have anything left in you for the next project. I’m in the final stages of editing my latest book and I can honestly say I’ve poured my all into it. It’s been absolutely draining, even painful in a way, and yet the process has also been so incredibly fulfilling. I know I’ve done my very best. I can say that with pride. When it comes time to publish the book I can feel completely confident in my work. Holding back diminishes that feeling.
Ultimately, the best way to push past, over, or through obstacles standing in your path is to hold nothing back. Doing so isn’t a singular event. Just like the weightlifter spends hours and hours in the gym doing grueling exercises, dealing with muscle pain, engaging in proper diet and rest, etc. you must be in this for the long haul. Sometimes it can be lonely and it’s oftentimes exhausting. You’ll have plenty of reasons to give up. No complex skill set is mastered completely overnight.
Partly what’s inspired this post has been my in-depth research of US Special Forces. While my current book is winding down I’m already diving into the pre-writing phase for the next one. To read the words of these top soldiers and absorb their attitude of pushing through and past even the most daunting, unexpected of challenges with absolute ferocity is inspiring. Adopting that attitude requires a high degree of mental toughness. But just like increasing your muscle strength it’s not something you gain without putting in the time and effort. Making excuses comes naturally. Deciding to push forward despite that isn’t easy, however it comes with huge rewards. The question is, do you want it badly enough?
Image by Steven Symes. All rights reserved for this blog post text and the accompanying photograph.