Without knowing you, there are already three things I know about you. Why? Because there is more that makes us similar than different. Now don’t get me wrong; we are all unique individuals with a number of factors differentiating us, such as upbringing, education, culture, and language, just to name a few.
But there are a number of characteristics that we all share as humans. Understanding these things about ourselves can aid and advance our personal and professional growth.
You are your own worst enemy. You have a tendency to play the blame game or you shoot yourself in the foot sometimes, don’t you. Why? Because you’re wired for it. Without getting deep into the physiology or psychology of it let’s just cut to the chase and say that your brain is wired for the negative. It’s a preservation thing. An artifact of our hunter–gatherer days. Don’t believe me? Why do you have to work so hard on that positive affirmation thing, then? ’Cause you’re not hardwired for the positive. You’re hardwired for the negative.
Because you’re wired this way your tendency is to focus on your faults and shortcomings. You’re always comparing yourself to others and find yourself coming up short. Sure, it’s nice once in a while to weigh the scales and find yourself on top, but more often you’re looking at the qualities that you lack. You want to know who’s going to beat you—because you expect to be beaten.
Don’t sweat it. It’s natural. The key here is to relax and accept it. Acknowledging that this is the case is halfway to overcoming it. We’re all doing it. Constantly. So, as with any mindful practice, notice when you’re doing it and make a change. Because you’re not the worst at everything. You may be weak in some areas (everyone is ignorant of something) but you are definitely strong in others. This gets easier as you find your place in life and work and hone those skills that you really enjoy exercising. Obviously, the implication here is that age helps.
You are creative. You might not think so, but you are. How do I know that? Because you have a brain and an imagination. These two tools are prerequisite to creativity. And since everyone has these tools, we are all creative. Now, somewhere along the way you may have convinced yourself that you’re not—but notice that that was a turning point in history. What were you before that turning point? Pablo Picasso once said, “We’re all born artists. The problem is trying to remain an artist as we grow up.”
Most likely early on in life you compared yourself to someone who was a “classical” artist (painter, writer, singer), decided you weren’t any of those and, therefore, you’re not creative. If you didn’t go through that particular mental process and still feel that you’re not creative it’s most likely because someone else told you and you let it stick (yes, you let it stick; remember, you’re your own worst enemy). It could have been a parent, teacher, or any other person with influence in your life.
So, maybe you’re not “classically” creative but you have solved some problems in your life, right? You have produced, designed, built, or constructed some things that other people didn’t. Something has come out of you that didn’t come out of anyone else. (I’ve always believed that there’s at least one good book inside each one of us. And many writers have proved me right. Remember, I said one.) That’s creativity. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Paul, I’m not writing any symphonies,” there’s that comparison thing again. I will never write a symphony. Why? Because I’m not focusing my creative energies on that task and (news flash) I’ve never studied music! Get really real about your creativity because you’ll find it’s a primary motivator for any new thing you do, any direction you change, any solution you come up with. And it needs to be cultivated or it atrophies.
You want to belong. If not physically then ideologically. Again, how I know this is that you’re hardwired for it. We’re social creatures. Dependent beings. Don’t let your rugged individualism get the best of you. You want to belong and you know it. Resistance is futile.
Now, you may be saying, “This is where I disagree with you, Paul. I don’t like being around people!” This one usually comes with age, too. And you may not particularly like being in crowds, socializing, talking up a storm, especially if you’re on the introverted side of the spectrum. But we’re not talking about time with people specifically here. We’re talking about identifying with others; that’s what belonging is. You don’t have to spend time with people to identify with them, although we often do.
Think about it: You like people who are like you. You like to identify with people who think the same, care about the same things, and even participate in the same activities as you. That process creates a sense of belonging without which you’d be lost, adrift among your fellow human beings, isolated. Who was it that said, “no man is an island”? No, really, who said that? I have Simon and Garfunkel (I am a rock, I am an island) in my head and I can’t get there from here.
We’d all probably go crazy after about a week on a desert island without anyone to interact with. Our talking to ourselves proves we crave someone to hear, respond, engage. Just watch Tom Hanks in Cast Away; it’s not a silent movie. Does “Wilson!” ring any bells?
In a day and age where we all feel so divided let’s remember that in our core being, at a soul level, there is more that makes us similar than makes us different. We’ve got to learn to live on this planet together a bit longer (at least until SpaceX starts building that condo on Mars) so let’s work at enjoying real differences and championing real similarities.