As a professor and student advisor, my father spent a lot of time listening to people’s goals and their struggles on their way to meet them. Most often, these people would be highly critical, either of others or of themselves. My father would analyze their motives, character flaws and excuses as they made their case.
More often than not — after hearing them out — he would say, “You’re obviously quite bright. You’ve been gaining the proper skills to meet your goals. You’ve got plenty of support from your family and friends. You seem quite capable to meet this challenge.
“The problem, unfortunately, is sitting across from me. You’re your own worst enemy. Stop sabotaging yourself! You’ve got to get out of your own way.”
I see people getting in their own way all the time. Sometimes I’m guilty of the same weakness. When we focus on ourselves and our abilities or vulnerabilities, we trip over ourselves. In contrast, when we focus on contributing to the solution and supporting the people around us, problem-solving and goal-setting become much more achievable.
I witnessed a great illustration of this when I watched the first episode of American Grit, a new reality TV show in which elite civilian athletes are challenged to complete military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Nobody gets voted off the show. Rather, individuals disqualify themselves by failing to complete a challenge. When thy ring out, they must leave the show and the potential to win the finalist’s prize money. The challenges are considered “the ultimate test of strength, grit, the human spirit and most importantly, teamwork.”
In the first episode, one young man stood out. A Hollywood personal trainer, Kris Krueger had a great physique and enormous confidence. He went through the team challenge with a casual shrug… hardly even broke a sweat. But he was cocky and self-obsessed. And he was critical and demeaning to others.
Then Krueger was selected to compete in ‘The Circus,’ a special obstacle course designed to eliminate one competitor from each of three losing teams. He hot-dogged his way through the course, with just one final endurance challenge remaining: to hold onto a rope with a heavy sandbag hanging from the other end. It was simple. Just hold onto the rope longer than his two competitors, one a petite woman, the other a weathered cop about 25 years his senior.
This guy goofed around and taunted his competitors. They kept their mouths shut, closed their eyes and focused on their objective. The personal trainer soon was hanging onto only an inch of rope, then he suddenly lost grip of the rope altogether. Just like that, the big hunk was off the show. He rang the bell of defeat in shame. There was none to blame but himself. He was his own worst enemy.
Don’t be that guy! Instead of sabotaging yourself with either bloated confidence or the attitude of defeat, walk toward your next challenge with quiet confidence. Focus on the objective. See it through. Stay out of your own way.
Dad said it best.