Welcome to part 2 of this little series. In case you missed part 1 where I talked about falling into the comparison trap and why I think it’s super important that we set our own standards, be sure to pop over here and read that first. Don’t worry… I’ll wait.
Back? Ready for more? Let’s go!
It started back when I was 2…
I’ll begin by telling you that I’m an extremely non-confrontational person. Not shy, but definitely not the type who seeks out conflict and actively asserts myself in the midst of it. I’ve been this way my whole life, and there’s actually video footage to prove it.
In a home video of a family trip to Scotland when I was 2, my cousins and I were at one of those indoor play centres for kids that are full of tunnels, balls, slides, and lots of very high-energy toddlers. There’s footage of us crawling through the tunnels, running around and having fun. A few seconds later, the camera focuses on me, standing up and holding a ball, contemplating my next move. Then, some other toddler comes over to me, pulls the ball out of my hands and runs away. Did I chase after it or try to steal it back? Nope. I just stood there and decided to be the bigger 2 year old who pretended not to care.
Receiving feedback as an adult
These days I don’t let people steal things out of my bare hands in the literal sense, but sometimes I still find myself losing power and confidence in situations where my actions and decisions are questioned. While everyone including myself has their fair share of failures, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a lot of big successes as well. These can be attributed to hard work, supportive people around me, and perhaps a little luck too. Obviously this is great, but at the same time, sometimes I think having fewer monumental screw ups has led me to be less experienced at taking on feedback
For example, say there’s a situation where a project I’ve been responsible for doesn’t achieve the results I anticipated. At the end of the project, I review the steps taken and the results with my team and identify areas for improvement. It’s at this point that I often have trouble separating my own personal self worth from the work itself. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and logically I know I made the best decisions I could at the time. There were also plenty of variables beyond my control. But still, deep down, I can’t help but feel like the critique is of my own abilities. This makes taking on feedback a challenge – especially if it’s about something that had lots of room for improvement.
Separating work from self-worth
One of the things I’ve been getting some amazing mentoring on (and first-hand experience in) is around separating work from self-worth. I’m not just talking about work in the full-time job sense, but everything that I do – writing, speaking, presenting, blogging, athletics, etc. It’s easy to blur the lines between work and self-worth, especially when you’re so passionate about all the things you’re up to in the world. But with that said, I’m learning that it’s far less physically and psychologically exhausting when you can make the distinction between where the work ends and you as a person begin. More about this in a second.
Self-protection, ego and fear
In addition to taking things personally, recent self-investigation has uncovered that I’ve built up quite the layer of self-protection over the years. (Do you picture me walking around in a bubble? Because I do.) As someone who has always been very independent and self-sufficient, asking for help or accepting it when offered doesn’t come naturally. Constantly having my guard up is what also prevents me from going after goals where there’s a large chance of failure. I wouldn’t say I’m a fearful person or a worrier – in fact, I’m normally quite confident. But the more I learn about myself, the more I realize that fear of failure is very real.
That layer of self-protection manifests in all sorts of ways, from stories I tell myself to actions I do and don’t take. In some ways this can be beneficial. But tying it back to the topic of receiving feedback, sometimes it can also make me quick to look for things outside of myself to blame when success isn’t the outcome. It’s sort of the opposite problem to the one I just mentioned about having a hard time separating feedback about work from worth. Rather than internalizing it, my ego wants to make excuses and point to other things that caused me to fall short of a goal in order to protect itself. Anyone else know the feeling?
Who are you committed to being?
Ideally there would be a nice little place right in the middle. One where I don’t take constructive criticism personally and see it as valuable information to achieve a better outcome next time. On that same middle ground, I’d take full ownership of outcomes – even when they’re not ideal – and eliminate any ego-driven finger pointing. Of course, this is all much easier typed than put into practice. I’ve titled this series Things I Know For Sure, but the truth is that this lesson is very much one I’m learning every day – probably for the rest of my life.
As I mentioned, I’m lucky to have some outstanding mentors in my life who have been beyond generous with the advice and coaching they’ve given me. Whether it’s separating self worth from work (of all kinds), or the vulnerability that comes from letting my guard down and being open to feedback and help, the one question I’ve been asking in both situations is: “Who are you committed to being?”
Here’s how it was explained to me, and why it’s been so helpful. At the end of the day, there are only so many things you can control. Nobody’s perfect, nor should we expect each other to be. You can greatly influence outcomes and people can ruthlessly criticize them. But if you try to control those outcomes and take that criticism personally, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and plummeting self-confidence. Instead, by setting an intention at the outset about who you’re committed to being, and maintaining that all the way through, you’ll look back and say with confidence that you truly did your best no matter what the result. That’s all anyone can ask, and it’s all we can ask of ourselves. This makes it much easier to separate the outcome from yourself, while also staying fully accountable to your commitment.
The more I think about this, the more I can see how it applies to absolutely everything in life – not just work or passion projects with a short-term timeline. You can commit to being the most supportive and loving friend, spouse, sister, daughter, mum – whatever it is for you – consistently, day in and day out. At the end of our lives, this is the stuff that makes up the personal legacies we leave. It’s not the promotions you got, whether you hit target for the quarter, the size of your clothes or the number of social media followers you have. It’s how you choose to show up every day.
And with that, the question I have for you (which you may have already guessed) is…
Who are YOU committed to being?