“Accept yourself as you are. Otherwise you will never see opportunity. You will not feel free to move toward it; you will feel you are not deserving” — Maxwell Maltz
This week has been action packed and life continues to be in full-ON mode. My family and I moved from Pune to Hyderabad. I wrote the notes for this article while travelling in a metro train, on the way to pick my kids up from my mom’s place. We are barely done with 50% of our unpacking. Half opened boxes are littered all over the house. Peak of summer here with days and nights so hot and we did not even have electricity one night. My conviction behind the move is being tested. This article is not about these travails though.
One of the last things I did in Pune was to meet a friend to discuss a couple of macro issues that he is facing.
A little background: this friend has come a long way in his life given the hardships he endured in his childhood. Now, he has a good job, good family and he lives well. But every once in a while, he suffers from this overwhelming feeling that he does not deserve the good things in his life. Good things include running water, hot bath etc. At the same, when he gets onto Linkedin and sees posts/updates talking about this person achieving this in his career and she achieving that in her career, he gets overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to accomplish more. I do not think he is alone in this oscillation from feeling like an “impostor” to the other end of deserving and wanting more (while taking the present accomplishments and possessions as granted).
It is my guess that many of us do not think twice about deserving a car, a nice house/apartment, a good job, occasional (fancy?) vacation. But a few (or is it many?) of us do occasionally confront this feeling that we may not deserve the good things in our life. This is called “impostor” syndrome and internet is awash with information on this syndrome. I’m no stranger to this syndrome myself. I contend with this often. At the same time, on the flip side of “impostor” syndrome, is a feeling of overconfidence, even entitlement about things that one has in life — apparently called Dunning-Kruger effect.
I do not know if impostor syndrome and Dunning-Kruger effect are psychological conditions but they are real and I face them and I am getting better at dealing with them. Here are few things I do to deal with them:
- I try to believe that if an opportunity comes my way, I deserve it
- In all/most of my endeavours, I tend to be pessimistic during planning and optimistic in execution. I assess the worst case scenario and accept that a real possibility. During my corporate career, I was prepared for joblessness by setting aside one year’s worth of expenses in liquid funds. In my current investment portfolio, I’m prepared for losses of up to 50% on my equity portion while expectation of returns is a good 4–5% over the country’s GDP growth rate
- By nature, I worry. I double guess myself. For a long while, I took this paranoia as a setback, as an impediment. Not any more — now, I use paranoia as strength. I use it as a tool to build factors of safety
- I make assumptions but validate them frequently. I look for alternate methods of corroborating my assumptions
With respect to comparisons with others’ accomplishments, I think it is impossible to eliminate the “competitive” mindset given that it is part of our evolutionary make-up. Not that eliminating competitive mindset is even desirable. It is the dark side of competition that warrants addressing. Feelings of inadequateness, unfairness that emanate from others’ accomplishments are what are to be eliminated, if possible. Here are few thoughts:
- Use benchmarks that are absolute. The only “relative” benchmark is to compare with my former self
- Read books. Experts from many fields have been gracious enough to share their knowledge in the form of books. Amazing autobiographies and biographies have been written. Apart from helping develop long term mindset and thinking in terms of frameworks and models, they also offer accounts of failures and setbacks and how these remarkable people had overcome them and made great progress. Read spiritual texts for I find them to be the best self-help books
- Avoid news. Avoid fashions, fads and temporal trends
- Let purpose inform and guide actions
- Inculcate design and architectural mindset
- Focus on quality and continuous improvement
- Focus on improving way of living over fretting over life goals
- Once I read a book in which Swami Chinmayananda says that we should not ignore standard of life in pursuit of improving our standard of living. Standard of life is more inward-looking and standard of living is more external — material possessions like car, house, gadgets etc and experiences like movies, vacations etc
- Either you use social media or it uses you. You can use it to improve your social life by being able to be in touch with folks and to learn from special interest groups — running, personal finance, nutrition, books etc
- Use other people’s accomplishments to feed your motivation and inspiration. Ignore them when they seem hollow (e.g., when you get a sense of embellishment) — don’t fret over them or waste any time on them
Thanks for your time. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experimented with. To this extent, this is not traditional “self-help” advice.
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