There’s a line from the movie Castaway that has always stuck in my mind as one of profound depth and wisdom. After being rescued from a deserted island where he’d spent years struggling to survive, the character played by Tom Hanks described how he was able to get through the ordeal. He said simply, “Tomorrow the sun will rise.” Despite terrible hardship and abject hopelessness, he could always return to that one simple truth. Tomorrow the sun will rise.
It’s impossible to appreciate the poignancy of that statement until you’ve reached a point that seems completely hopeless; a time when there seems to be nothing there to keep you moving forward. Despite the desperation you might feel and the desire to give up, you can’t escape the truth of the statement. Tomorrow the sun will rise.
Perspective matters. I’m told that distance runners often focus simply on reaching the next telephone pole. Once they reach it, they focus on reaching the next one. That process goes on for the length of whatever distance they’re running. They focus on the process rather than on reaching the end of the race.
I tend to focus on the horizon; I go for big goals, but in doing that I seem to ignore each small step that it takes to reach them. I ignore the process. I’ve tried and failed in significant ways on many occasions. I’ve gone ‘all in’ on business ventures and lost everything. I’ve put myself and my family in seemingly hopeless positions, even getting to the point where I literally forgo buying medication for myself. When it seemed as if things couldn’t get any worse, my car broke down.
It’s painful because as circumstances become more challenging, the horizon that I tend to focus so hard on becomes invisible to me. I’ve fallen down, the sun has set and I can’t see the path forward. But that horizon, appealing as it may be, was never a reality. It may yet become a reality, but it isn’t right now. The circumstances of today however, are reality.
If you’re like me, you tend to view the goal as an end and once that end is reached then things will be better. Say it out loud and the true nonsense of the idea will ring in your ears. If I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Put in that context, the problem becomes crystal clear: When the goal becomes the be-all, end-all of our lives we lose sight of the goodness of today. Consequently, the contrast between the sky blue end concocted in our minds and the challenges we face right now can make today seem far more miserable than it should. But the end that we envision is likely an illusion; there will always be struggle. And there are good things in life right now that we’re ignoring. So, what value does focusing on the sky blue end give us if it clouds our eyes to current blessings?
Rather than focusing on what might have been but for our failures or other obstacles, we have to focus on what is. When you’ve bottomed out, you have to remember to take things one day at a time. One step at a time. Take some time to focus on the right now. Count your blessings and start over if you need to. Tomorrow the sun will rise. A new day will begin.
Being true to ourselves helps build self-confidence, create deeper connections and encourage creativity and ambition.
A few years ago my children welcomed a new grandmother into their life. Like most grandmothers, she’s loving and proud of her grandkids. She attends their events, bakes them cookies and cakes and loves them unconditionally. She’s everything a kid could want in a grandma. She’s also a big fan of death metal music, occasionally dragging my father-in-law to such concerts as Five Finger Death Punch, Slayer, Anthrax and Lamb of God. She doesn’t fit perfectly into the grandmother demographic. She doesn’t fit perfectly into the death metal demographic either. And that’s exactly what I love about her. She lives her life in ways that work for her instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold.
I see her as a great example in how to live a fulfilling life. Approaching life in this way leads to improved self-confidence and deeper connections with others. When you’re authentic, you’ll find there are people you truly connect with and others that you don’t connect with as much, and that’s perfectly ok. It’s those real, deep connections that demonstrate that people will like you for who you really are. Not a filtered version designed to appease them. With real connections featuring your authentic self, your self-confidence will soar in regards to developing quality relationships.
I struggled for most of my life as a people pleaser. Every interaction I had involved a clear personality change. I wanted to fit in so badly that I genuinely forgot who I was and had to reinvent myself with each interaction. The adjustment to being a more authentic person who didn’t try to fit in wasn’t easy. In fact, it involved a very real willingness to stop caring what people thought of me. But the result has been a much greater level of comfort and confidence in my interactions.
It’s none of your business what other people think of you.
There’s a hilarious stand up bit from comedian Mike Birbiglia that illustrates this pretty well. Birbiglia felt snubbed when he tried to shake someone’s hand and subsequently confided in baseball legend Dennis Eckersley. Eck’s advice? “Eh, f**k ‘em!”. I imagine that being an elite professional athlete, Eck had to take this advice to heart himself in dealing with the endless line up of critics. But the same applies to you and I. It's no use wasting our limited time and energy on pleasing folks that you simply can't please. We're better off devoting that energy to pleasing ourselves and our loved ones. You can watch the bit here.
But there’s more to it than self-confidence and connection. Attempting to fit in comes with overtly negative consequences including a moving set of personal standards because our behaviors are influenced by whomever we’re currently with. Peer pressure affects adults as well, and it’s not just pressure to do something “bad.” Its pressure to conform regardless of what our inner voice says.
This pressure to conform stifles individual creativity and ambition. We don’t want to stick our heads above the crowd and expose ourselves to the criticisms of the people we want to fit in with! What a tragedy! Not only does the desire to fit in inhibit our ability to feel happiness and joy, it inhibits our ability to add value to those around us!
The moral is this: be yourself. Be authentic and don’t stress any more than you need to in order to win approval from others. Start by telling yourself that someone else’s opinion of you simply doesn’t matter. Accept yourself for who you are. While you’re at it, don’t forget to drop off the fresh baked cookies for your grandkids on the way to the Anthrax concert...