Varying experiences lead to different ideas and opinions for different people. By embracing this fact, you'll find that there are things to learn from everyone.
Have you ever talked with someone about a shared experience and found that you each remembered it very differently? Perhaps you’re both absolutely certain that you remember it correctly and the other person is mis-remembering. It’s happened to me many times. In fact, as my wife and I get older and grow the number of our shared experiences it seems to happen more often.
Memories are a funny thing in that way; they exist only in the mind of the individual experiencing them and, as time goes by they evolve. Memories are constructs of the mind. Every time we reach back and access a memory, we change it based on the collection of experiences we have had since the memory was stored away in our brains. Since every individual has built a unique set of experiences, even shared memories evolve differently within separate minds. One person might be right and the other wrong.
As off-putting as it may feel to know that cherished memories may not reflect reality, there’s also reason to rejoice at the notion. After all, the exact reason we remember things differently than someone else does (a unique set of experiences) is the very thing that makes us different from them. For all that we have in common, no one else in the world experiences life in exactly the same way as you. Those experiences result in different strategies, opinions and ideas. And those differences create extraordinary opportunities to learn from others.
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a difficult suggestion for many people to accept. It takes serious humility to appreciate that there are ideas and opinions just as valid as our own that stand in stark contrast to ours. Sadly, I see social media posts all the time that say something like “If you think (insert opinion), you should unfriend me now.” It’s sentiments like this that make social media the great echo-chamber of our day. Instead of discouraging different opinions, we should encourage them and exercise our own critical thinking skills to understand why they think differently and perhaps learn something from it.
For example, there is a great deal of “discourse” that devolves into name calling and shaming. One tribe likes to label the others as driven by hate or greed or some other negative motivation. In the echo chamber, it’s easy to jump to those conclusions. Those who share our opinion will back us up after all. But what if it isn’t hate or greed or laziness that motivates their opinion? What if its fear or anger brought about by a past experience? Perhaps it’s something else entirely.
If we can accept that individual’s thoughts and opinions have been influenced through their unique experiences and have the humility to acknowledge that their experiences are just as valid as ours, then it’s possible to start a dialogue and try to understand them. It’s either that, or call them names and filter them out of your world, closing yourself off to a breadth of experience that you simply don’t have. Put in this context, the choice seems obvious.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of learning this lesson from a man who said that sometimes the greatest magic words you can utter during a heated debate are, “You might be right.” It’s humble. It doesn’t acknowledge that you’re wrong. And it allows you to quiet the conversation and seriously consider why they think the way they do.
At least, I think that’s what he said… A lot has happened since then. I may be mis-remembering.
If you’ve ever created something and put it out there for the world to see, you’ve probably felt the dejection that is brought about from the acrimonious words of people you’ve never met. It seems that there are legions of naysayers out there, willing to spend two minutes of their time to criticize, condemn and otherwise smash the hopes of hard working creators. They almost always work from behind the veil and relative anonymity of a screen. Many creators spent hundreds of hours developing their content only to have their hearts ripped out by an internet troll. It’s both pathetic and sad. Pathetic in the way naysayers seek out new content to trash instead of offering constructive feedback or encouragement. Sad for the many creators who have felt stifled and given up on their dreams. To the naysayers I have only one thing to say: You can’t stop us from creating. This article is for the bold. The ambitious. The people whose purpose in life isn’t to tear down, but to build. This is for the creators.
Never in my life have I felt more vulnerable than when I put my books up for sale. The amount of time and effort that goes into such an endeavor results in a product that is so personal that any attack on it feels like a direct assault on the creator. My work was like that. Some people hate it. Some even called me names. I’m working on material right now that I’ve been told is a bad idea; that I’m investing time into what will amount to nothing more than a failure. But I’m still creating. I’m not alone and neither are you.
Ariana Huffington launched The Huffington Post in 2005 to a litany of naysayers who suggested that she simply didn’t understand the internet and that the site would fail promptly. She sold it to AOL for $315 million six years after the launch.
Sara Blakely founded Spanx in 2000 amidst a chorus of negativity. In fact, she now says “It’s smart to keep a young entrepreneurial idea secret, even from friends and family.”
Anderson Cooper was told repeatedly that he would never be on the air.
The Lord of the Rings was completely dismissed by literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1956. He called it "balderdash" and "juvenile trash."
Or how about the Bloomberg article that derided Apple’s new product offering, the iPhone as “nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks.”
I hope you creators see a theme here. It’s nearly impossible to find a great invention, achievement, literary work or other creation that wasn’t met with harsh criticism. The great ones not only ignore naysayers, they press forward and create anyway. After all, we don’t create to please the naysayers. We create for the people who will consume what we create. We create to satisfy our own overwhelming need to create.
Here’s the thing about naysayers: They can’t stop us from creating unless we allow them to. To overcome them we have to do two things: First, tune them out. That’s right, completely ignore them. Don’t check the reviews to your book. Just don’t. If you have the means, assign communication tasks to someone else so you can focus on creation. My wife curates all emails sent to my website in addition to managing my social media accounts. I simply don’t see the harsh criticisms that come through (sorry naysayers, you’ll have to find another way).
The second thing you need to do to overcome naysayers is to fill your mind with positive messages. Seek out media that reinforces a positive attitude in you. Read, watch videos or listen to recordings. The key is to build yourself over time. Naysayers tear down. Creators don’t just build content, they build themselves up as well.
I wish I could be there to cheer each of you on as you create. I truly do believe in you. Don’t listen to the voices telling you that you’re not good enough. They’re wrong. Surround yourself with positive messages. Keep creating.
Sometimes, the path of least resistance is the best course. If you’re driving to see family for the holidays, it probably makes more sense to take the highways rather than the “off road” path. Often however, the difficult path is exactly the one we need to be on, particularly when we’re working toward a big goal. This is because resistance serves as a compass, pointing us straight towards our target. It makes intuitive sense; nobody expects to achieve anything great without encountering difficulty. So, if you’ve got a grand ambition that you’ve been putting off because you don’t know where to start, first identify where the greatest resistance is and then, move toward it.
Resistance prevents action. It doesn’t take place when we’re simply contemplating an idea. It’s the “doing” that is stifled. We come up with myriad excuses to justify not taking action. If your goal is to write a book, you’ll find that there’s a million excuses to put off writing. In other words, there is a force working to prevent you from writing. That force is resistance.
If you dream of starting your own business and have a vision, a plan and desire but you still haven’t taken action, you’ve encountered resistance. Sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s uncertainty but it always exists within the confines of our minds. Though it’s born and fed in our minds, its action that will ultimately defeat it. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you overcome resistance and begin (or continue) your journey towards achieving your dreams.
“I’ll do it when I’m done with school.” When school is done, other responsibilities take over and action gets punted further into the future.
The cure for this is to continually take small steps. Sure, writing 500 words today isn’t enough to publish a book. But repeat the process over and over and you’ll get there. Probably before you would have otherwise started.
Resistance points the course. Determine what and where it is and move towards it. Take small steps, always keep your vision in mind and forget about what other people think. The naysayers have never achieved what you will achieve. You got this.
For more on the topic of Resistance, check out Steven Pressfield's book "Do the Work".
One of the principal influencers in my journey of personal growth and learning has been books. A variety of books from a variety of authors. Books expose us to new ideas and different styles and methods of going through the process of becoming all we can be. They can be empowering and they can help us overcome sticking points in our own philosophies.
I first realized that I did have the ability to speak confidently with people when I read How to Win Friends and Influence People for the first time as a teenager. Before that, I was so debilitatingly shy that my lip quivered when a girl tried to talk to me! Read voraciously and indiscriminately. If there are nuggets of wisdom that you can use, take them and make them your own. Below is a list of books (In no particular order) that have had a significant impact on my life. I’m eager to hear your thoughts too! What books have most impacted you? List them in the comments below!
What are your favorite books? Please list them in the comments!
Every life is peppered with trials of one sort or another; challenge is simply a part of the process. Put in their proper context, those challenging experiences can be used for personal growth and development for ourselves and others. And, since every individual experiences different challenges, we’re all blessed with unique perspectives that can be a source of strength to many. I believe depression is one of many challenges that some people face. It may or may not be more difficult than other challenges. But, it does offer those who struggle with it a different perspective; one that can be used as a source of growth and development for us and those we influence. As Nassir Ghaemi puts it in his book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, “Their weakness is the secret of their strength.”
Depression comes in different forms, but there are a few universal benefits for the leader struggling with it.
Empathize with People
Depression can give us the ability to better empathize with people. Having been through the mental anguish that depression can bring, depressed leaders often have a better sense of the morale of the people they lead. They bring a more human touch to leading. Rather than focusing entirely on quantifiable measurements of success, these leaders tend to measure success based on the satisfaction and morale of their people rather than on overall organizational achievement. They often see long-term success in empowering and motivating people to build the organization rather than making top-down decisions that impact everyone. That is, they find it easier to seek and utilize input from the team in making a decision than other leaders often do.
Connect with People
Depression can give leaders the ability to connect with people through a very humanizing struggle. Of course, the leader must be at least somewhat open about her challenges in order to use them to connect with others. Candid conversations about personal struggle essentially put the leader at the same level as their followers; it humanizes them. Seeing their leader press through challenge can be inspiring and motivating to people, particularly when they can see that she is no different than they are. Leading by example after a real connection is made is by far the most effective means of having a long-term, positive impact on others.
Depression actually strengthens those struggling with it, if they allow it. I know it may sound absurd, particularly to somebody in the grips of major depression but it’s true. The key is to change your perspective on the topic. The oft-used weight lifting metaphor holds true here. The more stress we put on our muscles over time, the more growth we’ll experience. The more stress we put on our lives, the more mental growth we’ll experience. Mental growth is called “wisdom.”
Yes, depression can be a blessing for leaders and aspiring leaders. Though not something that anyone will seek out, like any challenge in life it can be used for our benefit. If it’s something that you presently struggle with, I encourage you to seek professional help to help you understand what’s happening and appreciate the value that you have. Your experiences are unique and can make you a better leader, but you’re not alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has depression helped you grow?