You Are the Biggest Hurdle
As the hundreds of articles on Success Story reveal, each of us defines success differently. For some, career advancement is success. For others, relational well-being is success. And for many, success is more about what others think about us than what we think about ourselves.
That’s not to say that success can only be attained in one particular sphere of your life. Though we may tend to feel more successful when one part of our lives is going well, we may also feel successful when life seems content and balanced.
But our lives, on the whole, are so seldom content and balanced.
When life gets hard and stressful, we can rail against our circumstances. Drawing on more than 20 years of research and experience as a therapist, consultant and personal development coach, I’ve heard thousands of clients hide behind their circumstances. Instead of facing the reality of the situation (and consequently what they can do to better their circumstances), they (like me, at times) struggle with life’s unfairness.
In other words, they are most often the biggest hurdle to their own success, however they may define it.
Placing the Hurdle
This hurdle even has a name: Story. More often than not, it’s the stories we tell ourselves that prevent us from attaining what we could have otherwise achieved. Let’s consider a quick example. Though the specific context may be different from your life, you should be able to perceive parallels in your own relationships—and I purposefully use the word “relationships” because so much of our feelings of success have relationships at their core.
Imagine that Harold has worked for the same company for a decade. He’s moved up in the ranks a few times, but never as quickly as he’d like, and the raises always seem, well, insubstantial for what he believes he truly brings to the table.
On a Friday afternoon, Harold’s manager sends him a curt email: My office. 5pm. Today.
Before Harold can rationally consider what that email may actually mean, he thinks a dozen negative thoughts: What did I do this time? Why at five? Why right before the weekend? Isn’t that when people typically get canned? Why would they fire me? I’ve worked weekends for who knows how long, and this is how they want to send me out?
His mind keeps churning until it’s all but a foregone conclusion that he’ll be job-hunting on Monday.
Harold glances at his watch: 2:13 p.m. He looks at the email again, places his head on his desk and thinks, Who will even want to hire me?
Tripping Before the Finish
Now, this illustration may be a bit exaggerated, but I’m willing to bet you could envision yourself or someone you know personally, in a similar situation. Due to a variety of factors like one’s family of origin, past pain, and future hopes, we all write negative stories about ourselves from time to time. We’re especially prone to do this when we receive scant or vague information (like a four-word email from a boss on a Friday). But it’s these negative stories we tell ourselves that ultimately cause us to trip just before crossing the finish line.
If you know yourself well, you know what your stories are, and you likely know that the same internal story keeps tripping you up again and again. For Harold, he’s insecure at work. Otherwise, he may have thought, Maybe the boss just needs to check in with me about the Murphy account. He wouldn’t have reached such a far-fetched conclusion from so little information.
Now, when he goes in to meet with his boss, Harold’s dejected and fearful. Even though his boss may only want to talk to him about the Murphy account, his boss may also take notice of Harold’s lack of motivation for his job, which could lead to dire consequences for Harold not too far down the road.
In other words, Harold’s made-up story would be the hurdle he couldn’t get past.
Leaping the Hurdle
You control the remote for your stories. At any time, you can press pause on the stories you’re telling yourself. After pausing these stories, you then have control over the intentionality of your relationships. You can initiate an information-seeking, non-judgmental conversation with another person so that you’re not filling in the blanks of your paused story.
To leap the hurdle you may keep involuntarily placing before yourself, pause your negative stories.
While it’s OK to be optimistic about possibilities that may lie before you, I suggest a more pragmatic approach. If you’re working with scant information, gather more. If you’re assuming that a person will react a certain way based on your past history with them, you may be right, but you should still grant them the same kind of openness and respect that you hope they would grant you in a similar circumstance.
When you start telling yourself a different story, you may not only leap your hurdles—you may even leap tall buildings.