Is your ladder of success up against the right wall?

I was minded to think about my anxieties this morning. An old friend, posed a question on social media asking for advice on any techniques for reducing anxiety. The response he got was overwhelmingly supportive, with many of his friends jumping to his support, and advising him on what had worked for them. They immediately made themselves vulnerable and connected with a friend in need. They showed him how loved he is by them and how much they value him. They were prepared to share their experiences with their anxiety to help him. I too shared my feelings and experience to help a friend who is always warm and generous, even though we have not actually been in the same room with each other for more than 30 years. We have for the passed 10 years reconnected with each other via social media, where he has always shown generosity of spirit. I think what I am saying about this friend is that he is rich, he has an abundance of kindness and empathy that he gives freely, and therefore many of his friends are willing to give it back when he needs it. He made himself vulnerable and reached out for help and we all reached back.

So as I said this made me think about my anxieties and what triggers them. Every time they are triggered by a sense of failure, worthlessness and generally just not being good enough. In other words I haven’t succeeded and I am never likely to succeed. Clearly this is very melodramatic. This is though how people that experience anxiety can see themselves.

Much of this self-talk is based on me comparing myself to a version of success that I never likely to achieve or if I was honest with myself I would never want to achieve. It is based on what our society and culture has deemed as being successful. This for me is a combination of the masculine paradigm described in last weeks blog (Vulnerability), body image, and being financially rich. All of these paradigms of success are reinforced on a daily basis through mainstream media, social media, and our cultural environment. The majority of us are conditioned to constantly want more, to feel that we do not have enough. Being happy with your lot, being satisfied and content is frowned upon. Saying you have enough or are enough shows lack of ambition, and ambition should be praised.

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I know I will never succeed to achieve what our society deems as success, to be honest most of us won’t. But social media allows us to show our friends snapshots of aspects of our life that might suggest that we are achieving this success. We all love doing it, taking pictures of our holidays, our food, the selfie that we think makes us look thin, applying filters to our pictures to make them appear dreamy and romantic. They make us feel superficially successful and highlights others scarcity. There lies the problem when we do this, we lack empathy we make others feel like they have less than us. If we are honest the only reason we did it was because our friends made us feel inadequate the week before. So we end up perpetuating scarcity. This paradigm of success is not our success. If you want to start feeling less anxious and more fulfilled you need to discover what your version of success looks like.

As Stephen Covey suggested, is your ladder of success up against the right wall? What do you want to get from your life? What adds value to your day? If your life was to end tomorrow, what would you want your friends and family to say about you? What impression do you want to leave?

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I know I have talked about values before, by they are vital when you want to measure how successful you are, and how you should live your life.

Make a list of what you value the most. If you are unsure of what holds value in your life, ask yourself what parts of my life are immovable objects. They are generally what you value the most.

Next imagine that you are 100 years old and you are passing on advice to a young member of your family who is about to leave home and embark on their adult life. What do they need to do if they are to lead a fulfilled life?

These 2 exercises inspired by Professor Steve Peters’ life stone will help you identify what you consider to be a successful life. Does your life, live up to your values and are you living the life you consider to be a fulfilled life? If not what do you need to do to achieve this successful life.

This is something I have done. I have discovered what I think is success, which is what is valuable to me. Which is being warm, empathetic, courageous, and generous, then sharing those qualities and improving peoples lives. I am not quite there but I am a lot closer to this than being a multimillionaire with a six pack! I am pretty certain my ladder is up against the right wall.

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If you are having trouble knowing that you are up against the right wall, then get in touch. Remember you are enough, you do have it in you to be successful.

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Vulnerability

If you follow my Facebook you will have noticed I have been posting about being vulnerable and what might prevent us from taking a risk (making us vulnerable). As you may have guessed I am reading a new book. I discovered Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and what a revelation it has been. I have been embracing my vulnerability and examining my shame ever since. I have found myself shoehorning shame and vulnerability into nearly every conversation I have at work.

If you have not read it, I implore you to do so, it has definitely changed they way I view my life.

To give you a taster of whether this is up your street, I will explain to you the biggest impact this book has had on me.

First lets explain what Brene means when she talks about being vulnerable. We make ourselves vulnerable when we do things that are not guaranteed to end in success. Being vulnerable is when we put ourselves in situations where we might be criticised, attacked, rejected, or just ignored. What prevents us from being vulnerable is shame. Shame is when we attach what we do to our self-worth. So if we fail it is that we where not worthy of success. Shame is shaped from external cultural influences, such as our family, work, religion, or wider society. Brene suggests that men and women can experience shame differently. She describes women shame as web, as it is complex and often contradictory potentially trapping women in a web of shame. Men she says experience a box of shame, where their shame keeps us inside a box of conformity.

Now let me explain this a little further. In her book she describes research in to feminine norms and conformity carried out in the US. This research compiled a list of attributes associated with being feminine:

  • Being nice
  • Pursuing a thin body ideal
  • Showing modesty, by not calling attention to ones talents or abilities
  • Being domestic
  • Caring for children
  • Investing in a romantic relationship
  • Keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship
  • Using their resources to invest in their appearance

I know at first read you think those Americans, they are so backward. If you think that, read it again and think about your life and the women around you, and the attitudes of the media we are exposed to. These attitudes are still prevalent, if not overtly, they are still prevalent in peoples heads. Add to this attributes that are required professionally for women, to be strong minded, driven, the best you can be, be bold and decisive, and you can see that complex web of shame can develop.

The same research listed masculine attributes:

  • Winning
  • Emotional control
  • Risk-taking
  • Violence
  • Dominance
  • Playboy
  • Self-reliance
  • Primacy of work
  • Power over women
  • Disdain for homosexuality
  • Pursuit of status

When I first read this I objected strongly to a number of these statements, and then I thought about growing up as a young man and the conversations I have in the company of men (mostly men that I do not know well) and the majority of these attributes are very evident. I remember in my youth feeling uncomfortable with the fact that I did not share these attributes with men and would often feel shame when in the company of men. For a British man I would add being a pack member (something again I did not partake in comfortably as a young man, causing me shame). The most important message given to men is not to be weak. Never show weakness. On top of that modern man has to listen, be sensitive, and be kind, but if you show weakness whilst doing this you have had it. So men can end up trapping themselves in a box to prevent them from feeling shame

After reading this section of the book, my life fell into place. I have been experiencing shame all my life, along with all my friends. When my old teacher told me I was culturally deprived she was describing my shame for not possessing masculine attributes. I now completely understand Foggy (my negative self talk) as a manifestation of my shame for not being strong and masculine.

I am beginning to understand what triggers my shame. These things that I do that trigger my shame do not define my self-worth. What defines my self-worth is that I can make myself vulnerable. The fact that I can be sensitive, and show emotion, means that I can show empathy to others and care for people that are feeling shame.  I am enough and I am worthy of everything I receive (good or bad).

Writing this blog makes me vulnerable, and I know that I will beat myself up about it after I have published it. Up until 5 minutes before I started writing it, I was telling myself that no one would read it or like it. In fact that is the risk I am taking, but this blog is not attached to myself worth. If no one reads it or likes it, I will be disappointed but it does not make me useless and worthless as Foggy would have me believe.

If you want to do something because you enjoy it, do it (as long as it does not result in hurting others). Do it because you can, because you are worthy, and you are enough.

Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead. UK: Penguin Life, 2015.

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