I have been fortunate enough to this point to interview a lot of people I would categorize as “High Achievers.” I’ve interviewed members of the Forbes 30 under 30, start up addicted entrepreneurs, Self Defense and Tactics Coaches, Negotiations Experts and authors. People who have set out to achieve a goal and who have done so with extreme success. People that many of us look at and admire. Some of them are my own mentors. People I look up to and put on a pedestal.
Much like Plato’s Allegory of the cave, we only know what we happen to see. These are the things we believe to be real. A person makes a post about a major success in their life and we immediately compare ourselves to them wondering what we are doing or failing to do in order to obtain the same success. I am a victim of this incorrect way of thinking myself. I think there are a few things we need to understand about our idols and mentors.
They too face struggle. They too stumble and fall. Very rarely do we meet people who are willing to admit that. My theory after conducting the many interviews I have conducted is that the truly successful people willingly admit and point to their failures. They do not view them as something to be ashamed of. Rather, they view them as an opportunity to grow from. Failures are almost a badge of honor with high achievers. They wear these miss-steps like a medal on their chest. Saying, “look how badly I screwed up. I still made it through and I am continuing to work hard.” The following are my three rules for achieving the same success. While the list is not exhaustive these are the three tactics I always return to when I stumble.
It is best to avoid comparison from the outset. My best friend and mentor is the one who educated me on how awful comparison is for a frame of mind. Yet we are surrounded with technologies and services that almost force constant comparison to exist in our lives. We used to only be forced to compare ourselves to relatives and neighbors. Now, with the swipe of a finger we can constantly compare ourselves to the whole world. Comparison is the seed of negativity. As always, we must be ever on guard at the gates of our mind against negativity. The best defense tactic is to avoid comparison. Elite level crossfit athlete Katrin Davidsdottir attributes her success to this tactic. She constantly cites the fact that she runs her own race, completes her own workout, and does not worry about how or what other athletes are doing.
Competitors are the people that at most times we are forced to compare ourselves to. Peter Theil points out that we should not seek to engage in battle with our competitors. Yet when we must, we should always fight hard and win. One of the concepts of competition that is tough for us to consider in many arenas is that our opponents are human. We constantly put them up on a pedestal and make them out to be these super-human entities that are incapable of failure.
My future podcast guest, Tony Blauer, does a great job of putting this into perspective for us. Say we are about to engage in an altercation with an intimidating opponent. Said opponent has a cauliflower ear, scars on his face and knuckles, and he’s wearing a Tapout shirt. We immediately think, “this guy knows how to fight, he’s going to kick my ass.” What if instead we work through our assessment of our opponent in the following light. What if his cauliflower ear is from playing rugby? What if he just likes the UFC and a family member bought him a Tapout shirt for Christmas? Let’s concede for a moment and say that the individual is a fighter. The scars on his face may be intimidating, but they also mean that someone else was able to hit him. Someone else was able to draw blood. Can’t we do the same thing?
Holocaust survivors and POWs alike all have one thing in common (aside from being placed into horrible circumstances). They all admit in interviews or discussions of their time of internment, that you could see when a fellow prisoner had given up. When they had decided to throw in the towel. They claim that in most cases it was only a matter of hours or days afterwards until the person would pass away. What is the difference between these individuals who give up and those who survive the worst of situations and ultimately triumph?
Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, claims it is that the people who survive never lose their sense of purpose. They never lose sight of their “why.” This theory would become the basis of his own version of psychological treatment known as Logotherapy. The entire treatment process focuses on providing individuals an opportunity to find their purpose in life in order to get over whatever is ailing them. This was how Frankl survived the concentration camps of the holocaust. It is how people survive POW camps. It is also how many of us find the will to carry on even in the tough times.
Ensure that your next scrolling of Instagram, or dinner with friends does not result in you making negative comparisons. When forced to compare yourself to a competitor remind yourself that they are human. They are fighting in the same environment you are and they are not the boogey man. Never lose sight of your why. Write it down somewhere. Look back at It frequently and allow it to drive you when you stumble, as we all do. High achievers are not super-human, they just respond differently to failure. The men and women who charge metaphorical machine-gun bunkers understand that they risk taking some shrapnel in the midst of doing so. They charge on anyway.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.