A personal discussion about fear and failure

This blog is really both a confession and a declaration. And it is sort of lengthy..

When I first started writing this, I titled it:

3 Ways to Over Think Your Branding Strategy and 2 Ways To Stop Doing That

The title is very “bloggery” of me, don’t  you think?

As I wrote it, however, I realized I was doing it.. I was succumbing to fear and masking my confession, what I really wanted to/ needed to say, in lofty social media/content strategy speak. AKA: Bullshit!

The good thing is I called it on myself. I said, “Matt.. I call Bullshit on you with a capital ‘B!’” And that’s important! And yes.. I said it out loud.. even though I was alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is a lesson in here for the creative entrepreneur, the dreamer, the songwriter, the artist, or the average Joe who wants to ask the girl out (or the average Jill who wants to ask the guy out).

And it does/did involve my branding, my writing, my business, and a few other things. We’ll get to that.

First, gather round kids… It’s confession time!

Confession #1: I want to be liked…. A LOT!!

I do.. But I bet you do too. All these people who say they don’t care what anyone thinks (FYI: I’ve never said that but I’ve tried to think it) are lying, stupid, or insane. There is chance they may be some combination of the 3. Either way, wanting to be liked is pretty normal. But, for the rugged individualist, that’s not really what you are supposed to say.

And yes, rugged might be a stretch.. I do use an exfoliating scrub and apply beauty cream with sunscreen every morning. But most who know me or have followed my blog for any time, consider me to be an individual. Many even consider me brave! excluding spiders & cockroaches..

The reason I chose to confess this fairly unremarkable and common piece of information is because it plays a part in my branding and an ongoing journey I’ve taken over the past couple of years. It might play a part in yours. It certainly plays a part in the plans you enact, being authentic, and ultimately achieving desired outcomes.

Confession #2: I struggle with confidence

Ouch!!! That one stings a bit more. But I shared, like many other speaker/social media types, the talks of Brené Brown (The Power of Vulnerability | Listening to Shame). I watched them.. I wept. (shut up!)

And then I put them to the side, and became the same “arrogant ass” (my friend Karen’s favorite term for me) I’ve always been.

Don’t get me wrong.. I have confidence.. confidence to the point of being that very arrogant ass she refers to. I am he.. he is me. And that’s not disingenuous. I am being authentic. I am an authentic arrogant ass. (note that alliteration.. nice! Ooh.. there he is.). There are things I am extraordinary at – and I know it!

But….. I stay pretty carefully between the lines. I can be hyper-confident and expose just those areas that I know I have a strong hand at.

Again, confessing that I struggle with confidence is not that remarkable and revealing… or it should not be. EVERYONE struggles with confidence! (see above for the 3 traits of those who deny wanting to be liked because it applies the issue of confidence as well) But in conversations with friends, when I express that I struggle with confidence, their response is generally shock or surprise.

They say, “Matt… you speak in public, you perform, you work as a solo entrepreneur (without a net), you write content for all the world to see, you are so out there. You don’t struggle with confidence!”

Note: there are some.. those who are closest.. who see it and have called me out on it too. I’m thankful for these people.. My friend Kevin is one of them.

In a crisis of confidence and tearful admission of my failings as a parent, he said (paraphrase), “Matt.. between you me and the lamppost, I know you are scum… because you are a man and you are like me. BUT you are still called to parent your children. Not because you FEEL worthy but because it is required.”

Now some of you might not like his word choice and tone… But others, those who have had to endure my coaching, know this is PRECISELY how I need to be spoken to because it is close to how I’ll talk to you! Kevin is willing to smack me in the mouth to get my attention and kick me in the ass to get me moving. That’s why I value his input.  Just don’t coddle me!

Coddling feeds the arrogant ass and allows him to hide the vulnerability. It keeps him between the lines. And he can live between the lines okay.. but he doesn’t want to live there. There is a whole world outside those lines that he wishes to partake in.. That means he has to move into the vulnerable areas.

He, of course, being me.. Or.. is he you. Perhaps he is a she.. Hmmm… At this point, if you stop reading or I’ve hit a nerve, as the lady says, “Lean In!” I think it is worth it.

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because this fear – lack of confidence and wanting to be liked – has resulted in some bizarre limits on what I do. In fact, here is the short-list of things these traits limit for me.

  • Inviting certain friends to musical performance.
    I’ll do the Facebook invite but actually telling them it would be nice to see them there – that I want them there – NO WAY!
  • Limiting my writing to “what is expected”
    I used to write these quirky, odd, semi-political/philosophical essays. But can a writer of professional growth articles do such things?
  • Inviting friends over for dinner or stretching to make that new friend.
    What if they say no? Do I ask a 2nd time and discover they “don’t like me.” – best not to ask I say.

It has not always been this way.. that I can tell you. Oh wait.. yes it has. But some notable failures in my life and a bout with depression, something I’d never thought I’d experience and certainly never understood, exacerbated the issue. It caused me to back away from being as authentic as I’d like to be.

A word about depression

I give a presentation titled, “Overcoming Adversity and Revitalizing Your Career”. In that presentation, I talk candidly about some of the challenges I faced and my experience with depression.

In it, I tell the story of a time a few years ago..  recently divorced, discouraged, having lost many/most clients, backed out of some writing deals, the flood that destroyed everything I owned, etc.

I was sitting at my computer.. not doing anything that I can recall (that’s a weird truth of depression – lots of time spent that you cannot recall).. and I realized it was 3:00PM. I’d been up for hours but I had not eaten. I was not hungry but I knew that I should eat something. I walked to the refrigerator, opened it up, grabbed a bag of turkey and ate a few slices from the bag. I put the bag back into the fridge and went back to my desk.

No sandwich. No sitting down to enjoy the food. Nothing.. just this mechanical process to put fuel in.

Eventually, my oldest daughter started forcing me to take a break from my inactivity and eat lunch with her on the back patio. She was worried about me and really took on more than she should have ever been required to. Here is my somewhat public apology. There were others too..

Depression was like that for me. If you are in that mode, you need to reach out to people. That is the single biggest mistake I made.. failing to reach out. Part of the challenge is that it creeps up on you and you hardly realize you are in it.

What are some signs that you are limiting yourself

In the end, fear, wanting to be liked, and lack of confidence creates limitations. The following are some signs or symptoms that you are limiting yourself:

  1. Become fearful of who you are or at least expressing It
    You want to step out and perform, jump into the fray of life, feel as though you have something to say or do – but you don’t do it. And this is a key. It stops so many people from doing what they want to do and being who the are at their most authentic.
  2. Weigh every opinion you get equally and above your own
    When I started to consolidate my web properties  (ie: fancy way of saying the various websites I have) I did this a lot. And for way too long. I had conversations asking.. can I have one website that is my home for music, writing, technology, coaching, etc.I did this for a year.. maybe more. I got input from Derek Sivers (his answer is probably one of the best and shortest… something like. “Yes.. do it the way you want to.”), J. Michael Dolan (about the same as Derek’s), and some of you. But I knew what I wanted to do. I received varied responses, some validating my direction, some questioning it. And this froze me. Because.. dammit! I want everyone to ensure me that my direction is the right one. It is by the way. Why… because it is what I want to do..
  3. Make a decision and then go back for more opinions
    And another big sign.. I made my decision.. started consolidating my web sites and information.. and then stopped. I started going back for more opinions. Okay.. that’s another lie. I wasn’t really seeking opinions.. I was stalling and seeking validation.

Do you see yourself in the above? Are you seeking opinions long after you’ve arrived at a conclusion and made a decision? It is just a way to stall acting on your decision.. really it is just  your fear coming to the surface.

Below I offer some ways to fix it… but first this… my fix- the ideas proposed.. they won’t cure your fear or your lack of confidence. Your action and positive results won’t even cure that.. but it will provide a way for you to put it in perspective and live with and understand it better. In fact, negative results can do the same as long as you re-assess and create a new direction quickly!!

And really, to suggest that I can fix it implies I have fixed it within myself… but I haven’t.. This is a work in progress. And that’s okay.. I’m in for the long haul…. Life!

How to Fix it or at least work on it

  1. Admit your Fear
    Not to everyone. Not too often. Mostly to yourself and a trusted mentor or two. People who will smack you in the mouth and kick you in the ass.
  2. Be Authentic
    This does not mean publically expressing every conflict or poor decision. But it does mean stepping past your misgivings about what people might think and stepping up to the microphone (as it were). Without apologizing I might add.
  3. Stay the course – at least for a time
    I got all this feedback. I made a decision. I started down the road.. and then I stopped. Not for any reason.. I got fearful and did not see my course of action through.The easiest way to see it through is create your course of action, set a date for re-evaluation, and let the calendar decide when you will reassess. Our emotions and our fear can cause us to stop before we start. The calendar is a fixed point and won’t allow this.

Making it personal

For me, this means some of the following will be seen through.

  • A videocast/docucast :a documentary type video blog about… ME!
    I showed my intro to this to several people. I’m modifying it but… I got so much positive feedback that I promptly did NOTHING!
  • Extending my writing into the humor/parody and philosophical/metaphysical or just plain fun!
  • And some more live video streaming.
  • I’ll seek out, ask for, and make time for friends – both new and old.
  • And etc., etc.

Those are things I’m interested in. But don’t fret.. you’ll still get technology, social media, and the occasional arrogant ass. He still lives here, I just checked!

What about you? What are you NOT doing this year that you said you would? How much of you are you sacrificing to keep up a lie?

7 thoughts on “A personal discussion about fear and failure

  1. You know, Matt … it may be that we haven’t seen one another for 18 years, but I still know you so very well. I’ve always respected the fact that you’ve always “put it out there”. By that, I mean whether you are referring to one of your strong points or weak points, you don’t hesitate to make your followers aware of whatever it may be. Your blog is so insightful … I really got into reading it, and I’ll probably read it a number of times more. It brought me so much awareness into my own psyche. Thanx !

  2. Matt, I think the broad message here is that we ourselves are, or create, our own strongest limitations. I recommend to my clients that they run in place for 2 minutes, when they need a shift from a funk. I think admitting your fears is part of a personal process, not something you need to bleed online. I hope you, Matt, are feeling good these days and staying in forward motion. All the best—Kebba

    • Kebba,

      I appreciate the sentiment. I don’t really feel I am bleeding online.. per se. I’m in a fairly content and happy place most of the time. However, I speak with quite a few people who express a belief that I plug along more or less unencumbered with fear or any lack of confidence. I hope through the post to help those people see that fears, failures, and lack of confidence are part of the human experience.

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