Recently, I was on a resilience panel at work where we had to share ways to reach our goals. They chose several leaders in an effort to boost the culture and motivate employees. We were asked the same standard group of questions which were: ‘What motivates you to reach your goals?’ ‘What motivates you when you have a setback?’ And ‘What advice can you give others who are trying to get into leadership?’ Most answers to what maintains motivation were: family, to be the best, or to be the best version of themselves. They were the same answers to what motivates you when you have a set back and the advice they gave others was to ‘stay focused.’ Until it was my turn. When asked ‘what motivates (me) to reach (my) goals,’ I said, ‘To be honest, I strive for my goals because I don’t want the dark times to keep me from my happiness. It’s easy for me to watch a video or get ‘motivated’ by something inspirational but once that video stops and I’m stuck with the struggle or failure or confusion of what to do next, it will open up my depression, anxiety and insecurities and those will swallow me. They won’t just keep me from reaching that one goal, they’ll keep me from taking any risks or completing any goals.’ I am proud of that answer. I do want to be the best version of myself but to be that I have to understand the worst version of myself. ‘My advice to those getting into leadership is to learn what kind of people do people follow and really ask yourself if you embody those skills. Are you secure enough? Knowledgeable enough? Or just enough, period, to be someone you’d follow? The bigger question actually is, when you do truly come to terms with yourself, are you honest and brave enough to repair the damage?’
After the event I had several peers approach me and thank me for what I said. One cried while he told me his personal story of how his depression was a deep struggle for him and at times he didn’t think he was going to make it. He was relieved when I said what I shared because ‘when you’re a manager, a director, you have certain expectations that you’re life is all figured out and that you’re ultra successful, but just because I’m in a higher tax bracket doesn’t mean I’m a healthier person,’ he said. I agreed with him and added that many celebrities who seem to have ideal lives kill themselves pretty frequently or develop eating disorders. No matter how successful or unsuccessful the person is, it’s always a tragedy.
I am not a competitive person. I truly want those in my life to win. I want to know those that struggled as I have struggled made it and are fulfilled. Even people who I was once friends with or dated who hate me, I want to know they’re well. I don’t hate them or wish them ill will. I even openly say ‘congratulations’ when I see some stranger’s temporary car tags as I drive behind them because I’m happy to see they’ve gotten something new. I am, however, competitive with myself. It’s important to me to get to where I want to be in life. I have a string of memories of people putting me down, abandoning me in my time of need, and telling me I’d never make it in life that I can’t help but constantly wear around my neck. It digs into me like barbed wire, and I often hate myself because of it. Not because of how they’ve treated me, but out of fear that they were right about me. That I am nothing and will always be nothing.
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s not just your exes and your enemies watching you and waiting for the other shoe to drop in your life, it’s your symptoms watching you, your addictions, and your habits waiting for you to fail or fly. I often fear that I’ll never never get to where I want to be no matter how hard I work or how much I sacrifice. Not just financially or in my career, but spiritually and emotionally too. To be fair, that mentality is what’s really dangerous, not the temporary set-back I was in at the time.
I have several friends who constantly tell me how impressed they are with how together I am. Every time they say that, I flashback to 2014 when I clearly remember isolating myself in a dark room bawling my eyes out while calling the suicide hotline just desperate to talk to anyone who would listen because I had no more hope left in myself and felt this overwhelming sense of burden and exhaustion. Even though today I am far away from that mental state, I can still feel the same desperation and frustration when I flashback to that event. It truly scares me because it rippled through every sense of my being. The will of being successful and proving people wrong was stronger than the push of me dying that day. That was the only motivation I had to keep going, but I’m glad I something pushing me forward. That and I had just been given another chance at life. I really thought that had to mean something.
I had it in my head the years of abuse, the layoffs, the brush with death, the trauma and tragedies cannot be my entire story. As I worked through my pain, I started to see the type of people I was attracting that was making things harder. I started to see those in my life weren’t trying to help me be better or see what was valuable about me. I wasn’t a very kind or patient person and I had a lot of bitterness as a result of my circumstances to work through. As I took the time to heal myself, I noticed I was more approachable, tolerant, and compassionate, which in turn helped me become more successful and provided me with a more stable environment.
I took the time to prioritize myself and see my own worth. It felt like it took forever for me to land there. I had prioritized the opinions of others over the opinion of myself, which was a big mistake. Not intentionally, of course, but when they would do something that hurt me, it would stick with me forever. Granted, I will always believe the people in your life are part of what brings you joy, because we want to know we matter in someone else’s life. That they are better for having known us. I had to understand the people around me were going through their own personal pain. That they may have had better lives than me, but they didn’t deal with their own hardships well nor were they very good friends. Those that would ignore their problems were miserable themselves and in turn, would make everyone else miserable. I would get swept up in that and feel like I had failed them, when in reality, they failed themselves and took it out on those around them.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen the worst version of yourself. I hope you don’t try to hide from it or hate yourself because of it. We all have ugliness about us. The real way to stay motivated in your life is to focus and fix how we deal with set-backs. Who we become when the chips are down contributes to how long we stay down. I think that’s why success for people who’ve come from poverty are so impressive, because when we’ve gone through hard times, we tend to tell ourselves we aren’t deserving or aren’t going to make it, so we don’t. Little do we understand, it’s because of our hardships, we actually have the upper hand. How we deal with tragedy, defines who we are. With each hardship you have to choose, are you going to fail or are you going to fly?