By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 23, 2015
I missed out on the self-esteem movement. My day was about twenty years too early.
My generation was more like the Un-self-esteem movement. The Self-Disesteem Movement. We were constantly being told what bums and losers we were. Be a man! Suck it up! What’s wrong with you? Those were the child-rearing mantras that our parents, teachers, and coaches—the Greatest Generation—dished out to us. If you brought home a report card with straight A’s, the only question was, “Where are the A+s?”
Personal validation became a big issue with my peers and me. I’m not sure where this topic sits with Gen X or Y or the Millennials or the generations after. Maybe those waves are cool with themselves. I don’t know.
But for my era, this area is a problem. The tough love cited above is pretty much the soundtrack playing inside my generation’s heads.
Now add Resistance. We all know what those tapes sound like. Pretty soon we’ve got a whole symphony, or dys-symphony, of self-denigrating abuse running non-stop on a loop inside our skulls.
Stir in the next element of this toxic brew—the fact that you and I are artists and entrepreneurs, i.e., we’re on our own, with no supporting social structure to pat us on the back, tell us when we’ve done a good job, give us a raise or a promotion, etc.
Now add the final component: the reality that, no matter how great a job we do at whatever we’re pursuing, there’s every chance that when we expose it to the real-world marketplace, it’ll fall on its face. Our screenplay will not be optioned, our novel will not be picked up (or worse, it’ll get published and sell 200 copies—199 to our immediate family), our app will fizzle and die.
Oh, I almost forgot the kicker. Our family and loved ones. It’s not that they don’t care or don’t understand. They’re just busy. They’ve got their own issues. And they’re a little pissed off at us, if you wanna know the truth, for spending so much time on that stupid script/novel/app instead of bringing home some real rent money. And by the way we haven’t been spending nearly enough time nurturing and caring for them and supporting their dreams.
These are First World problems, I know. They’re not like getting your entire city blown off the map in Syria. But they’re real, just the same.
This is the world we live in.
So what’s the antidote to this relentless tide of rejection, isolation, negativity and disdain?
It sounds crazy, I know. What are we supposed to do—lock the door to the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror and tell ourselves we’re doing great?
Well, in fact … yeah.
Did you watch the women’s final at Wimbledon a few weeks ago? One thing I always wonder: what does Serena do when she gets back to the house she’s renting for the fortnight? When it’s late and the reporters are gone and her family and friends have slipped off to bed. Is there a moment when she sits alone with that golden Rosewater dish (the trophy for the ladies’ singles champion) and says to herself, “Good job, kid. You did it.”
Of course your world and mine is not as palmy as Serena Williams’. She’s got external validation coming in from everywhere. Trophies, checks, bonuses, sponsorship deals, her picture on TV and the covers of magazines.
You and I may get lucky. Once in a while, we may hit the jackpot. But over the course of a long career, the bottom line is this:
What the world does for Serena, we have to do for ourselves.
We have to self-acknowledge.
We have to self-validate.
(And actually Serena has to self-validate too.)
Who else is gonna do it?
Dumb as it sounds, we have to say to ourselves (and really make it sink in): “Okay, maybe we didn’t hit the best-seller list this time. Maybe we didn’t crack the top 10,000 on Amazon. But we did what we set out to do. We finished. We shipped. Yeah, our stuff could’ve been better. But we learned. We’re still standing. We got better. Good job, kid. You did it.”
Another critical aspect of validation:
Give it to others.
Show it to your homies. Kick it to your rivals. Give ’em some props when they hung tough, when they showed class, when they bit the bullet.
Full many a flower may be born to blush unseen, but that doesn’t mean you and I can’t see and appreciate them—and can’t single them out for praise. And it doesn’t mean we can’t see ourselves when we’re that flower.
There’s a term for this type of behavior.
It’s called mental toughness.
It describes those silent internal actions and habits, the ones that nobody sees but us, that no one knows about but us.
You won’t see these moments portrayed in movies. They’re not cinematic. They’re not heroic.
Even the people who perform them won’t talk about them. It’s unseemly. To admit to such actions seems silly, even a little shameful.
But these private actions and habits are make-or-break. They’re the difference between success and failure, between being a pro and being an amateur, between hanging in and dropping out.
I think back to my Mom and Dad, whose worldview was shaped by Depression and war. Maybe they were smarter than I thought, when they withheld easy praise and set standards for me that were higher than I believed I could achieve.
Whose opinion counts most in the end?
Who’s the one person we can’t fool?
Who really knows how deep we dug or how true we played it?