I fear failure. Don’t you? It hits at our self-worth and self-esteem.
The difference is subtle as self-worth inspects how we think others view us. Nobody likes to be the lowest on the social rung. Evolutionary speaking, being kicked out of the group meant certain death. After all, if 250 thousand years of evolutionary cycles have taught us anything — a lone human running around our hostile planet did not tend to last long.
The latter, self-esteem, then becomes how we think and feel about ourselves. Most of us walk around feeling some flavour of shitty most of the time. The worst part is we don’t really know why and so we tend to overcook these ‘feelings’ and convince ourselves that something’s wrong with us.
While there are many wonderful ways in which we love to see ourselves as different — it's fear, and particularly the fear of failure, that is our great equaliser.
I know both of these conditions very well.
The Chase for Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
Many of us have a ‘personal story' that we tell ourselves. And if we’re not careful, they have the power to affect the way we experience the world. That’s because the quality of our self-talk determines the quality of our lives. There will be plenty more on the internal narratives that we tell ourselves about ourselves as we get into the individual ‘gems’ I’ve collected.
But let’s go back to these personal stories of self-worth and self-esteem.
Well, the story I told about myself was that I was dyslexic. And being dyslexic in the public school system meant that I didn’t do the readings. It meant that I didn’t remember the rote learning required for school. It meant that I was stupid.
This quickly became a destructive feedback loop and I craved validation in all sorts of inappropriate ways, including being a smart-ass. This had the curious effect of flipping conflict inside out and often came with lunchtime detentions and more than a few black eyes. That was my bruised and breathless attempt at chasing self-worth.
When it came to self-esteem, the journey was much, much worse.
Ever the slow learner, my 30s were a simmering decade of self-sabotaging which culminated in multiple hospital trips and enough antibiotics to make a western Sydney junky blush. Let’s just say my immune system was up shit creek without a paddle. The best that the doctors could do for me? “Two Panadol, get some rest, and be sure to wipe your Medicare card on the way out”. I was feeling just about ready to show myself out in more ways than one.
But let’s back up a little.
We’ve opened up Ash’s psyche file and jumped straight to what might look like the ‘Ward Admission’ tab — but thankfully, I never made it there.
While there is a history of mental illness in my family tree, I'm glad to say I did stop short of the cuckoo's nest. Perhaps it's in no small part to the lessons others close to me have shared, unwittingly or otherwise, that taught me to seek a different path toward resolution.
When you think about it, I’m very fortunate. Born a white, Australian male in the 1970s is practically the code sequence for winning life's lottery. Shout out to my ancestors, who had the geographic fortune to land in a place that was safe, rich, clean and ripe with opportunities.
So as it stands now, I'm CEO of a company with a team that I love. I get to play for a living — working with the clients I choose, many of whom I consider my best friends on this journey of life. Water views were always a dream of mine, and I can’t believe I’m looking out over both our pool and the Georges river as I write. I find myself a proud father of two kids and two fur babies. I'm a husband to a gorgeous wife, who also just happens to be my best friend and business partner. Top all that off with the fact that both my parents are still around, and I'm approaching the half-century mark with heart, medical, and biomarkers all pointing in the other direction. Fuck me! Talk about a gratitude list. I can't take credit for any of this, but I will take it.
Amongst my many foibles, I can be quick to forget how bloody lucky I am. But despite the chasing and the detours, suffice it to say — I’m happy.
So how did we get here in the first place?
It All Starts at the End
Let’s just say the start seems as good as any place to talk about the end. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe.
In my case, the irony is that I've made a living of ‘thinking outside the box’ only to end life inside one. Talk about cutting straight to the funny bone. All puns aside though, I harbour zero belief in an afterlife. That said, don't get me wrong — much like failure, I'm not immune to the fear of death.
Would you look at that? Half a page in and we've already practically come full circle!
At any rate, for those who know me, you'll find it hardly surprising that I've taken a stab at boiling down the entirety of the world's religions into two key 'features and benefits'. Look on at ye mighty oversimplification and despair!
So it seems most of the world’s religions, if not all 3,000+ of them, are geared around:
- Making sense of the bits of life that don't make sense
- 'Managing' or removing the fear of death, generally with a spiritual afterlife that takes the 'pressure' off getting it right this time, right now.
Or as I’d like to call it, "Holy Shit: Why Religion Doesn't Pass My Smell Test".
So what do I believe? Let's just say that's a story for another confessional. For now, I'd rather unpack a different box. My ode to life if you will — Memento Mori.
Translating to 'remember death', this stoicism staple is basically the grown-up cousin of Carpe Diem (seize the day) — more commonly referred to as “your Newcastle mate Steve's favourite lower back tattoo from high school". So I choose to remember death. Not in a morbid sense. More as a form of acknowledgement that time doesn't begin or end with me at the centre of it. It almost feels like a relief not to shoulder that level of responsibility!
After all, there was a beginning before I was born — quiet and empty. And for me, memento mori is a simple reminder to check myself and keep things in perspective. We’ve got one orange, so why not squeeze the day while we can — so to speak.
Sure, I've got plenty of time, but I also have no time to waste.
So what's the point of Shitting Diamonds?
Activist Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
And that's about the best that I or anybody could hope for in life. But that's NOT how most of us live. Most of us chase the job, we chase the car, the partner. We run after the holiday or the bank account. We break our backs for the marathons, the hours, or whatever it is that we think is missing that will make us feel ‘complete'.
But they never do. There's a hole in the bucket of feeling that we can't fill with just stuff.
I've actually got a whole 90-minute Keynote on it, but I'll save you the lecture. The punchline is:
- We experience negative events 1.5 - 3x stronger than positive ones.
- We remember these negative events 10x too.
- As if that wasn't enough, our core emotional palette is primed with six negative emotions to one positive!
That’s why it’s easy to conclude that there’s something wrong with us. But what happens when we STOP chasing things to change how we feel?
Too big of a leap for now? Okay. Sure, keep chasing things, but what if we do so from a place where happiness is the default? What does that mean?
Making happiness the default or an input means that happiness becomes a personal choice. A choice that doesn’t require anything external to be true but rather stems from our ability to choose our own physical and mental states at any time.
Neurologist Viktor Frankl put it best — “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
We don't get to choose what happens to us in life. Sure, we can influence it but the real troubles will always blindside us. In between something happening and how we respond, there is a gap. Within this gap is a choice, and if we can hold on to that choice, we live a life of power, purpose and fulfilment.
Remember all the detours that resulted from the fear of failure? When we stop playing the achievement and failure game, we're invited to play something much more fun — the wisdom game.
Unlike so many things on the planet, wisdom is not a scarce resource. Wisdom is also something best shared. This game requires us to look at what's happened and ask —'What did I learn?’. Or even better, 'What am I yet to learn?'. I notice that I keep getting the same lessons in life, which indicates I didn't learn the lesson properly the first time. Stop me if you've heard this one before, am I right?
Imagine eight billion humans chasing wisdom. That’s my dream. For humanity and the planet.
Shitting Diamonds is about digging into the hard, unfortunate, difficult and even painful things that happen along the way. It’s about embracing what serves us and letting the rest float(er) away.
Joking aside, I like sharing the difficult and painful with you — as most of my good fortune is luck and being at the right place at the right time. Saying that you'd get the same results if you did what I did is plain narrative fallacy. I was lucky. A lot in my 'misfortune' bucket I get to own. I don't always like it. I'm not proud of a lot of it, but there’s much to be learned from it.
So whether you'd like to glean from mistakes that have literally cost me millions, or are just here to get your schadenfreude fix — I hope the following nuggets of wisdom can save you some pain and/or strain.
After all, isn't it time you shit or got off the pot? Let's get after those diamonds coming down the pipe.
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