A short while ago, I realized that the easiest way to understand a flaw you see in someone else is to look for it in yourself. More often than not, you’ll find you possess some iteration of that flaw. You are humbled to both look upon your flawed acquaintance with more understanding and to try to correct the flaw in yourself as best you can. It is a very worthwhile exercise, if not difficult. After all, self-examination is not easy for anyone.
Remember this. We’ll come back to it.
I have a bad habit of getting too invested in other people’s lives. It is usually out of a mix of concern, intrigue and fascination, but I tend to get overly caught up. One thing that usually bothers me is when people I know — typically people who have tremendous capacity and potential, people who I usually want to spend a lot of time with because I find them to be unique and fun — act as their own worst enemy, bemoaning their place in life without acknowledging that they, and they alone, possess the capability to make a change. It’s a lot easier, and perhaps more comforting, to believe that “things will happen,” that the answers will reveal themselves, that all things come to those who wait. In truth, however, the fact is that if you build it, they will come.
To take a close look at your own life and the choices you are making (yes, very “Man in the Mirror” way to phrase it, I know) requires you to realize that you own your own life. This is hard, and scary. This requires accepting that while fate does not have anything to do with it, serendipity does. You understand that you control the direction your life goes, while understanding that factors you cannot control may come to bear and affect that direction. This means that you accept full responsibility and hold yourself 100 percent accountable for all decisions you make — or don’t make.
When I was at Podcamp Boston this past weekend, I was surrounded with people who at some point — or maybe they have done this since birth — decided to own their own lives and devote them to exploring the ever-evolving online space, and the ways people use it to communicate and connect. Sure, some of these folks have had cults of personality form around them, but as I’ve gotten exposed to more of these people, I find them to be on the whole pretty authentic, genuinely friendly and excited people who are evangelizing something they feel passionate about but also know how to listen. (Social media is all about listening, after all.) It was pretty inspiring. I guess in HR speak, they call those types of people “self-starters.”
The real key, though, is to be a self-sustainer. Starting is easy. It’s keeping it up that’s hard.
Now, back to what I said at the beginning of this post. It’s easy for me to look at the people in my life who I feel are not living up to their potential, who are sitting back and avoiding making the tough decisions that might make them happier, more fulfilled individuals.
What’s hard is for me to see that I am doing the same thing right now. In my life, I have many things I want to do, and I have the ability to do them. But I hold myself back — with fear, doubt, confusion, helplessness. The four horsemen of my own apocalypse, if I let them run wild.
It’s time to own up to the difficult truth: I own my own life, and it’s time to start acting like it.
The other key to being a self-starter and a self-sustainer, the thing people sometimes forget, is that the self in those terms is only a part of it. We don’t get anywhere in life without the love and support of our friends, family and creative collaborators. There is strength in numbers, and the bigger your network, the more likely you will be to reduce the roar of those four horsemen to a whinny. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, or realize a task is more than you can handle. But, better to ask than to not.
The key to all of this, of course, is your own determination to own your own life, to start something and keep it going. And more often than not, you have to fake it to make it. Owning your own life sometimes means just acting like you own your own life even when you’re not quite ready to believe you do. That’s okay. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck, right? You may think so, but right now, that duck thinks it’s an aardvark. In time, though, with enough quacking, it will embrace its inner duck.
That said… quack, quack.