This is a quote from a presentation at a digital conference I went to last week in Toronto. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Perhaps because I’m looking for work in a city and a country that are still reasonably foreign to me. Perhaps because in selling myself as a freelancer and in the absence of much confidence, I’ve had to fill the gap with persistence and it’s a bit like trying to run an engine on a fuel for which it wasn’t designed.
One of the trends I observed at the digital conference was that talented people make their own opportunities. They really do…. and I don’t think they have any particularly amazing skillsets, other than a little more self-confidence and a shedload of persistence. The great thing about seeing these people, in the flesh, speaking… is that you get some insight into all of their failures on the way to success, which you rarely see on the Internet. This is why we have an “Internet of things”, as opposed to an “Internet of processes”. We gawk at the $1,000,000,000 sale of Instagram, but that’s because we picture it as the overnight success of bedroom project.
Apparently I’m not the only one struggling to provide my own light in this darkness. There was a fascinating article in New Scientist magazine last week, titled “The Curse of Generation Me” (Life section, 3rd May 2012). The article reveals a number of insights from psychologists and emphasises that we have taken individualism too far:
“Inflated egos leave many young people with unrealistic expectations and their inability to achieve these can lead to depression. […] 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 12 now takes antidepressants – a quadrupling of the rate since the late 1980s.”
Straddling the boundary between generation X and Y, I was brought up to work hard and wait for permission. There wasn’t the start-up culture of alleged overnight success, which as a grown-up has been somewhat distracting. I’m torn between the culture on one side which says take risks, shoot for the stars, don’t settle for second best….. and the culture on the other which demands a pension and mortgage, as well as occasional pokes that I’m now becoming too old for men of my own age.
I’ve often wondered whether the key to successful self-employment lay in supreme confidence, but I’m now questioning this perspective. Sometimes I need the occasional reassuring pat on the back from friends, but most of the opportunities generated recently have simply been the result of getting up each day, wearing a smile and putting one foot in front of the other. It reminds me of running the Toronto marathon: I’d under-prepared, my iPod broke at the start line and I was too new to the city to have friends for support. At the 30K mark I was spent, everything hurt, it was pissing down with rain and I kept having to wipe snot off my face with my sleeve. The final 10K was excruciating and all I could think of was giving up. But I didn’t and I finished.
There’s also further evidence that persistence wins over confidence, the same article mentioned above asserts that “willpower, not self-esteem is the essential ingredient for a successful life” and that we should teach our children to “learn to control their impulses and persevere at difficult tasks so that they can achieve their goals, which will naturally boost their self-esteem.”
So… if you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, remember:
- Lots of other women (and men) have been here
- Life is universally unstable: we must accept change even if we can’t embrace it
- Doing something is usually better than doing nothing
- Focus on getting through the day, then the week and then the month
- Cut yourself some slack when dark feelings hit
- Just keep putting one foot in front of the other
- Smile, even if you don’t mean it
- Be open, even at the risk of vulnerability
- It always takes longer than you think it will
- Wear your resilient knickers