How to Overcome the Contender Syndrome
It’s hard to overcome self doubt, right? Are you doing enough? Are you being enough?
Psychology Today had a brilliant article in 2010 on America’s culture of envy, and wanting be, do, and have more. Moreover, it’s about our own judgements that we haven’t accomplished enough – regardless of what incredible feats we have completed. It rings so true with me because I can hear the parts of my mind screaming at me about what I haven’t done, and how I fail to measure up to people around me; but I also hear the voice that’s amazed with the things I have done when I measure them against my ability as a human being to do them. It’s about measuring your life against your internal dream – not against the celebutantes on TV.
“The Contender Syndrome is subtly different from envy. It’s more a sense of not living up to the best you, rather than not living up to the best Albert Einstein. Some scientists say the feeling of not reaching your potential comes from a discrepancy between the ‘actual self’ (who you are), the ‘ideal self’ (who you’d like to be), and the ‘ought self’ (who you think others want you to be). Troubles arise when your actual self doesn’t align with your other visions.”
Anything from parents or teachers telling you things like, “You can do it. You’re better/stronger/smarter than this.” can start the process of either pushing you to achieve, or create the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be. This gap is the big pickle. Some people never learned how to build a bridge from here (actual) to there (ideal). Often this gap can seem too big to bridge, or simply impossible because the talent needed to live that dream aren’t available. Hazel Markus, a Psychologist at Stanford University, disagrees with this.
“A lot of people think you need the talent. People who end up suffering, feeling like they could have been a contender, are those with the idea that talents are pretty much fixed, so they don’t figure out how to get from where they are to where they want to be,” says Markus. “They don’t even really think it’s possible, so they don’t put the work into it.”
How will you know you’ve achieved it? How do you know you haven’t yet? How do you know you’re not in denial about your achievement? A lot of people see the ideal self and hear the ought self, but can’t get a clear view of the actual self. They may actually be very close to their ideal state, but they can’t see the steps they’ve taken, and the successes they’ve had along the way. Their gap is still too big. One great way to bring your progress into light is to name the greatest pleasures in what you have or do, or the person you are. You’ll see that your values are in some of your greatest pleasures. There’s more to life than ‘keeping up with the Jones family’ and it involves celebrating your successes just as much as you celebrate other peoples’.
Take time to reflect on where you are now, and what you’ve done to get here. You may find that your actual self isn’t far from your ideal self at all. Celebrate that! Follow what makes you happy, and do the work to get there and beyond. Often real, focused work is what separates the contenders from the victors. Success is subjective, my friends. One man’s failure is another man’s success. It’s all about what makes you happy.
“If you’re doing something positive in the world, if you’re productive, if you’re a player; then you’re a success.”
Reference: “I Coulda Been a Contender” by Abby Ellin. Psychology Today. August, 2010