“Simon! If you can’t get up by yourself, then you probably shouldn’t do it!” was the voice of a mother urging her son to back away from climbing a play structure at the park.
I was sitting watching my kids play and couldn’t help but hear her call. There was something about it that had been deeply ingrained into me as a kid. “Only do things that you can be successful at because failure will not be well received.”
Growing up, I was always rewarded for achieving things, whether at school, or on the playing field, or in my career. I found refuge in my ability to accomplish. I would go to the ends of the earth to figure things out. My wife may call it stubbornness, but for me, it was rooted in a deep desire for self-worth. Without achievement, I felt worth-“less.” And with it, I felt valued and loved.
This drive to prove myself to the world created great success for me along the way. Much of what I have today can be attributed to this. The issue is that I was (subconsciously) trying to prove my worth to every single person that I crossed paths with—a real feat when we consider that there are over 7 billion people on this earth. In my mind, once I could achieve that extraordinary feat, I would finally be worthy, and I could rest. I would be seen as good enough, and I would achieve that state of serenity that I seem to always long for.
In living my life this way, I eventually reached a critical point. A place where the stakes felt so high that I couldn’t make a move without the risk of failure. A place where my drive to achieve seemed to paralyze me. In my mind, the risk of failure and, subsequently, the risk of losing my value in the world, was too high. Essentially, I would be risking failure if I tried; and I would be a failure if I didn’t.
The result: Mediocrity through risk aversion.
Recently, I read an article by Amy Blaschka that highlighted that one of the hardest words for people to use in business is: “help.” For me, having to ask for help felt vulnerable. After all, I should be able to achieve everything successfully on my own, right? Just like Simon at the playground was reminded about.
Back at the park, a few minutes later, I could hear another kid yelling out with immense enthusiasm, “Simon! You’re doing it! I’ve got you! You’re so close! You can do this! You’re going to the top! You’re not going down! You’re going to the top!”
That voice was Simon’s sister. She made it her mission to help him reach his goal—to help him reach the top. To rise above mediocrity and achieve what he was truly capable of. Now I don’t know if she developed this in response to her mom’s “only do things if you can do them on your own” mindset, but we all need a sister, or a brother, or a friend like that in our lives.
The thing is, we likely all have someone that is cheering us on in our lives. One that believes in us and in what we’re capable of accomplishing. One that will do everything in their power to help us reach our goals. And likely, one that without, we wouldn’t be able to get to the top of our play structure—whatever that may be for us.
The issue is, we usually can’t hear these people when they cheer us on. Or worse yet, we choose to interpret their desire to keep us safe—like in the case of Simon’s mom—as a sign that we shouldn’t try—at least not until we deem ourselves to be ready or good enough. And then we spend our lives trying to prove our worth to them. Or more accurately, trying to prove to ourselves that we are worthy. That we are good enough. That we can fall and fail, and that the people around us will still believe in us. That they will help us get back up. That they won’t see us as any less, but rather as being courageous enough to try and rise above mediocrity.
If I could rephrase the message from Simon’s mom, it would sound something like this: “Simon! I’m so proud of how hard you’re working on getting to the top of that play structure! I’m worried that you may fall and hurt yourself, though! I want to see you make it up safely! Don’t be afraid to ask your sister for help if you need it! You’ve got this and I’m proud of you for giving it your best shot!”
So go ahead. Try and climb that structure that’s in front of you. And if you struggle, know that we are ready to help you reach higher. Going it alone will only get you so far, but with courage and vulnerability, we can help each other reach new heights and overcome mediocrity.