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Why your process sucks

And theirs does not

That’s at the heart of why you haven’t succeed right? Because you are not doing what successful people do?

Not quite.

In reality, everyone’s process sucks, no matter how successful they are. But when you only see the perfect end result achieved by someone you see as a role model and compare that to your own current messy process, it is incredibly discouraging.

Perversely, this situation arises when we focus on being successful by measuring how well we are executing the necessary steps. That’s clearly a reasonable goal, how else are we going to know whether we are succeeding?

The challenge is that success is always relative and individual. There are likely some common elements but no-one’s definition for success is exactly the same as another persons

Because of this it’s hard to come up with an objective universal measure of success. By definition, if success is personal you are not going to be able to compare it to an external standard.

The only standard that matters to you is your own, somewhat arbitrary, judgement. It doesn’t matter how successful something external measures you to be if you don’t feel successful in your own head.

We recognize not define success

One of the ways we instinctively get around this is by comparing ourselves to someone who we consider to be successful.

This may seem like the same thing as measuring against a standard, but the distinction is important.

When we compare the performance of our actions to a standard that defines the ideal of how those actions should be performed, there is a certain implication of objectivity. Those standards exist in and of themselves and are not affected by our opinion.

But when we compare ourselves to someone we consider successful, the starting point is our opinion. Specifically our opinion that this particular person is successful.

Furthermore our measure as to how well we are executing relative to that successful person is also our opinion.

Our standard of success and our measure of how well we have met that standard are thus both completely driven by our own opinions. It is an entirely subjective self-centered process masquerading as an objective external measure.

This masquerade is hidden even to ourselves. We don’t view this comparison of ourselves to the other person as an opinion but instead treat it as an actual objective external standard.

But since we don’t necessarily know exactly what the person did to be successful, this approach can serve to discourage us unnecessarily because it relies on our imaginations.

Specifically our imagined ideal model as to what that person did to reach the success we deem that they have achieved.

But that’s just the start. There is an information disparity that causes us to judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others.

Trees for the forest

One could argue that a set of perfectly executed steps is a good thing to strive for even if you don’t actually achieve it. So can’t we just use them as an aiming point if not a yardstick?

We could in theory but when we compare ourselves to people who we believe are successful, we are not comparing apples to apples.

Let’s say that this ideal set of steps that we come up with really comprises the perfect approach necessary to achieve our definition of success. That these steps and no others are really what this successful person did to attain the success we seek ourselves.

The trouble is that in addition to not having that much information about them we have a ton of information about ourselves.

We have full information on the messy reality of our own lives, what we have or have not done. We see all our flaws, all our base motivations, all the mistakes we have made.

With our successful role model we don’t see the imperfection of their actual process we only see the end result. We don’t see their flaws, their base motivations, their mistakes.

We don’t see their nights of self-doubt and worry. We don’t see the fact that a lot of their successful decisions were corrections made to fix the consequences of bad decisions.

We don’t see any of that. All we see is their success and all we assume, all we can imagine, are the series of successful steps that led to that.

We have a much more complete picture of ourselves and it’s that detail that discourages us. The messy reality of our actual process can never hold a candle to our perfect ideal set of steps we imagine our role model took to achieve success.

That comparison robs us of the ability to persevere because all our flaws are real. All our mistakes did happen. And if we compare those flaws and mistakes to this idealized version of another person’s success we are always going to be found wanting.

I could do that too, but…

Moreover, in comparing our process to this ideal set of steps, when we hit a snag we assume that our successful role model just didn’t hit that same snag.

After all, they are successful because they made all the right moves and only the right moves, right? We never imagine that they had to contend with the problems that we are facing.

So even more than discouraging us, part of the reason we do this because we are giving ourselves an excuse. In a way we are making ourselves feel better by diminishing that other person’s achievement by saying they just have something that we don’t have.

It’s not that they worked hard or didn’t give up, it’s that they are more talented, or stronger, or richer, or luckier. Stuff that we just don’t have.

We use the “evidence” of our messy process as compared to what we imagine is their perfect execution to separate our reality from their reality and thereby give ourselves the excuse to give up.

We take ourselves off the hook for accomplishing similar success.

Suck it up

So what to do? How do we get around this?

The difference between success and failure doesn’t come down to doing every step successfully, it comes down to persevering when you do a step unsuccessfully.

We can use the end point of other people as a goal, as an aiming point, we can imagine the successful steps they took in order to guide ourselves but we can’t use that as a comparison for *how well* we are doing, only for *what* we should be doing. Focus not on the quality of their execution but on the nature of what the steps are.

In order to do this, in order to connect their successful reality to our own actual reality, we still try and work out the successful steps executed by our successful role model but we must also imagine them going through exactly the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and bad decisions that we are dealing with.

Imagine them pushing through to success just like we are going to.

It doesn’t matter if they actually did encounter those same trials, we are not judging them, we are simply using them as a model to emulate and as such we are just fleshing out that model with the good and the bad so that it becomes more realistic and more relevant to our own lives.

We go from thinking that only what we do correctly matters to a more holistic view that aiming for success and persevering through failure are both equally important.

Only once we view success as something that comes from a real, messy, contradictory, actual human life can we implement it in our own real, messy, contradictory, actual human life.