Monday, April 09, 2012

Why I'm Not As Successful As I Could Be

I’m not as successful as I could be.

But instead of blaming my professional situation on economic, cultural or industry forces, I recently reflected on the mental obstacles that have been holding me back.

And I’m not looking for help, feedback, sympathy or advice. I just thought I’d share, in the hopes that these liabilities serve as a mirror for your own.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I’d rather be heard than paid. Since I’m more of an artist than a businessperson, I’m more concerned with getting my work out into the world than getting money into my bank account. And because this model has always produced enough income to support my lifestyle, underwrite my addictions and keep the business alive, why stop now? The only problem is, this outlook cripples my earning capacity. I feel guilty about demanding compensation for my work. I feel physical pain when I’m forced to assign monetary value to my intellectual property. So I’ve conditioned the marketplace to expect my work as a gift, not a product. They’re aware of me, but I don’t have command over them. And once you’ve given the milkaway for free, it’s hard to go back charge for the cow.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I’m once bitten, twice shy. The last time I got really successful, I ended up in the hospital for a week with a tube in my chest. According to my doctor, I didn’t possess the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wherewithal to handle my newfound success and its accompanying stress and expectation. So my left lung collapsed. That was six years ago. Since then, since the body has such a long memory, part of me is still afraid of getting successful again because I don’t want my other lung to collapse. Once you’ve seen a ghost, you’re always afraid of the dark.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I’m more afraid of success than failure. If I get exactly what I want, I might realize it’s not enough. I might become a victim of my own success. I might discover it’s not what I actually wanted all along. I might mishandle the changes success brings into my life. I might stop taking the creative risks that made me successful in the first place. I might succeed and miss my emotional goal of expected failure. Or I might fail to live up to the expectations and reputation attached to my success. Either way, these egoic assumptions keep me from succeeding in spite of myself. It’s textbook self-sabotage. I’d rather fail because it’s familiar. I’d rather dream from a distance because it’s safer.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I lack an overriding sense of urgency. When I started my company, I had no debt to cover, no spouse to support, no kids to feed, no community responsibilities to fulfill and no social obligations to juggle. If I didn’t make a sale, nobody’s life suffered except my own. If I didn’t bring in new business, the repercussions were nominal. Meanwhile, my friends with looming mortgage payments and recurring pediatrician bills were scrambling to close deals, lest their families doubt their breadwinning abilities. By never installing acute sales pressure early on, my life situation made me less hungry, made it too easy not to care and made success less crucial.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I never needed to be pedal. For the first decade of my career, business just came to me. I never cold called or mass marketed. I simply did a great job and waited for the phone to ring. And this lasted for a while, but ultimately, it was an unsustainable business model that made me complacent and passive. Later, when the economy tanked, I was forced to decide if my product was a necessity or a nicety. I had to determine if my past prosperity was of genuine value, or just brilliant timing and intelligent leverage. Just because you’re riding a bicycle downhill doesn’t mean your legs are strong.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I’m a devout idealist. I don’t play to win, I play to keep the game going. I’m not competitive, I’m not confrontational, I not a hunter, I don’t have the killer instinct and I’m not a closer. I’m a quirky, sensitive, romantic, pacifist performer. I just want to make art, make people laugh and change the world. Unfortunately, that’s not the most profitable personality type for running an enterprise. Idealism is valuable to the extent that you don’t let it compromise your financial future. I swear, it seems like the more I care about something, the harder it is to get paid for it. So I follow my passion to the detriment of my own financial stability. Yay! Another opportunity not to get paid for something.

Why am I not as successful as I could be?

Because I have childhood issues with money. Since I came from an affluent family, I was often embarrassed by, ridiculed for and taken advantage of for having a lot of money. But I never wanted to be known as the rich kid, so I did whatever I could to make up for the fact that I was born privileged. From pretending to be middle class to romanticizing about blue-collar jobs to acting excessively generous, I concealed my wealth whenever possible. And it worked. Nobody knew. Except me. Fast forward to adulthood, I’ve spent the past decade struggling to close sales because I hate asking for money. Because deep down, every time I make a dollar, I feel like I don’t deserve it. And you’ll never be rich if money isn’t important to you.

Anyway, those are my issues. That's why I'm not as successful as I could be. Thanks for listening. I’m working on them.

For now, I hope they sparked reflection on the metal obstacles in your own career.

Why are you not as successful as you could be?

For the list called, "153 Quotations to Inspire Your Success," send an email to me, and you win the list for free!
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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Writing, Publishing, Performing, Consulting

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