July 14, 2022

Regularly practicing kindness towards ourselves


If we define success through the filter of comparison and particularity, then nothing will ever be enough for us.

Our work will constantly fall short some idealized vision. We’ll get trapped in the briars of what we think we deserve, what’s fair in the marketplace, what we should expect from our projects, what the universe owes us, and what we’re entitled to receive, because of who we are and how much we’ve suffered.

But none of that is real. It’s just noise that robs us of the peace and satisfaction that comes from embracing reality on reality’s terms.

Take launch week for a startup. It can be a panicky, overwhelming and discouraging time for all involved, particularly the founders.

Why isn’t our site traffic higher? When will sales start happening? How can our users be leaving negative feedback already? Is this new app really a confusing dumpster fire like people say it is? Should we have waited another month before going live? Maybe this whole venture is a hallucination, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re exposed as frauds?

Company founders believe this criticism snowball is a smart mental move, for the sake of growth. Tough love is the only way to get better, they assume.

But in my own experience, beating ourselves up over our perceived shortcomings only prevents us from seeing the full picture.

Back to my original thesis about defining success with comparison and particularity.

It really messes with your head. That narrative convinces you that no progress will ever be enough for you.

Personally, this criticism snowball tumbles around my mind from time to time. Especially when launching new projects. It’s amazing just how hard I can be on myself sometimes. And so, when I start noticing myself losing perspective, here’s what my inner therapist voice tells me.

Scott, step back for a moment and look at your project objectively. It’s not going to not happen for you, because it already did happen. You’re not going to not make it, because you already did make it. The reality is, if you enjoyed this process of building something from nothing, bravely launched it into the world, and inspired people to pay you for it, who now derive value from it, then you did it. You won. You’re the sperm cell that beat out billions of swimmers, fertilized the egg and birthed something new. The rest is just measures of degree.

That’s comforting to me. It’s not delusion, it’s not a copout, and it’s not a clever way to take myself off the hook from shooting my shot, pardon the pun.

It’s just reality. You remember reality, right? That pesky old thing we lose touch with when we’re in the weeds of the work and too damn close to ourselves?

Yes, that reality.

Harvard mental health researchers have a thing or two to say about this mindset. They’ve studied businesspeople who treat themselves with compassion, and their findings show that being able to arrive at realistic appraisals of ourselves is the foundation for all improvement.

Regularly practicing kindness towards ourselves activates our biological nurturance and soothing system. It gives us the peace, presence and perspective we need to move forward with our work.

We don’t compare ourselves to others and some idealized vision of industry standard success, we focus on all the things we’re doing right in order to grow our business in a scalable way.

It’s reality on reality’s terms, and it’s a pretty enjoyable movie to watch inside your head.

What accomplishments might remind you how far you’ve already come?