Have you ever noticed how really smart, really creative people often totally underestimate themselves?
I see this in my work pretty much every day. I meet people who are brilliant thinkers, good writers, creative, passionate people who say things like:
- “There are plenty of good musicians out there… the world doesn’t need me.”
- “I would love to ______, but I don’t have the time, the energy or the money.”
- “If only I were like [fill-in-the-blank], I could be successful someday.”
- “I want to write a book or make music or build furniture, but so-and-so is already doing it.”
They are constantly under-playing themselves, staying small, talking themselves out of their dreams have and suffocating their creativity by comparing themselves to other people.
If I’m honest, I have to admit I do this, too.
It’s a habit I’ve tried to break, but I find myself slipping into it every now and then, especially when I’m tired, or when I’ve invested myself into a project and I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. All the statements I listed above are things I’ve said to myself.
But even more than that, I find myself living out of the following totally powerful, but completely untrue belief systems:
- Success is only reserved for certain kinds of people—and I’m not one of them.
- No matter how long or hard I work, it’s not likely I’ll achieve the things I want in life.
- If only I were more talented, or more business-savvy, or quicker-on-my-feet (less like myself) I would be more successful.
- Maybe, someday, I’ll catch a “big break” and that will change everything
- Success is mostly about luck. I wish I were lucky like those other people.
When I think about it—and get really honest with myself, I realize there is a really distinct reason why I do this.
These beliefs are protections against disappointment and rejection.
There Are No Guarantees
One of the hardest parts about dreaming is we don’t have any way to know if the things we imagine for ourselves will ever become a reality. We have no way to know if what we most want will ever be close enough to grasp.
You can want to be married, want to own your own business, want to write a book, want to make the New York Times Bestsellers list, want to have children, want to own a home, want to be a millionaire, or want to move to another country—but will you ever get those things?
There’s no way to know for sure. There are no guarantees.
Learning not to underestimate ourselves requires learning to deal with rejection, to accept disappointment, to be open to redirection and to know, no matter what happens, life is better when we live aligned with our authentic selves.
Living open to our potential gives us a ton of freedom—but it also leaves us incredibly vulnerable.
So what if this is you—how can you stop?
If you are a smart, creative person and you find yourself constantly underestimating your potential (In other words, if you’re sitting here reading this, thinking, “Oh, I’m not that smart or that creative…”) this next part is for you.
Here are a few things you can do to shift your reality and live in line with your truth.
Agree that Choosing to Believe in Your Limitless Potential is Not Arrogant
Choosing to believe our potential is limitless is not an arrogant way to live, although a lot of sensitive, creative people tend get trapped in this belief. Choosing to believe in your limitless potential is the most incredibly humbling way to live.
When you admit your limitless potential, you leave yourself open for disappointment and heartbreak. You submit yourself to the laws and realities of the Universe—which means acknowledging your health, your surroundings, other’s behavior, and other important factors to the actualization of your dreams, are out of our hands.
This change. Dreams change. Life is unfolding. There are no guarantees.
Additionally, choosing to believe in our limitless potential means we are willing to put in the work to make the life we imagine for ourselves become a reality. It means we abandon the damaging ideas about success being reserved for a select few, or resources being limited or the idea of a “big break” coming our way.
We begin to embrace our own power and potential to shift and shape our circumstances.
That’s a hard, humbling pill to swallow. But admitting you play a role in your circumstances is the only way to embrace the power you have to change them.
Embrace the Power of Your Own Intuition
Advice is good. Those who have gone before us certainly have insight to offer us that we couldn’t have on our own.
The advice of experts can help direct us to become our best selves.
But too many smart, creative people lean on the intuition of others when their own intuition is pointing them down a unique or not-so-logical path.
Don’t ignore your own intuition just because you can’t make sense of it right away. Instead, grow in your ability to listen to yourself, to experiment and to learn from your own failures. Your intuition doesn’t always tell you the right answer, but it does always tell you something—and that something can be a gift to you, if you’re willing to see it that way.
Don’t ignore the gift of your intuition.
Embrace the Uniqueness of Yourself
One of the most damaging things we do as creatives is look to our right and look to our left, comparing ourselves, our lives and our projects to the people around us.
Not only will this take us off track, it will limit us—limit our potential.
It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
There’s a quote I love from Martha Graham that sums this up perfectly. She says, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.”
She goes on to to say, “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Finally, she says, “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction, whatsoever, at any time. There is only.. a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Join me in a commitment to quit limiting myself, playing small, comparing myself to other people or downplaying my gifts to appear more humble.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to underestimate myself anymore.