What my apologies taught me about my beliefs

Choose your motivation wisely. You should consume your fuel. Your fuel should not consume you.

“I am so sorry for being so slow”, I muttered to myself toiling up a steep slope during a local mountain half marathon. “Apologies for overtaking you”, I whispered to myself while flying by a couple of fellow runners on my way down the hill.

As a barefoot runner, my running strategy differs quite a bit from the traditional trail runner. I am slower than most going up, and very fast when going down a hill (basically because letting go requires less energy than trying to slow down). Hence, I am constantly left behind or speeding by. And I suddenly realized that I spent the race apologizing for falling outside the norm.

I was apologizing for doing a bad job AND for doing a great job.

My ego was desperately trying to make me invisible, or at least to feel guilty for not conforming to the “standard” rhythm. My ego did not believe that I could do this, especially by doing it differently than everybody else – an interesting insight, given that 21km isn’t anything out of the ordinary for me.

Advantages of not feeling good enough

So, what happened here? Why couldn’t I just enjoy this morning run, and instead waste my energy with a destructive inner monologue driven by guilt?

I did not want to belive that I am enough.

Not wanting to believe is different from not believing.

Not wanting to believe requires active work to avoid believing “accidentally”.

Why would anyone, why would I, actively invest in not believing in my own worth? What purpose does it serve to believe that I am not good enough (yet)?

Let’s flip the question: what effect does “not being good enough” have for a highly ambitious person? Spot on – she will try even harder to make sure that she will be good enough.

The feeling of insufficiency is a powerful internal drive to push me forward.
At the same time, it’s a drain on my emotional energy – especially if deep down I am aware that, in fact, I am good enough.

It’s toxic, and it creates a lot of friction.

Alternative sources of motivation

Having to prove yourself is a powerful source of change. But it is not the only fuel available. My challenge is to tap into these alternative sources whenever appropriate, like a hybrid car that changes its energy source based on the expectations.

Competing with my former/future self

Competing with myself is much healthier than competing with others, especially when it comes to motivation. I can choose my own metrics and I have (more or less) complete access to the results.

In running, I am striving for new PR’s (personal records). It makes running the same route far less boring. In a workplace, these PRs can look like this:

  • How often have I caught myself apologizing for doing a good job?
  • How often did I manage to work uninterrupted for an entire hour?
  • How many people have I talked to and written down some learnings?

Tracking my impact / making a difference

One feedback question we receive at Automattic is “How have you added value to Automatic in the past months”. By putting names and numbers to my initiatives and activities, I can better understand, defend and celebrate the value I am adding to the company – and to my own position.

Measure to manage – thus turning success into a personal expectation, something that does not require an internal apology.

[This post is part of my journey with my career coach Stephanie Vora, a perk offered by Automattic. You can find all posts here.]

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