Think about your best qualities. Have you noticed they can often be your worst?
I’m extremely competitive, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, neurotically obsessive, a die-hard loyalist, relentlessly persistent, a hard worker, and the list goes on and on.
If you were to ask me which of my worst features would top the list, I would say my own attitude towards myself. Or to be more specific, that little voice in my head that constantly castigating everything I do.
“Why didn’t you do this instead of that?”
“Did you really think that was a good idea?”
And the ever famous, “you should have done better.”
The latter haunts me incessantly. The perfect story that encompasses these sentiments is when my startup, 123LinkIt, won First Place at Temple’s Business Plan Competition last year.
I had entered the Competition three years running, becoming a Finalist two years before but walking away empty-handed.
This time, I knew we were going to be in the Finals. We had submitted the same idea the previous year and we used the notes from the judges to improve our Business Plan. We had also launched and were showing revenue. Yet I still reprimanded myself awaiting the results. I was competing in a tough category against faculty members, graduate students and other alumni. I doubted myself during the process repeatedly asking if I really had what it takes to get to the next level.
When the results came in, I was elated. Instead of congratulating myself, I went into hyper-mode and started a grueling campaign preparing for the Competition. I called in every favor I had with other entrepreneurs, VCs, acquaintances, and friends – everyone I knew and didn’t know to help me with the presentation.
I practiced my pitch so much the night before, I lost my voice the day of the Competition. I spent the morning gargling with salt water in an attempt to regain what would later turn into a soft whisper.
When it was my turn to present, I recall looking at the panel of judges and being terrified at their blank faces. “Can they hear me? Better yet, do they even understand what I’m saying?”
My family and friends patted me on the back afterwards and congratulated me for doing a great job. I smiled weakly and thought back to my Q&A session. “I should have elaborated further on his question. Why didn’t I finish on time? How many points will these mistakes cost me?”
I gripped my sister’s hand tightly and held my breath when they called the announcements.
Honorable mentions – nothing.
2nd Place – nothing.
1st Place – 123LinkIt.com.
I should have been ecstatic, right? I wasn’t. I forced myself to walk to the podium and accept my award. I waited to see who won the Grand Prize and cursed myself for not being up there.
That morning I remember thinking my sleepless nights were going to be long gone after the day was over, that the stressful days were going to be a thing of the past.
I was wrong. I slept LESS the day of and after the competition then I had preparing for it. “Why did they win over me? What could I have done differently? I should have changed this and said that.” I convinced myself that I had cost the Company $50k (the value difference between the prizes). All I could think of the following week is how First Place wasn’t good enough and what I could have done to win that Grand Prize.
It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? I’m saddened by my thoughts thinking about it now, more than a year later.
I’ve been doing this since I was little. You could put me next to someone who severely dislikes me and I would have worse things to say about myself. My Father was the badgering type, he wanted us to do better and his way of showcasing that was to criticize us as a means to motivate ourselves.
One of my goals this year is to eliminate this self-deprecating behavior. It’s a challenge because it’s a double-edged sword in that it IS a driving force. However, I want to reprogram myself to have it come from a loving place that’s not stress-induced and doesn’t include back-breaking pressure.
How will I start to accomplish this?
I’ve already begun by being aware of it. I believe a big part of it has to do with how I talk to myself. Now I catch myself when that little voice appears. “You did a great job with this, good work! You can do even better next time by doing this.” I’m also working on accepting compliments. I’ve noticed the two traits are related. The rest? I’m not quite sure yet but I’m in the process of actively figuring it out.