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Overcoming feelings of insufficiency
A few days ago I was chatting with a friend about the sense of insufficiency. He mentioned someone who has achieved a lot yet felt inadequate.
I think we all feel this to some degree. I used to think mathematicians are the smartest people in the world so they must be so assured of themselves. But Terence Tao, winner of the Fields Medal, said mathematicians are humans too. “We feel like we don’t deserve to be doing math, and everyone else around us seems to be doing better than us. Because we always face problems we can’t solve, and sometimes, we wonder whether we have what it takes.”
There is a difference though. Feeling inadequate for something is common, but it becomes a problem when we treat it as the character of ourselves.
It’s normal, arguably ideal, that you experience imposter syndrome when you’re tackling difficult problems out of passion — you have doubts because you care and you’re doing something nobody has done before. But if fear instead of love becomes the drive — you do it to prove you’re not broken — it can quickly wear you down and you may never find peace with yourself no matter how much you achieve.
How do we overcome it?
For me, meditation and mindfulness help. By being aware that thoughts simply arise on their own, I understand they are not me. Thoughts are the product of past experiences, not something that has to be true in the present. I still feel that I’m not good enough, but I can quickly let go of them so they don’t stand a chance to exert their power.
I’m not sure if it works for everyone, but it does require a lot of upfront effort. It sounds simple but not easy.
Another idea is to look at it from a randomness perspective. Ask ourselves what would be the worse case if we try. And what would be the best case? How does the downside weigh against the upside? What is the expected value?
Warren Buffet once said, “Take the probability of loss times the amount of possible loss from the probability of gain times the amount of possible gain. That is what we’re trying to do. It’s imperfect but that’s what it’s all about.”
Elon Musk said something similar. “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”
A lot of those feelings of insufficiency come from a lack of awareness or difficulty of letting go past experiences. Can we override them with new experiences?
Shane Parrish suggests us to change the environment and surround ourselves with people that encourage us rather than drag us down, so we can tell a different story. “Let other people become the fuel of your fire, but you choose how that fire burns.”
Go to a retirement home and just volunteer time there and talk to people. And I bet you they will all have felt those things at various points in their life. But now they’ll be able to give you perspectives on what they would do differently. And I bet you they delete people from their lives a lot quicker. (source)
In the end, what matters is that we’re trying to achieve something by doing, not bothering ourselves with insecurity.
It can be an upward spiral once we take action. As Ryan Holidays tweeted, “Believe in yourself is overrated. Generate evidence.” The more evidence we can generate, the more likely we’re able to overcome it.
And remember what Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
If you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear that. Reply to this email or DM me on Twitter.
Have a great week,