When many people come to me, they arrive having tasted accomplishment already. They’re motivated by wit, persistence, and a hunger to learn – the kind of people I thrive running with. PhDs, scholars, VPs, corporate consultants, established authors, professors, media personalities, restauranteurs, tech wizzes, spiritual guides, business owners, healers, coaches, or performers.
So what afflicts them? What gets in their way, in midlife, of achieving a deeper state of fulfillment? And what to do?
The Impostor’s Affliction
What: This affliction arises often. The relationships counselor wants to write a book about relationships, but his own relationship is a mess. How can he possibly be an authority? The VP cannot organize her personal life and feels like a fraud. The spiritual teacher promising enlightenment cusses at erratic drivers on the road.
The Impostor’s Affliction arises when an accomplished creative or professional feels that what she’s promising is inconsistent with what she’s doing or how she’s living.
Causes: One: Many people look up to accomplished creatives and professionals. So they might feel an obligation to uphold an image of perfection. Two: Related to one, the professional might be unforgiving of his ever-evolving status in his professional and personal growth.
Suggestions: One: Promise what you can deliver on, and refrain from promising a perfect permanent state. Promising “enlightenment” or “perfect health” or even “happiness” as a permanent state is not only unrealistic; it’s likely a lie. Promising such permanent states and perpetuating guru-like images of perfection also perpetuates people’s feelings of inferiority or repression. Two: When you recognize your own contradictions as potential creative paradoxes, then you stop expecting your “self” to be monolithic and simplistic. Take a cue from Walt Whitman: You are wide and full of contradictions. So be it.
The Field-Crossing Shame Affliction
What: This affliction arises when someone accomplished in one field wants to excel in another field. Since I work with numerous authors, this most especially comes up when an accomplished professional in a non-writing-related field wants to write a book but doesn’t know where to start. It also comes up with accomplished creatives who don’t know where to begin with building a platform or brand, how to expand their presence in the world, or how to pivot their career. They think they should have it figured it out. Sometimes, these people are delightful to work with because they recognize their skill deficiencies and can work as inquisitive “apprentices” of sorts.
Causes: Others who’ve reached an artist or even master status within his field find it challenging to submit to new knowledge, frames, and concepts in a new field because they feel as if they should know what they’re doing. They’re used to being in charge, the ones with the answers. Creatives who feel shame for not knowing about presence-building or branding don’t recognize that this, too, is a whole new field requiring a different yet complementary skill set.
Suggestions: If you want to enter a new field or excel in a new field, break down the skills you need to learn. Find models and study them. Practice and prototype over and over. Find a mentor or resources you can trust, and open up. Ask more questions, test out, and remember what it felt like to be an inquisitive, experimental, open-minded apprentice or student. Recognize that field knowledge and domain knowledge change so rapidly in the 21st century that we all should perceive and present ourselves as perennial students. The most successful, gratified, and influential entrepreneurs, leaders, and creatives do so.
The Intra-Field Knowledge Affliction
This one also comes up often. This affliction has more to do with what gets in the way of an accomplished professional or creative advancing within her existing field. For instance, the accomplished author or MFA or professor of creative writing “knows” a lot about writing. If I or someone else suggest, say, a new way to shape a book or book proposal, the professional might respond with, “Yeah, yeah, I know that.” An existing incomplete frame of knowledge (“I already know about outlining.”) biases the person in being able to grasp the new, expanded frame of knowledge (“Shaping a captivating book is not about outlining.”).
Or they’ve become so attached to their own intimate artistic process that it’s challenging to break from that process even if doing so might lead to the kind of break-through in their project or life they yearn for.
Causes: An accomplished professional’s or creative’s reputation might be built on comparable knowledge. For me or someone else to come along and suggest that there’s more to know about writing or authorship can be threatening.
Suggestion: It takes a confident person to submit in mid-life to new knowledge. When someone presents a potential new way of looking at an “old” idea, open up and see what insight you might take away. A open intelligence, that’s the operative mindset.
For the record, I know all of these afflictions because I’ve had my version of all of them at different stages and work with and through them. And, yeah, I do know of a certain emotional disposition that makes for an astonishing ally.
Wonder. Track it. It cracks you open at just the right times – at every junction of your quest.
How do these descriptions of afflictions sit with you? What experiences and additional wisdom do you have to share? Consultants, coaches, teachers, professionals – have you seen similar afflictions among your patch of the planet?
Thanks for running with me,