11 Lies We Tell Ourselves That Keep Us from Succeeding
Uh. Sorry. No. If Uncle Frank and Grandpa start making radio-crackling noises and saying, "The Eagle has landed!" every time your gawky, 14-year-old nephew Tony (with the very prominent hook nose) walks into the room, it's not okay for you to laugh. It's not even okay for you just to sit there and smile and pretend you don't see Tony's face struggle not to crumple—so much so that he may even manage to laugh along with the so-called fun, just to avoid calling attention to all the dying and self-loathing he's doing inside. Cruelty called "joking"—not unlike overdrinking called "relaxing"—isn't acceptable just because everybody who's doing it is related. There was a time when you were a small person looking up at the very tall people who defined the whole world and all its rules. But you are now a tall person. You get to look over the shoulders of those related to you and examine the much bigger universe, where you get to choose how you speak to other people—a daily activity that, if managed with some care and forethought, can be an honor
6. "I cannot do X. I cannot do X one more time. I cannot do X ever again."
You can and you will. Because X will keep you your job. X will get your friend with cancer the extra pain pill from the bitchy nurse. X will salvage the marriage. X and the effort it entails will cement your commitment to doing difficult, necessary things and allow you to arrive at amazing, life-defining Ys that you never expected and that you thought were out of reach. But they aren't. You just had to do X that one more time.
7. "I don't care what my parents think."
Ha! (As in: HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!)
8. "I'm going to say something so interesting and well researched that I'm going to change this woman's mind about cats."
I'm only going to say this one time: You will not change her mind. She will not love cats if she loves dogs. She will not believe in Buddha if she believes in Allah. She will not—suddenly!—want to vote for the guy you want to be mayor whom she does not want to be mayor. But in the process of trying, you will talk and then get despondent later because you'd wanted to change her mind so badly and you failed. Further—and this is the really big owie—you will realize that you were so amped up about all the feline/Buddhism/mayoral statistics that you prepared for this discussion, you were so ready to pounce on the end of that lady's every sentence with a new, better, more riveting sentence, that you were not able to hear a single word she said—nor enjoy that unsung moment of pleasure when you learned something unexpected, something that might just have changed your mind. If not about cats, then about the people who love them more than dogs.
9. "I don't need hair products. All that gloss and stuff is just too complicated."
First, it's not complicated. It's goop that you squeeze into your hand and rub on your hair. Second, without it, little split ends stand up all over your head, making you look frazzled and eccentric in a bad way. There are very few affordable miracles-in-a-tube. Toothpaste is one of them. Hair gloss is another. Avail yourself.
10. "She's doing really well...so I won't or can't or never will."
Right this very second, there is somebody doing better than me. Her name is Christine. She is getting promoted and driving a fine, German automobile and raising kids who speak dolphin, whale and, of course, Mandarin. Did I mention that we went to college together? That she often stole my Grape-Nuts? That she was always kind of full of herself, but always kind of also deserved the accolades, because she is amazing? Here is the horrible thing I have to admit or go insane: Whether Christine wins the Nobel Success Prize or not will not keep me from also winning that same prize. The judges pick a bunch of people each year. They do not eliminate old friends of Christine or people who are jealous of Christine or people who just know Christine. They consider each person according to her own merits. There is room, in fact, for all of us reading this article to receive the Nobel Success Prize. We are all talented in ways that astonish and that come to light so much more brightly once we stop wasting energy on a thought that just isn't true.
11. "I'm not afraid."
Of course you are afraid. You're fighting a damn dragon. Or applying for the senior-level job. Or showing up at your mother's door, a woman you haven't seen in 15 years. Due to the nature of this lie, you may feel the need to cling to it for a while and let it protect you—as long as you know it is a huge, honking lie. At some point, however, you will have to silently admit to yourself that you're shaking in your boots. Only when this is done can you say to yourself, "I'm afraid...just not enough to stop doing what I've got to do." This last sentence can be distilled into a single word, the one needed to look the dragon in the eye, get through that interview or ring the bell and wait there on the welcome mat as your mother makes her way to the door: courage.
Leigh Newman is the deputy editor of Oprah.com and the author of Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown Up World, One Long Journey Home.
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