One of my favourite autobiographies is “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” by Mark Oliver Everett who is the main man behind the band Eels.
It’s a brutally honest account – Mark’s father, mother and sister all died when he was very young, so he had more than his fair share of tragedy – but thankfully he also had the upside of his amazing experiences and accomplishments as a musician.
Even whilst he was alive, Everett, or E’s father was not really present in his life. He was a renowned scientist who invented the concept of parallel universes (E also recorded a great BBC documentary about his father’s life and work), and spent most of his time deep in thought as part of his work.
In a moving passage near the end of the book Everett reflects on how he has come to better understand his father’s behaviour thanks to the passage of time:
“One morning, while I was brushing my teeth, I looked in the bathroom mirror. My father was looking back at me. I realised I could identify with him in a lot of ways now. I was learning more from reading about him. How he was depressed from feeling under appreciated or misunderstood, how he wanted to be left alone. How he wore the same clothes all the time, just like me.
I realised that I had been feeling that same thing he must have been feeling all those years when he couldn’t be bothered because he always had some crazy ideas he was trying to sort out in his head. You’re just about to crack the code and the kid wants to play baseball. I get it now. We’re both ‘idea men’ and anything outside of those ideas is a distraction.
I had been angry at him all these years, but, now that that I saw so much of him in myself, it became easy to identify with him. I let him off the hook. And life immediately got better. My parents didn’t have a clue how to raise children, it’s true. But I can see that, given what they were given, they gave it their best shot.”
I related to this because I tend to get lost in my own thoughts and ideas too, and it’s definitely a character trait that can lead to depression if you don’t have ways of dealing with it. I often have to make a conscious effort to be more aware of what’s going on around me!
I also hugely admire Everett’s willingness to understand and forgive his father, and also to come to terms with the fact that he is actually very similar to him.
Whilst we can all of course try to be “our best selves” and improve our behaviours towards others, perhaps we all have innate characteristics that we can’t change, and maybe we need to accept that, and be less hard on ourselves for not being “perfect”.
Don’t Go Compare
Something that can be quite common amongst those of us who put ourselves out there into the world, whether it be as an artist or entrepreneur, is that feeling of not being worthy or ‘imposter syndrome’ – where we don’t believe we have the expertise or don’t deserve success.
The truth is, we often compare ourselves unfavourably to others, I subject I mentioned in a recent email newsletter and which I later shared on Facebook:
We all have natural strengths and skills that allow us to easily do things that others aren’t able to. We incorrectly think that we have to struggle and strive to be perfect at something before we can be confident in ourselves and use our strengths to help others, whether it be in collaborative projects or as a business offering.
But we don’t. As I said on Twitter:
You don’t have to suffer in order for what you do to be of value to others.
— Milo McLaughlin (@milomclaughlin) January 15, 2014
For example, some people are naturally very organised, and good at organising other people and events – I’m not. But maybe I’m better at writing a blog post or digging deep into the strategy side of publishing content online.
Guess what – you don’t have to be good at everything. If you want to achieve something great you can team up with people who have complimentary skills – I’m doing this by joining the Alive in Berlin team as their official reporter. I’ve wanted to see an event like this in Europe ever since I went to WDS in 2012 (although it is definitely a different type of conference to that one) – but could I have pulled it off on my own? No way. But if I can contribute by offering something that I’m good at, then it’s a win-win situation.
Once you accept yourself, you can achieve much more by leveraging your natural abilities than you ever could by worrying about your weaknesses.
- Make a list of what you’re good at and everything you’ve achieved in the past – no matter how small it might seem. Look for a common thread.
- Keep a record of this somewhere you can easily refer back to it such as Evernote and remind yourself any time you have doubts about your abilities.
- Try to pursue more projects where you can use your natural strengths. You might need to volunteer to begin with but it’s worth it if you’re moving closer to work you enjoy.
- And remember that as Brené Brown says – “no-one belongs here more than you.”
- Leave a comment telling me at least one skill or ability that comes easily to you, that you will appreciate more from now on!