How to stop being intimidated by people who are way better than you
“Tell me why, ain’t nothing but a heartache,
Tell me why, ain't nothing but a mistake,
Tell me why,
I never wanna hear you say,
'Cause I want it that away…”
— Backstreet Boys, 'I want it that way'
I was 9 years old when I heard these lyrics. They didn't make any sense to me then (full disclosure, they still don't make sense to me now).
At that age, I was awed and impressed by this glorious band. They were out of this world - unattainable, perfect and untouchable.
I was 15 when I saw the official Backstreet Boys biography lying conspicuously on a display table at a book fair I attended.
I picked up the book and flicked through the pages. I remember reading a few sentences that showed these pop stars as the ordinary people that they were. Something about AJ's drug addiction, the group's moments of intense anxiety due to the pressures of being in the limelight. I immediately put the book down and walked away - not wanting to know. Really.
I didn't want to know how many auditions they had to undergo to first make it as child actors, how they came close to obscurity and how they overcame it. In my mind, I just wanted them to be cookie-cutter perfect. No blemish, no scar, just ineffably perfect so that I could idolise them and hold on to an unrealistic image of them.
This doesn't sound fair and I recognize that - celebrities are people too and their journeys are difficult and fragile. They make mistakes just like anyone else, and yet what seemed to happen to me very often when I was younger is that I'd let the idea of something overrule the reality of what it is.
Boybands were the first victim of this ideation.
In fact, I even do it now as an adult. I see someone doing well at their job, proving themselves as a prodigy of some sort at their chosen field of work, or even someone that is a badass at their job, and suddenly I think they've always been that way. I think they're special, and that they're miles ahead of me.
I'm easily intimidated by these people - I don't pause to consider that they also had to start off somewhere. That they also had to put in the work and deal with crushing defeats and overcome adversity to get to where they are today.
I generally end up figuring this out much later but by then I would have already given way to feelings of inadequacy, envy and insecurity.
I have tried very hard to break this cycle and through repeated encounters with people who are much much better than me, I've finally learnt a few things that help me feel less intimidated by people I envy / admire.
- Imagine what they looked like as children - This one’s funny but whenever I see a certified badass that I’m about to idolise or envy, I try and picture what they would have looked like as a child. Like that Snapchat filter that showed what 'baby' pictures of someone might look like. Imagine picturing a gruff Partner/Director level stakeholder as a child and suddenly they aren’t so badass anymore. Also it helps to imagine them playing with their children to humanise these people you’re idolising. Once you do that, you won’t feel pressured simply because you recognize you’re both ordinary people living your lives and no one has it perfect.
- Ask them about their journey - Another great way to lighten the situation is to really try and understand how these awesome people did what they did. Understanding what they overcame and how they did it will not only teach you something but also imbue a sense of confidence in you that if you put in the hard work, you could do something awesome too! This also opens up the door to a great friendship - it's always better to be friends with someone that's better than you than to stare at them from the sidelines, wishing you could have what they have. Understanding the journey helps you see both the good and the bad sides to someone's situation, it strips away the glitter your mind might have added to the whole story.
- Think of them as the other characters in your multiverse superhero story - Okay, a little over the top, but hear me out! In the Marvel universe, there are tons of superheroes and they're all unique and special in their own way. They all inhabit the same universe and it's triple the fun when we have crossover stories right? Why are the Avengers movies such a popular franchise? If ever you feel like you're in a room where everyone else seems to know, do and be more than you, consider this, you're in the room now and you chose to be there or you were asked to be there. Either way, you've got your foot in the door and the best way to add value to the situation is to treat your group as fellow superheroes - sure maybe you're Spidey in a room full of Thors and Nick Furys. Or maybe you're Pepper Potts and you don't even have superpowers - this doesn't make you any less of a person. There's always something only you can do and there's tons to learn from your crew. Be proud of the cohort and of yourself - make the most of it. And who knows, someone you envy could also be envious of you!
This takes a bit of practice but it works.
If you don't have direct access to the people you're in awe of, it helps to read biographies or autobiographies of these people to 'strip away the legend that encrusts' these people.
Underneath everything we're all in the same league of people who have blood, skin and bones. And we all inevitably die - so don't dwell too much on outward appearances and decorations.
Take out the filters, and see people as they are.
We're not that different at the end of the day.