The Startup
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The Startup

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.

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.



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Archana Lakshman Rao

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.