3 Ways to Deal with Your Nemeses

Charlie Gilkey
Feb 7 · 4 min read

See how you can assess your nemeses and explore ways to beat them — permanently.

Every once in a while, we bump into people, issues, or patterns that challenge us so greatly that we name them our nemeses. They could be your coworker Steve, your ex-husband’s new wife, or the back injury that flares up. We encounter them, and we feel the buttons getting pushed, the temper starting to rise.

But what we fail to understand is that we sometimes create our nemeses. The Greeks got this idea, defining a nemesis as an agent sent by the gods to check their hubris. The only way to defeat it was to examine their faulty thinking and, in some cases, actions. If they did, they usually found a way of escape or rendered the nemesis powerless (Odysseus and Circe come to mind here).

We can do the same thing, for if we create the conditions for our nemeses to exist, we possess the means to eliminate them. However, there are only three ways to really, truly deal with your nemeses. Before I discuss them, I have to explain why ignoring a nemesis isn’t an option.

Ignoring Your Nemesis Makes It Stronger

A nemesis often lingers because we think it’s beneath us to engage with it. It may trip up other people, but not you. (And even if it has, you may not think it’s an issue worth addressing.) You’re one of the good, smart, successful people.

Let’s use money management as an example nemesis. No matter what you do or earn, you never seem to have enough dollars to do what matters most. You live from paycheck to paycheck or resign yourself to living off credit cards every few months. Maybe you live on the opposite end of the spectrum: You make more than enough money to live the life you want to live. However, you don’t know where your money goes or how you’ve accumulated multiple storage units for all your stuff.

You might like to pretend your money management issue doesn’t exist, but ignoring its presence only compounds its power. If you’re in debt, dollars spent yesterday recruit new purchases to weigh you down today. And the more things you own, the more dreadful they become, resulting in rooms and storage units you avoid entering.

I could tell similar stories about time management, priorities, relationships, boundaries, et cetera. Behind all our nemeses, though, lies a root action: a failure to appreciate limits. We ignore them at our peril — the pebbles we throw today often become the boulders that bowl us over in the future. Or, to put it another way, the nemesis we shove and hide away today often turns into a stronger, hungrier monster tomorrow.

Choosing Your Approach to a Nemesis

If you agree you can’t ignore your nemesis, you’re left with the option of confronting and engaging with it. It’s as simple and hard as that. Simple, because defeating a nemesis requires only understanding your limits. Hard, because you have to accept those limits. You have to admit you’re human.

If you’re ready to embrace your humanness and overcome the nemesis, there are three ways to go about it:

  1. Beat it. This is the best option when you’re in a zero-sum game. If your nemesis, Steve the Coworker, is competing for a position you want, you have to step up to the plate and play your best game. If you ignore Steve or your desire for the promotion, then Steve gets the job. Also remember Steve isn’t your true nemesis. It’s all the things he triggers, such as questions about your expertise or ability. In that regard, he’s more like an opposing fan in the stands than an opposing player. Dismiss the distraction and focus on the game.
  2. Play with it. Play is the best option when you can sacrifice one thing to get the thing that truly matters. Doing so will require vulnerability, bravery, and humility. It’ll be hard, but employing those qualities converts your nemesis’ destructive force into a constructive one. So, if it makes sense, cooperate and ally with your nemesis — the age-old “if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em” strategy.
  3. Make it irrelevant. This tactic works best in “everybody can win” scenarios. For instance, in many business situations, everybody wins because you and your nemesis offer different benefits to customers. The same idea holds true in the dating world. What makes you, you, attracts the right person. (And do you really want to attract the wrong one? You’ll both end up unhappy.) In both cases, you don’t want to copy your nemesis because you are not your nemesis. You are you. Embrace who you are so that everybody wins.

Don’t mistake me here; making a nemesis irrelevant isn’t the same as ignoring it. The second pretends everything is fine. The first acknowledges the nemesis and engages with it in a way that honors your limits and strengths.

If you’re not sure which approach to use with a given nemesis, ask, “What am I unwilling to accept or acknowledge here?” The answer could be multiple things. Then again, it could be an unwillingness to call an ongoing pattern a problem. But until you claim it, you won’t be able to tame it.

So, think about your nemeses. What do they reveal about your limits? How might accepting those limits free you to not only beat your nemeses but also live your life? How might you deal with your nemeses now?


Charlie Gilkey is an author, business advisor, and podcaster who teaches people how to start finishing what matters most. Click here to get more tools that’ll help you be a productive, flourishing co-creator of a better tomorrow.

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Charlie Gilkey

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Founder of http://ProductiveFlourishing.com. Author, business strategist & coach, social philosopher, & veteran. Featured at Inc, TIME, Forbes, & Entrepreneur.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.