How to Overcome Every Next-Level-Challenge in Your Life

It’s Not Everyone Else’s Fault that You’re Stuck

You’ve got big goals? Congratulations. Now stop patting yourself on the back and get to work because you’re in for the fight of your life.

There’s a fine line between entitlement and self-confidence. Many don’t know the difference. As a result, they’re stuck, cluelessly mired in mediocrity while those who have sniffed out such toxic mindsets leave them in their wake.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a competitive world out there that’s chock-full of talented, motivated, and well-funded people. They are better than you. They are just as hard-working as you. And they have more money than you.

Over their dead body are you guaranteed anything.

Wanna quit?

Some do.

The entitled do.

The Failed Novelist

A recent sidebar in The Guardian entitled “The Failed Novelist, is a great example of how an entitlement mindset can derail you.

The piece is a first-person account of a writer who quit her writing dream because her first two manuscripts were not picked up by a publisher. In the world of fiction writing, two rejected manuscripts is not failure, it’s called just getting started.

Unless you’re entitled.

Unless you believe that if you have ability and work hard, all your wildest dreams will come true…pretty quickly.

That’s what The Failed Novelist thought.

My biggest mistake? Thinking it was my destiny. After all, I’d written stories since I could hold a pencil, won every creative writing prize at school, then, as an adult, short story competitions. I joined writers groups, honed my craft, completed a great manuscript. I found an agent, finally. He was reputable and confident, and initially there was a flurry of interest from publishers. How could I fail?

What this writer doesn’t understand is that she hasn’t failed. She just isn’t good enough yet. Only, the competition has become stiffer, demanding she stretch and struggle and grow. And that’s something entitled people don’t like to hear.

A Great Place to Tap Out

If you’re not going after goals and dreams much bigger than you, skip this next section…check that, skip the rest of the article and go back to working on that thing that comes easily to you.

But for those tortured ones of us who can’t shake the desire to do something bigger than us — something that creates change, something that recognizes us as one of the top in our field, and yes, something that increases our tax bracket, hear this.

Achieving big goals requires overcoming a series of increasingly difficult levels of challenge. Each demanding more mental strength than you currently have. Each demanding more skill than you currently have. Each demanding more resources than you currently have.

Each next-level-challenge is an opportunity grow up or tap out.

That’s exactly what this author was facing.

Unfortunately, she tapped out.

It’s impossible to know whether she has the chops to ultimately become a successful, published author. It’s a steep hill to climb. Just like some athletes who star in college, yet can’t crack the starting lineup on the professional level.

What I do know, however, is that it’s way too early to tell. She has some ability and work ethic, as her early achievements and completion of two manuscripts show. But winning a short story competition and telling a story that thousands of strangers pay money to read are not the same thing. Not by a long shot.

The latter demands another level of ability.

One she doesn’t have. Not yet anyway.

Crisis of Confidence

So, why did she quit so soon? Why not cry her tears, vent her spleen, then start on manuscript number three?

Carol Dweck, in Mindset, tells us why.

From the point of view of the fixed mindset, effort is only for the people with deficiencies…But if your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies — if you’re considered a genius, a talent, or a natural — then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you.

Entitled people consider themselves geniuses in the sense that things come more easily to them than it does to mere mortals. They’re special.

Sure, they know they have to work hard to get better, but the idea that their divine touch might not be enough to take them to the promised land is just too bitter a pill to swallow. Insulting even.

It was for prodigy violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

She made her violin debut at the age of ten with the Philadelphia Orchestra. That’s good. Was she as good as she would ever need to be, however?

Not hardly.

When she arrived at Julliard, the great violin teacher Dorothy DeLay discovered that the girl’s prodigious ability was belied by multiple bad habits. Her fingerings and bowings were awkward and she held her violin in the wrong position. Spurning the advice of her world-renowned teacher, she refused to change.

To her, it was inconceivable that there existed a next-level-challenge so difficult that it would require of her more than merely summoning her natural ability.

She was entitled.

And she was wrong.

When students started catching up and even surpassing her, she had that inevitable crisis of confidence.

Salerno-Sonnenberg says:

“I was used to success, to the prodigy label in newspapers, and now I felt like a failure.”

“Everything I was going through boiled down to fear. Fear of trying and failing…If you go to an audition and don’t really try, if you’re not really prepared, if you didn’t work as hard as you could have and you don’t win, you have an excuse…Nothing is harder than saying ‘I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough’.”

Yes, it is hard to realize that you might never be as good as you thought.

So hard that it makes you want to quit.

To realize in your later years that you actually might not be as good as you’ve been led to believe, is a devastating day in life of the entitled.

I know from experience.

My Guarantee of Success

Like most firstborn children, I grew up thinking I was king of the hill. Also, from an early age, I was given leadership positions in the organization my father led. This caused me to grow accustomed to people looking up to me. 
Although I’m grateful for these opportunities and the positive reinforcement from my authority figures, these conditions had an unintended negative effect on how I went about realizing my goals. 
Unknowingly, I crossed the line from self-confidence to entitlement. 
Here’s the way I drew it up in my mind. 
By such and such age, I will be leading X amount of people. By such and such age I will be making X amount of money. By such and such an age the world will be my oyster. So on and so forth. 
In my mind — in light of my obvious natural ability — success, influence, and achievement were an inevitability. 
It hadn’t occurred to me that my dreams were much bigger than I. It never occurred to me to think, “If I’m going to have any shot at reaching my goals, by such and such age I will need to have developed X skill. By such and such age I will need to have developed X relationships. By such and such age I will need to have gathered X resources.”
Why would I think that way? I’m good enough. It will come to me. 
And when, in my late thirties, the world broke the news to me that I wasn’t as good as I thought…well, it didn’t go over so well.

Dysfunctional Responses of the Entitled

Much like The Failed Novelist, I began to blame others for my lack of success. 
I would say things like:
- I didn’t get the breaks
- I wasn’t born with a silver spoon
- I didn’t win the genetic lottery
Another personal favorite was self-loathing:
- I’m a failure
- I’ve let myself and my family down
- I just can’t do anything right
- I’m too old to start over
In some twisted way, I expected these dysfunctional responses to give me what I wanted. It’s as if, at any moment, like a surprise birthday party, the universe was going to walk around the corner with my birthday cake aglow. “Awwww, see. Success was there all the time, just playing a little prank by showing up a tad later than you imagined.”

Bury Elvis

I heard someone say once, “Elvis is dead. Deal with it.” 
The day I got better was the day I laid the King to rest. Things changed the moment I threw the sod over my entitled illusions of success and owned up to the fact that this was no practical joke, there was no surprise party. I just wasn’t good enough. Plain and simple. 
The scariest thing about letting go of entitlement isn’t realizing you’re not good enough; it’s realizing that even though you may try your hardest, you might never be. 
Even for child prodigies.

The Risk of Trying

Due to some tough love from her teacher, our precocious violinist decided to risk trying her hardest, even in the face of it perhaps not being good enough. 
Dweck writes:
She finally decided that trying and failing — an honest failure- was better than the course she had been on, and so she began training with DeLay for an upcoming competition. For the first time she went all out, and, by the way, won. 
Now she says, “This is something I know for a fact: You have to work hardest for the things you love most. And when it’s music you love, you’re in for the fight of your life.”

If that’s true for child prodigies, how much more is it for you and me and The Failed Novelist
So fight. Do the work. Try your hardest. Put forth every effort to meet your next-level-challenge. 
Even then, it’s possible that after having giving all the blood, sweat, and tears you have to offer, you’ll come up short anyway. But maybe…just maybe you’ll take home the gold. 
It’s a risk. 
But one thing is certain, you’ll never know what you might have become until you try.
And that’s a risk I’ve just got to take. 
How about you?

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