My friend Rita has always wanted to become rich. She never cared about expensive cars, houses or yachts. She never wanted fame or powerful friends. In fact, she has always been happy with the minimum of possessions. The reason to get rich for her was different – she knew that if she had a lot of money then she wouldn’t need to prove herself anymore. Ever.
You see when Rita was a kid she discovered she was of a different color. Throughout her childhood her family kept moving from one place to another. If in some places color didn’t seem to differ that much from the others, then she would discover that she was still of a different origin, a different language or a different religion. A “difference” was always found – and she forever stayed an outsider, whose abilities were doubted. At least she thought so. And she always felt she had to work ten times harder to prove that she was not worse but in fact much better than anyone else in her class, even though she was “different”.
When Rita grew up she went back to her home country and suddenly discovered that her gender also made her “different” in her profession. Rita could deal with it, because in her life she had learned to work much harder to show that she was good enough, despite the anticipation of her surroundings. An act of proving herself became a part of her nature and even though it was the strongest driving force, it also became the strongest emotional strain, almost an obsession, a mission in life.
Her hard work paid off. Rita did become rich. She worked hard for it and got rewarded. She ended up outperforming everyone else around her and most importantly herself in a rage of proving she was no worse. But then a little surprise was awaiting her right there, on the top.
Most of the people did not see what she had achieved as a result of her own effort or intelligence. Neither those who stayed behind, nor those who were sharing a pedestal with her seemed to be quite convinced that she belonged where she was. And it meant she was back to point zero – proving everyone else that they were wrong.
This one and the only motivation in life occupied all her existence. Rita couldn’t feel any of her own needs, couldn’t hear any of her own thoughts and kept vigorously responding to what she saw as an endless doubt. But there was never enough.
And that one day when she felt she was very close to be ahead of everyone, Rita got sick.
Alone in bed, she paused. Surrounded by whiteness of bedsheets and smells of poorly ventilated rooms it was no one else but her alone to prove herself to. Yes, all these years, she was the only person she’d been trying to convince.
No, Rita is not a made up character and it is so easy to become just like her – ambitious, lonely, unsatisfied – and to get forever trapped in a race for acknowledgement and acceptance. In fact, I know so many “Ritas” who learned one day in their childhood that they were not good enough. Mostly a judgement was passed by parents, teachers, other kids or people who had literally nothing to do with them. The comments given by others were circumstantial and in most cases reflected fears and insecurities of those telling them, rather than any real assessment to Ritas’ abilities – but (unfortunately) many things we learn as kids stay with us forever.
When we get on a mission of proving ourselves we get lost in a jungle of assumptions. We think these assumptions towards us are coming from others, but in reality what we think others assume – we assume ourselves. We doubt ourselves, we don’t believe in ourselves, we think we are not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, not fast enough.
In search for our emotional comfort we avoid facing the toughest judge of all – ourselves – and shift the responsibility to others. We do not accept that the source of self-doubt is inside us and imagine that it is other people around who judge us and doubt us.
Rita is very close to me, because I was in her shoes too many times, getting trapped in a vicious circle of proving myself again and again. A force which often motivates you to keep moving ahead is also an incredibly tiring reality which can eventually lead to a dead end and a midlife crisis, at best. Not everyone gets into this trap, but if you do – the first step is to pause, to ask yourself questions, to observe yourself and to be honest with yourself. What is the real reason behind everything you do and put your time into? Do you keep working harder because what you do excites you or brings you closer to your personal goals, or because you just feel that it is never enough, with every new step you take in life? Do you compare yourself to others and always end up finding others better, in one way or another and blame yourself? Do you feel at peace with yourself?..
And when you find yourself chasing the unchasable, remember: the urge to prove yourself is not a goal in life, but merely a pile of dust from our early years, which hides our true needs and desires.