Flights to insecurity

We all have insecurities. These insecurities come from wounds at formative times. But, the question remains – are we going to live from a place of wholeness or from our wounds? This isn’t a choice that’s given to us. It is a choice that is earned. To live from wholeness, we need to be able to acknowledge these wounds and choose otherwise. However, even when we do choose to live from wholeness, we will have the occasional flights to insecurity. And, I’d like to make the case that we ought to welcome them.

The other word for wholeness, of course, is confidence. But, confidence is often misunderstood. Seth Godin had a great post a few months ago about widespread confusion around confidence and strength. He called out that we often take loudness, brusqueness, bullying and external unflappability for strength. I clearly remember a time in my life when I have behaved that way. But, I’ve since learnt that real strength lies in the courage to be vulnerable.

And, therein lies the challenge with living from a place of wholeness. We need to be able to summon the courage everyday to care, to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable. Furthermore, it requires us to embrace an approach based entirely on our ability to learn and grow. For, there is no love and care without learning and growth.

Now, even when we do that, every once a while, we’ll find our confidence and wholeness tested. This isn’t just about the times when we get tough feedback about our style. All it might require is a casual question from someone around us that reminds us of our wounds. It’ll be tempting to think nothing of it and move on.

However, I’d urge you (and me) to take a moment, pause and reflect. It isn’t easy to live from wholeness 100% of the time. Every once a while, we drift into living from our wounds. We get ahead of ourselves and lose ourselves. It is only natural. And, these flights to insecurity are gifts – moments that help us save ourselves from ourselves. After we do that, we might conclude that most things are fine and that we have nothing to worry about. But, the chances are that the reflection will prompt some action that will help us massage a few corners that we unknowingly hurt with our edges.

Flights to insecurity are a beautiful thing. They might make us question our wholeness for a little while. But, understanding our wounds and being comfortable spending time with them every once a while is the price we pay to earn our wholeness. And, it is from these questions that thoughtfulness, love and learning emerge.

And, thoughtfulness, love and learning are what we need to make this journey meaningful, to make it count.

The most powerful force on earth

A few years back, I argued spiritedly with a wiser friend about the most powerful force on earth. I believed it was love and he believed it was fear. In the years that have passed, I have come to totally agree with him. If anything, I am tempted to get more specific and say that the most powerful force on earth is the fear of failure.

The power and ubiquity of this emotion never ceases to amaze me. It shows itself in literally every aspect of our lives –

– At home, we see it with parents who put enormous pressure on their children, with parents who always need to be right, and with parents who refuse to share their own failures with their kids. As a consequence, we see kids grow up with similar traits and insecurities – they constantly worry about whether their projects will work, they feel the need to seek approval for every decision they make, and they shy away from responsibility for the outcomes of the decision. And, we see both parents and children abhor risk and steer clear of projects that might not work.

– At work, we see it in colleagues who refuse to share credit, who bully each other and display passive aggressiveness, who would rather see someone else’s project fail than take up responsibility for a project themselves, who would rather criticize than cheer, who would rather play the politics rather than play on merit, who maximize a short term gain, and who refuse to worry about the collective and the cause. Work becomes about self preservation – “networking” with the right people, staying clear of projects that are risky, and attempting to latch onto projects that are going well so they get a share of the credit.

– In society, we see the fear of failure in community leaders and politicians who refuse to accept anything but the status quo, who fear everything they don’t understand, who fall prey to lobbyists and bribes also keen to preserve the status quo, who wage wars and seek to divide on the pretext of religion, creed, nationality, and color, and who refuse to let anyone outside their circle access to privilege.

I am convinced that the very worst in human nature has everything to do with the fear of failure. When I put together a 2×2 on how insecurity and self awareness drive behavior, I realize I made a mistake.

Fear of failure pervades the insecurity zone. With increasing self awareness, we just become aware of the fear of failure – aware enough to hopefully do something about it. With increasing self awareness, we will perhaps realize that our fears are just irrational, that we ought to exist for causes bigger than self preservation, that we do make the world better when we put ourselves out there, try, and fail.

Self awareness is our only hope..

How self awareness and security drive behavior

Below is a 2 x 2 that describes how self awareness and security drive behavior. This isn’t a well researched graph. Instead, it is one that I’ve put together from observing myself and other people.

Before we dive in, I’d like to quickly describe the axes –

X Axis: Self awareness – Oblivious stands for an inability to be self aware.
Y Axis: Security – Secure doesn’t mean the person has no insecurities. Secure just means that, on average, the person is a lot more driven by security than insecurity. Every one of us have our insecurities but some choose not to be driven by them. Another possibility here is that, sometimes, environment plays a role in increasing the insecurity level.

Self awareness and security 2x2

I can’t say I am happy with every data point I’ve described on the graph. I recognize the ones I have experienced well. I have also not marked many interesting points in the middle which is probably where we spend most of our time. However, I think this should work for all practical purposes. Over to the takeaways –

1. Aggressive behavior always arises from insecurity. Vulnerability can only rise from confidence. The causes of these two behaviors are often swapped. Vulnerability, the ability to ask for for help, the ability to be kind, etc., can only come from a place of worthiness.

2. I find it very helpful to think of my behavior within a particular situation on this chart and understand what drives it. For example, I was on a call yesterday when I started out behaving aggressive. The call was a first-of-a-kind discussion in my experience with 10 people via Google Hangout on a topic that would have really benefited from a face-to-face meeting. I had no idea if we’d even be able to facilitate such a discussion via a video call with it’s lags and disconnection. 5 minutes into the call, once I began to realize that there was no need to worry and that I should really calm down, I began to settle. Soon, I was back to normal behavior.

3. My idea of normal behavior has changed a lot over the years. From my limited experience, it is easier to move right before you move upwards. We can all work harder on our self awareness by setting aside more time for reflection and taking stock. It begins there. Insecurities are a harder beast to tackle. They are often so deep rooted that it takes a fair bit of self awareness to even realize that is the case.

4. I’ve deliberately stayed away from the concept of “ego.” I’ve observed large egos when you feel insecure and manageable egos among the more secure folk. That said, I am always left with the feeling that there’s more to that word. So, I’ll come back to it when I feel I’ve understood it enough – maybe 4 years from now. :)

This graph is a culmination of observations over the last 4 years or so and is the first time I’ve been able to put these thoughts and ideas into a frame. These ideas have had a lot of influence in making me a happier and more secure person. And, if there is anything I have learnt, it is that we can all benefit from self reflection. Positive change almost always begins there.