When speaking to crowds or individual clients, it’s the first thing I talk about, and often the last as well. It’s at the heart of anyone and everyone’s ability to create and sustain true, monumental change in their lives and careers. It is so very simple, yet incredibly difficult for far too many people. If done correctly, it is magic.
It is “No B.S. B.S.”
What on earth am I talking about?
No Bull$***, Brutal Self-Examination.
AKA: Being brutally honest with yourself.
It’s a simple concept, or at least so it seems. But in reality, it is a monumental hang-up for most people, and I would dare to say ALL people at some time in their lives. As human beings, we just can’t help but struggle to be completely honest with ourselves.
This near-compulsory impulse to B.S. ourselves has, at one time or another, hampered almost every living person’s ability to succeed, improve, progress, reinvent, excel, fulfill, achieve, etc. It is an ugly cancer that rots the foundation of our ability to realize our maximum potential, yet so few actually recognize the power it has over them, and even fewer master the skill set needed to escape its disruptive grip.
Consider the most basic of examples that applies to far too many of us, myself included: the age-old battle to lose weight. For quite some time now I have been aware that I need to drop more than just a few pounds. My family history is highly-susceptible to heart disease, and I have found out that I am no exception. Plus, I know that I would feel better, have more energy, and certainly be more attractive to my knock-out of a wife if I would slim down. Yet I can whip up a laundry list of reasons why poor-old me has struggled to drop the lbs., including that I work too much, am under a lot of stress, have to spend hours upon hours in front of the computer, have only a few minutes to grab something quick to eat each day, etc. All those things may be true, but the reality is that the TRUE reason I am overweight is simple: I consume too many calories from the wrong kinds of foods, and don’t shake my butt enough to make those calories go away.
Notice that I said the other factors—the stressful, long hours, the lack of time, the sedentary lifestyle—are all likely true. And most of those external factors are either mostly or completely out of my control, at least for right now. But the most important thing to recognize is that they are, in fact, external factors that are out of my control. The factors that are in my control, on the other hand, are the fact that I often eat crappy and too much, and don’t exercise enough. Period. I can come up with a million reasons why the universe has conspired against me to produce a reality that makes it far too difficult to eat healthy and exercise. But at the end of the day, I am still left with a bucket full of excuses, and a closet full of pants that I can’t wear anymore.
Consider another example: I spent way too many years working as a disgruntled associate attorney, jumping from one law firm to the next in search of an employer who would finally pay what I thought I was owed, appreciate my talents, or just “treat me right”. While I never got fired, I was perpetually unhappy and searching for the next big thing. One day, during a long conversation with a great friend—who also happens to be a PhD and clinical psychologist, and just really, really smart—I laid out my list of former employers who had “wronged me so badly”. He listened patiently, and then basically told me to stop being a baby, and start figuring out what I was doing wrong to get myself into this position.
Wait a minute! Hadn’t he heard anything I had said? Did he not understand just how profoundly I had been wronged? How dare he not pity me?
His response was essentially to say, “Who cares about what those people did or didn’t do to you? Could you control how they treated you?”
Me: “Well, no.”
Really smart PhD friend: “Then what good does it do to worry about it then? Those things are in the past; they’re just speed bumps on your journey.” Then he added, “But now you have a story to tell that can help others. Go figure out how to tell it.”
This led me to discover one of the most powerful lessons life has to offer: If you’re going to insist on blaming your situation on someone, then blame it on yourself, because that’s the only option that can ever be productive.
Even if I could make the greatest case in the world for just how bad my former employers were (it turns out that they really weren’t), I gain absolutely nothing by doing so. But if I humble myself and ask the difficult questions that nobody likes to ask—such as why was it that my former employers didn’t value me enough to bend over backwards to make me happy—then I become truly powerful.
So, how did this change things for me?
Once I stopped looking for someone to blame and started looking at myself, I realized that I had been focused on the wrong things for many years. I had been beating my head against the wall trying to make my employers happy enough that they would “do the right thing” and recognize my hard work (i.e., pay me). What my pride didn’t let me recognize was that this was what nearly every other attorney was doing as well, so while my hard work was commendable, my value to the firm was just status quo.
What I should have been doing, and in fact did start to do, was building my own brand and expertise in the community such that my value proposition to the market was independent of the firm I worked for. To be clear, I’m not talking about taking cases on the side, or doing anything else underhanded or disloyal to your employer. I’m talking about actively projecting yourself to the market as an authority in your practice area, such that people want to come to you to solve their pains. There is absolutely nothing unethical about doing that. In fact, assuming your employer is willing to recognize your value and work with you, they will benefit exponentially more by your having done so. At the same time, doing so builds leverage for you when it is time to ask for something from your employer, such as a raise. And if your employer still doesn’t recognize your value, you simply leverage that into a new position elsewhere, or go out on your own.
But all of this, and every other venture in self-improvement for that matter, begins with your ability to stop “B.S.ing” yourself, and to be brutally honest about what YOU are or aren’t doing that has brought you to where you are today. It’s a painful, developed skill that must be cultivated and requires tons of work. Trust me, I know. But it has the power to pay massive dividends that can be life-changing.