It should come as no surprise that believing in oneself is a key to success. We’re all familiar with the “Famous Failures,” right? You know, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Eminem, the Beatles, Abe Lincoln and Einstein, and all they had to overcome in order to achieve success? If they had stopped believing in themselves, we wouldn’t know their names. Belief in one’s faculties can be that push we need to look the challenges in the eye and muster the courage to overcome them. I believe we have everything we need to realize our best self. It’s not the easy path.
Cynicism is a much easier way out, and there’s plenty of evidence to reinforce a negative view of ourselves. But I think all that evidence exists because of the prevalence of a negative view of humanity. The evidence doesn’t negate the truth that humanity is good, it actually confirms it as proof of what happens when we don’t believe in ourselves. Negativity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Think of the world as “good.” Not in contrast to “bad,” but as a stand-alone descriptor. And not as a prescription for how we should be, but a reality. Like the kettle is black, we are good. Literally, it’s all good. This is what the ancient Hebrew scriptures illustrated: ”God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” That same passage tells another story reproaching the use of “good” as a comparison to evil. Whether you believe in God or not, we all stand to gain by seeing ourselves as good. When we are occasionally less than good, it is an anomaly, an exception, a betrayal of who we really are—good. When we guard against seeing ourselves and the world through the knowledge of good and evil, we strengthen our immunity against the infections of suspicion, fear and envy. We are empowered to accomplish our greatness.
This is a game changer. Imagine a society that learned to see life through this lens and did so for a hundred generations. Sadly, the opposite happened. I believe we’re reaping what we’ve sown. If everyone believed our default moral condition was good, and I mean really believed it, it would change everything. It lays out before us an expectation for goodness (not a “should” but a self-evident truth). It shifts our focus off fighting our fictitious badness (an endless waste of energy), to accomplishing our highest good. This is a massive, cultural paradigm shift. Here are three tips for changing this old habit:
1) Ditch the tree of knowledge
It’s okay to acknowledge the inherent tension between good and evil, but eventually we learn that a higher good transcends its apparent competition with evil. It is a mystery, but this good prevails even when it loses, but only if we have fixed our eyes on it. These are the moments when the Famous Failures were tempted to quit. By remaining fixed on the good, they made their experience align with reality instead of the other way around. We can all see that “free will” is not an accurate depiction of the human condition. We are not entirely “free” to do everything we want. No parent ever sets out to yell at his/her children. No one ever leaves the house intending to have a fender-bender. No one ever means to get addicted. No one ever knowingly marries the wrong person. It’s clear that these mistakes are not expressions of our true selves. Sometimes, our own brain chemical imbalance makes us do base things, buts it’s not who we really are. Mistakes are things that we all would like to avoid. But they happen. Don’t waste time shaming yourself or internalizing self-hatred.
Sometimes we turn our own disappointment into anger toward the very people we just hurt! It can get ugly, which only brings more shame, which makes it even more difficult to concede. Through unflinching loyalty to our own goodness, we’re equipped to bounce back quickly, to forgive ourselves, to exercise moderation (next time), to mature, and actually benefit from the whole thing. When we distrust ourselves we digress; we may be tempted to impose more rules on ourselves (as if that’s ever worked), or join an accountability group (look outside of ourselves for strength). It’s important we remain undaunted in our belief in ourselves, especially when our goodness is not immediately apparent (i.e. have faith). Whoever said, “If your eye causes you to sin, cast it out,” lost faith in the human capacity to learn from mistakes. On the contrary, whoever said the following believed in humanity: You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. People light a lamp and put it on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house; they don’t put it under a bowl. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.
Notice that goodness is the default. The tension that evil creates is part of the overall good, not in rivalry against it. Good wins . . . when we let it.
2) Don’t apologize for being human
We didn’t ask to be here. We didn’t ask for this conflicted existence. We’re doing the best we can. We are tempted to “should” on ourselves. But life is art—everything it is what it is. It’s not subject to judgment. It is perfectly imperfect. There is no ideal person that you “should” be. Perfect love removes all fear of punishment. Step out from under all judgment. We’re not under anyone’s microscope. We’re good, we don’t need any help being good, and if we did, we’d ask. Until then, our journey is nobody’s business. This also makes us a much better friend to others. We grow in grace for others at the same rate we grow in grace for ourselves.
3) Don’t lie to yourself
Things are what they seem. Guard against creating narratives to cushion the harsh absurdity of reality. Tensions, resistance, opposition, pain, even death, are all part of this hard life. Every day, we’re either going to live to see the next one, or we’re not. Get comfortable with that. Don’t shrink back from difficulty, challenges, poverty, sickness, even death. And by all means, stop looking for (and creating) the “whys” behind life’s events. Sometimes there are obvious causes to the effects, but when there’s not, don’t create narratives that assign blame or ascribe superstitious meaning. As we mature, there is a diminishing need to tell ourselves stories that prop up our fragile joy.
In summary, when we see everything as good, and art, we are more likely to engage life more authentically and manifest who we really are.