I had a lovely chat with our friend Chip Conley, founder of Modern Elder Academy, which will drop on the AGEIST podcast next week. We’ve known each other for some time and are not afraid to ask each other questions that go below the surface. One of the things Chip asked me was what had most surprised me in my journey of building AGEIST. The most surprising thing is that I learned I am not the person I thought I was. How could it be that at 60, I discovered this whole other skill that not only didn’t I think I had, it was something I had actively avoided as I believed myself deficient and incapable.
We All Have Around 3 Self-Delusions
I was once told by a mental health professional that all people harbor around 3 fundamental delusions about themselves. For almost my entire life, I had believed that not only was I not a writer, but that I had some sort of handicap that prevented me from writing. I was last in my 3rd-grade spelling class, so it must be true. Right. Then four years ago I was forced by our publishing schedule to write a short article. It took me a pain-filled three days to do it. But I did it. The last English or writing class I took was in the 10th grade. I designed my college education specifically so that I could avoid this problem area.
The reality now is, although I still don’t regard myself as a writer — I have this illustrious career as a photographer, don’t you know? — not only do I write a great deal for AGEIST, there are now major brands in the world for whom I am paid to do copywriting. That is crazy to me. At the same time, in 4 years, no one has asked me to do for money a skill set that I thought I was great at — photography.
I still regard my photography skill set as a solid B+. I’ll never be Avedon or Newton, but if one does anything for 50 years, one gets good at it. My fundamental delusion was that it was all I could possibly be good at. It was my single gift. I had some sort of self-diagnosed disability that prevented me from writing. I could learn to express myself with words — it was hard, but it was not impossible.
You may or may not agree with the critique of my writing skills. I’m ok if you feel I will never write with panache. I am no Andrew Tuck or Adam Gopnik, and I’m never going to be. Those people are seriously great writers. What I would like you to take from this is that there is almost certainly something that you believe about yourself that is 100% wrong.
Surprise Yourself With What You Can Do
We are only limited by our imaginations of what we can do. Your imagination is limited. This is not a personal attack from me on you, it is what the psychologist told me: we all hold three fundamental delusions about ourselves, and although you may still believe you can become an astronaut, chances are your misbeliefs are of the negative self-limiting variety.
What is the solution? Just say yes. If you are asked to do something, anything, just say yes. You may think you can’t do it, or maybe it will be uncomfortable, or god forbid someone may laugh at you. Screw it. Just say yes. The only way we discover that our self-beliefs are false is to run right up to them and give it a go. Think about it: What’s the worst that can happen vs what the life-changing upside could be? That singular thing you are most avoiding may actually be the thing you are best at.