“I don’t suck!”

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I feel both haunted and empowered by vulnerable comments two successful pros shared with me recently. I believe their fears are representative of far more PR people than you realize, and that we have a lot to learn when it comes to comparing ourselves to others.

Our holiday tradition around here is that the post on the Thursday before Christmas gets deeper and more “real” about life beyond media relations.

One of those startling comments came from a coaching client. She’s got a career that’d be the envy of many: her own practice that specializes in a popular subject that would be her hobby if it wasn’t her job. She is absolutely exceptional at PR, and even more exceptional as a human being. But she doesn’t know it.

She was recounting some of her client work and threw in a mention of a big win. Then she paused for a second and said:

“Most of the time I just hurry through the weeks struggling and feeling like I’m coming up short, and it’s not until I just told you that I’m like, ‘Hey, I don’t suck!’”

Her confession reminded me of another one that came a few weeks ago. It was from a successful entrepreneur, always rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers in his industry. I had done some work with him, he asked me if I’d shoot a short video testimonial for him, which I was happy to do. When I emailed him the file, his reply included this bracingly honest thank-you:

“I can’t even look at the screen listening to your words. I spent so many years thinking and believing that I was completely worthless. It still shocks me to hear what people think about me as a person, defects and all.”

If you met either of these two people in the hallway at a trade show, or in a conference room for a business meeting, you would never guess that they harbored these painful self-doubts. Their professional success should have swept away those negative thoughts by now, right?

Obviously not. And the more I dig deeper into understanding human performance, the more convinced I am that past a certain level of mastery, it’s got nothing at all to do with knowledge and results. Instead it’s all about making peace with painful emotional baggage – we’ve all got it.

Addictions, habits or vices that are inconsistent with your chosen values. Old fears you tell yourself that you’re over (but you’re not). Emotional wounds shoved deep inside and not acknowledged. Bitterness toward someone you can’t bring yourself to forgive.

In fact, my experience has shown that the more successful people become at their chosen craft, the closer these personal demons bubble to the surface. Because they’re the only thing remaining that’s holding you back!

My hope for you this holiday season is that you’ll:

– draw strength from realizing that those “secret” challenges you struggle with are actually universal

– have the courage and confidence to lean into them instead of shoving them further inside

– remember that improving your PR career is not your focus; that’s just a means to an end to get you closer to the freedom, autonomy and personal power that will allow you achieve your full potential.

Warmest wishes for the holidays and for 2018.

P.S. If you’re newer around here, here are some previous Christmas-week messages that touched on getting life’s priorities straight, not tolerating mistreatment of people, and your power to lift others when they’re down (I just re-read this last one and got boosted all over again – thanks Leon!).

This article was originally published on Dec 21, 2017.