A lot of self-help and personal advancement books talk about the utility of showing vulnerability in public. Hiding your flaws is counterproductive, especially for those of us whose business it is to be human above all else. There’s a problem with doing this intentionally, however, because it often comes off as making a claim to an inferiority complex.
“I’ve been a disciple of Brogan for a year,” you tell your clients. “And there’s no way I’ll ever be as good as him. But you’re still picking me, because of his strong influence on my work. A disciple is better than nothing, right?”
Do you have any idea how wrong this sounds?
I’m very familiar with inferiority. How familiar? I’m surrounded by a family of intensely well-educated people, who have staggering achievements compared to where I am now. None of them are famous, per se, but success is inextricably linked with certain measures of notoriety.
Snapshot of my family: My father is a well-respected member of the teaching community, among others, and holds two degrees. My mother is a nationally recognized fabric artist, who once upon a time taught at Red River College. My sister is one of the most intelligent people I’m ever likely to meet, and her husband is a brilliant graphic designer. My wife has forgotten more about art history and European history than you’re ever likely to learn since she got her own degree. My son knows more about physics at two than I did after High School.
What does this have to do with inferiority?
I barely graduated high school, a year late, have struggled with mental and behavioral control issues for most of my adult life, and I’ve only got seven years of work history at nearly twenty-eight. Compared to the half dozen degrees spread amongst my immediate family, I’m certainly the under achiever. But if I weren’t using this as an example, you’d never hear me mention it. Why?
Inferiority is counter-productive.
I’m a media dude. Lots of people I interact with are as well. In order to maintain and advance myself in this space, I need to not only work ten hours per day doing my paying work at Modern Earth, but also (when I’m doing it right) spend three to six hours per day tracking, tabulating, publishing, curating, communicating and cross-referencing the entire web as I find it. This means I work anywhere from ten to sixteen hours a day, on top of maintaining a family.
My business – my personal business, beyond the scope of my job – is to get famous, get respected, and back up that fame with skills far better than anyone else available at my level, no matter what my level is. That’s the shill, right there; I’m here to build my brand. Anything else amounts to telling you about my cat’s day, rather than mine.
Doing your work to the best of your ability is impossible when you’re even the least bit focused on how much better someone else might do it.
That’s the key to the difference between inferiority and vulnerability. If someone in your field is more skilled, you’re vulnerable from a business standpoint only if your prospects can afford the fees that come with the competition’s skill, success, and notoriety.
Does this make you inferior?
Consider it this way. Your competitor – the guy at the top of your vertical – can command a $10,000 per day fee. You, at your best, command $800. Are you inferior because of your fees? Not necessarily; you’re more agile. Businesses which could not possibly afford to shell out ten grand to hear your competitor speak can probably easily afford you one thousand dollar seminar fee. Plus travel expenses.
Another example? Perhaps you have a family member who was the absolute top of her game – a maverick author or publisher. But you? You’re a chef. What’s better, you’re writing a book about cooking. Are you inferior in this task to your family member? I say no, because you know your subject material – and an expert about anything can write far better of a book than a jack of all trades ever could, especially where subject matter is the key to the power of the work.
Claiming inferiority makes an assertion that there is only one kind of social currency: Skill.
Not skill at anything, but skill as a generalized measure of personal worth. This is a mistake so many people make, and yet sociologists study the concept of divergent social currency with hushed awe.
Stop worrying who’s better than you are and start working on making yourself better than you are.
Image by griffithchris.