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Our Struggles Aren’t Special

“Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me”From the TV Show “Hee-Haw”

In the last article we talked about how viewing our gifts and abilities as inordinately spectacular can be damaging. We noted that it’s not that we cannot achieve success while being “average,” but that we simply need to understand that success will more likely be achieved because of “above average” hard efforts and dedication rather than unusual innate talents. If we think too highly of ourselves, we might shirk the grunt work that would eventually lead to our success.

So today let’s talk about the opposite danger which can be just as insidious: viewing our struggles and deficits as particularly unique. We just said that thinking too much of ourselves can be a stumbling block – shouldn’t a healthy dose of humility and reality be just the fix?

Sometimes, but we can always have too much of a good thing. When could this start to become a problem for us?

In the same way that we all know a braggart who is oh-so-quick to tell us all about their successes, we also probably all know someone who seems to be constantly complaining and talking about their struggles:

  • Work stresses
  • Family responsibilities
  • Health problems
  • Coping with depression and anxiety
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Finding balance in life
  • Etc., etc., etc.

OK, those are real things. And as we scan that list, some of them probably hit pretty close to home. But realistically, none of those are even remotely unique. I can almost guarantee you that everyone reading this is going through a minimum of half of that list right now – in addition to other problems that could be (and likely are) even more difficult. They might not manifest in exactly the same way and each person might deal with them differently, but we are all coping with something. Life is hard for all of us. There isn’t much getting around it.

Look, we’re not talking about true major league problems in the above categories – very serious illnesses, family tragedies, severe clinical depression, and so forth. That’s a different ball game.

Rather what is being considered here are the challenges and obstacles that we all deal with. Not that these too aren’t difficult. But the point is that these problems are not unique, and that we ourselves have not been plagued with a lot in life that is markedly different than what virtually everyone deals with.

So what happens when we fail to realize this and start to think that we are struggling in a way that no one else can comprehend?

There are some general dangers. We can become:

  • Pretty tedious to be around. No one wants to be around a Negative Nelly who is always complaining.
  • Self-absorbed. This often happens inadvertently, but it’s only natural. If we focus unduly on ourselves – even if it is just on our own problems – we stop thinking about other people.
  • Unsuccessful people in general – be it personally, professionally, or whatever. To some degree perception is reality. The more we focus on bad things the worse our life feels (and is to us).

OK, let’s be honest and acknowledge that many other people have worse than us in at least one area of life. So just look what can happen if we don’t correct our own self-pity. If we perpetually complain about our problems then we could make some pretty tone deaf and insensitive comments to others – even unintentionally. If we are overly focused on ourselves then it can be hard to take a step back and realize that the person we are talking to is going through the very thing we are whingeing* and moaning about – except much worse.

“I’m struggling like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve gained 20 lbs., have a receding hairline, didn’t get a bonus at work, and my 100 year old great-grandma has been a little sick lately”…he said to the man who is 200 lbs. overweight, just started chemo treatments, lost his job, and whose mother died the week before.

None of us want to be like that. Being overly negative about our lives and circumstances can make us just as obnoxious as someone who brags and boasts.

Alright, so those are some ways we could be annoying in our life in general, but this is a business blog – not a self-help blog. How could this mindset hurt our business?

As always, there are many examples (with the most obvious being that you just don’t get out of bed because it feels like the world is crumbling around you). But the one that I see the most, and that is less obvious, is that negativity and self-pity can make us inflexible.


The more unique we think our business’s situation is (even in a negative sense), the less likely we are to think that anyone else can understand it. So why would we take anyone else’s advice? Why would we make any adjustments? Other people do not (and simply cannot) understand our “one-of-a-kind situation” and supremely unusual business problems. We convince ourselves that what we are doing in the business is already the best course of action. It just so happens that our situation is without any possible solution.


But that is what happens. The “walls of self-absorption” go up and good advice goes in one ear and out the other. And the issues within the business continue – which is frustrating to think about when quite possibly very easy fixes were available and being provided.

We do ourselves and our businesses a favor when we ditch that mindset. Realize that we are neither so brilliant nor so downtrodden that others cannot relate to us. Keep our eyes and ears open, carefully consider all of the advice given to us, and make adjustments when sensible.

*Whinge: A British English informal word meaning “to complain in an annoying way about something unimportant.” There, I just gave you a new word. That’s a good thing. So be happy! Stop whingeing!

Any accounting, business, or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.