The comic strip character Pogo once parodied a U.S. Navy Commodore’s message by saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
That sentiment aptly sums up many of the challenges I’ve wrestled with over the years. It seems, I’ve often been my own worse enemy. And that’s been especially true when it came to getting the help I need to pursue my dreams and aspirations—to unleash what God intends for me. For most of my adult life I lived, and often still do, with a debilitating sense of inadequacy. I am not enough. (I didn’t know it at the time, but here’s why that’s good news.)
I had a fixed mindset and a fixed mindset can’t embrace inadequacy as a starting point to get better. I needed to prove something: that I had what it takes. The only way to be really sure was to do it alone. I rarely sought advice. Not for my career. Not for my finances. And certainly not for my marriage when we struggled. My fixed mindset became a warden over a self-imposed isolation.
Looking back on it, I see four forces (at least) that were at work; and still are. Like the classical elements—earth, wind, fire and air—these forces are ever present and, left unchecked, can quickly send me back into solitary confinement.
- The force of self-protection (earth). This force keeps me in hiding. I don’t want to be vulnerable with others. I prefer to have them see only the good stuff. It keeps me from admitting mistakes, seeking help when I need it, and being honest with others (and myself) about how I’m really doing. Brene’ Brown observed, “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.” I think she’s right. Self-protection is “earth” for in its caves I take refuge from the world.
- The force of pride (wind). Pride is self-protection on steroids. It masquerades as confidence and needs to play the role of hero. Pride has to go it alone. It says “I got this,” even if I’m saying it only to myself. Pride is “wind” for it draws attention to itself in a mighty fury but lacks any substance to grasp.
- The force of preoccupation (fire). Preoccupation’s only focus is self. Unlike the previous two forces, it reaches out for help. Like fire, however, it consumes everything in its path. It has an insatiable appetite for the generosity of others but rarely gives of itself. Preoccupation turns me, with my persistent needs, into a high-maintenance person, repelling rather than attracting the help I need.
- The force of apathy (water). Water always flows to the path of least resistance. Likewise, apathy has me taking shortcuts, or expecting them. It keeps me in a state of demandingness, believing things should come more easily than they do. It convinces me that I’m taking a break when I’m really wasting time. Apathy wants others to push my rope.
These forces aren’t just in play in my life. I suspect you’ll find them at work in your life as well. Collectively, they keep us from the help we need to fully live out our mission on earth. The next time you meet this enemy introduce yourself, then invite a friend to help.
What other forces have you seen keeping you from getting the help you need?