Originally published on Bella Naija on July 1, 2016.
Ever wondered why we eat with forks and knives? Why forks go with the left hand, and knives with the right? Ever wondered who makes these random rules, why everyone lives by them, and why you almost-always predictably follow them?
Doing things different, just to stand out, is a foolish move. But on those rare occasions when we feel something deep in our gut, it’s important to stand for it. Whether we stand alone or with a crowd, we should dare to ask “WHY?” so we can understand better why things should be done the way they are.
Based on who raised us, we accept a lot of things as normal that other people may consider weird and unnecessary. We accept these things without experiencing the view from the other side and rarely stop to think that maybe, just maybe, we are wrong. Most of us are Christians or Muslims because that’s who our parents are.
The concepts of conformity and authority are intriguing. It’s funny that we come into the world–fresh, unencumbered, geniuses–but we start to be filled with our parents’ opinions, dreams, values, experiences, expectations, that by the time we become teenagers, every ounce of originality has been stamped out.
Think about this: When was the last time you made a move that made sense to only you? When was the last time you stubbornly believed in an idea, even though no one else did?
Paul Arden, the author, said, “You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You need to develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. If you think you’re unable to work for the best company in its sphere, make that your aim. If you think you’re unable to be on the cover of Time magazine, make it your business to be there. Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.”
To succeed in business and in life, there are a lot of things we have to have a complete disregard for. Here is a list of seven below:
You need a complete disregard for other people’s opinions, especially when unsolicited
Everyone always has something to say. Even people who have no clue what you’re going through or what it took you to get there. Friends, family, teachers, neighbours–will tell you how to live your life if you let them. Most times, it comes from a good place of wanting to help you succeed but no one but you knows how to live your life. If you can’t disregard their opinions on the most important decisions in your life. It would take you forever to learn to be happy or become who you want to be.
You need a complete disregard for other people’s success, it’s really none of your business
With the rise of social media and accessible internet, we are the first generation to be truly connected at every moment. Whether we’re under the covers in bed to sleep, or doing our business in the loo; we can talk to anyone anywhere in the world at the click of a button. There is so much information about friends, enemies, competitors in our hands at all times, that it takes superhuman strength not to get distracted and twisted with jealousy even when you don’t care.
It’s a self-assured person who can filter through the noise, accomplishments, and shade thrown by others to focus on herself. Anyone can sit back and watch other people living their lives.
“Oh look at Esther, she works for Google now, I wonder how she got the job. I’m a much better programmer.” – Yes, you’re a better programmer, but what are you doing with your skills?
Envy is a useful emotion because it shows you what you desire and aspire to be. Take note of what you envy, set it as your goal, and don’t stop till you get it.
You need a complete disregard for your problems, don’t let them stop you
Instead of thinking of problems as problems, think of them as hurdles you have to jump through to get to a new level. In a research-based groundbreaking talk “You and Your Research” by Dr. Richard W. Hamming in 1986, Hamming revealed that we do not need ideal circumstances to become successful or produce great work. His theory is that “…people are often most productive when working conditions are bad.”
If this is true, then Nigeria should be the best place to work from. He insists that conditions we think would make us work better might be detrimental because they make us too comfortable that we can’t innovate. Lack and discomfort is not sexy, but as biography after biography of successful men will attest, you can still produce world-class work in absolute squalor. We actually need a few problems around us to be able to think more creatively and find solutions that work.
Albert Einstein produced groundbreaking scientific when working from his dingy shack in Berlin, but failed to publish a single significant paper during his twenty-year tenure in the beautiful IAS office in the US.
You need a complete disregard for failure, it doesn’t last forever
Everyone fails at some point in their lives. Everyone. It’s what you do afterward that counts. Failure is just an experience in life that will pass, we shouldn’t give it so much power. Think back to the things you failed at in Secondary School, do you still care? Most likely not. Remember the things you failed at last year, last month, last week… Does it hurt like the day it happened? Not likely. Pain fades quickly. Regret, on the other hand–especially for things you didn’t do–that’s much harder to forget.
You need a complete disregard for your skills and limits, you’re a work-in-progress
Luckily for us, skills and talents are not fixed. No one is born a rockstar, we all have to hone our skills to become great. Having this mentality of growth is key for anyone who dreams to be bigger and better than they are currently. If a voice in your head says you cannot paint, by all means, paint and take painting classes, and that voice will be silenced.
Everyone faces impostor syndrome in the beginning of any career or skill acquisition. It’s important to remind yourself that you can and will learn and get better. Everyone is just as terrified and fakes it til they make it. The only way to become what you want to become is to start doing it. As the years pass, you’ll get better, more expert and your brand will grow.
You need complete disregard for what the majority is doing, everyone can be wrong
It’s a known fact that there is strength in numbers, United we stand, Divided we fall. But have you ever felt like you are moving in the midst of a crowd to a destination that you’re not sure of, but it’s okay anyway, because everyone can’t be wrong?
Most of us have not had an original thought since the day we got on Twitter or Facebook. When we have questions or problems to solve, before attempting to use our brains to solve it, we are on Google, Twitter or Facebook, checking for what others think. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you check to see all sides of the story and then think to make a decision. But most of us just pick the first opinion we see and stick with it. The problem-solving part of our brain is drying up from lack of use.
Remember that the loudest opinions are not always the right ones. The people who stand alone just might be correct. We should learn to disregard popular opinions and think for ourselves, especially when it’s on an important subject.
“The next time you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”– Mark Twain
You need a complete disregard for other people’s narratives about you
This is actually the most important to me. There are certain narratives that people are used to, certain stories that they use to stereotype and pigeonhole others.
For example, the African woman with a baby on her back who dutifully serves her husband, the beautiful girl in University who is also a runs girl, the young boy who drops out of school to pursue music and starts doing drugs, the writer with a tortured soul and a drinking problem.
These narratives are presumptuous and dangerous because they lead you to accept a life that might not be meant for you. Just because you’re Nigerian and a university drop-out doesn’t mean you’ll end up as a danfo driver. Just because you smoke pot, doesn’t mean you don’t have a bright future. Just because you’re a beautiful girl in a Nigerian university doesn’t mean you should become a runs girl.
This is a phenomenon called the Narrative Fallacy. Here’s a quote about it from a book called The Black Swan:
“The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
We fall victim to this fallacy every time we try and read someone’s life like a story, with a moral lesson at the end. Bill Gates didn’t become successful because he dropped out of school. Those are 2 separate events in his life. Life is chaotic, not ordered like a movie series. It’s fine if your life doesn’t fit any narratives. You can be an outlier–the African man who built a trillion dollar company by selling pure water on the streets. Anything is possible, and no narrative is true or false.
There you have it. My list of 7 things that have to be disregarded to attain true success.