The Pitfalls of Trying to be Anyone But Yourself

We want success.

We want to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. We don’t want to “recreate the wheel.” We want help from those who have solved the particular circumstance we find ourselves in, so we seek guidance and read a blog post or take a course, maybe even solicit a mentor.

Not because we want to cut corners or cheat the system, but because we want to do great work, help the world, and create a life we love.

We Want To Be Successful.

But in the act of implementing helpful tips, tools, systems we learned from another, we can find ourselves setting unrealistic personal expectations, worshiping this person -- or that person -- in an idealized way. It is even possible for self-hatred can slip in without our knowledge.  

What starts as an attempt to empower one’s self toward personal strength, growth and knowledge becomes the slow demise of personal confidence. Over time, this can erode our confidence enough, that one is left feeling disempowered, lost, and even helpless.

Can The Very Act Of Looking To Others For Help Become Your Personal Cancer?

When I interviewed Ryan Holiday about his latest book, Ego is the Enemy, he shared his personal story about the pitfalls of looking too closely to others as role models. We were discussing a video based on his book when he said,

“I was experiencing a lot of success but also deeply sort of unhappy with it. It was just sort of what happens when you want to be like someone and then you realize one day you don’t want to be anything like them.

I think on top of that, if you had mentors in your life you’ll often hear this, like, “Oh, they see something of themselves in me,” and so it’s sort of a wake-up call where you realize, “Oh wait, I don’t want whatever they see in me to be true. I don’t want to end up like these people.” It’s just a big wake-up call for me that coincided with a lot of the research that I was doing for the book. It’s sort of my rock bottom moment is where the book basically begins.”

Ryan’s Role Models Were Not What He Had Originally Thought.

We want to be “like” someone else. Or someone sees something in us “like” them. From there the striving to live someone else’s reality begins, but when we take our first step in the direction of someone’s journey, we don’t stop to ask for the full story.

What Is The Cost To You When You Try To Be Anyone But Yourself?

And what price did the person you are role modeling your life after pay to be where they are? How many years of failure did they face before success? What cost did it take on their health, relationships, and personal well-being? And, most importantly, are you similar enough to this person to imitate anything they suggest?

Perhaps, they are nothing like you in their constitution, temperament, or dreams.

I Am The First Person To Leverage Other’s Skillsets.

I co-founded a multi-million dollar business and sold it to a billion dollar publicly traded company and I attribute much of my success to my ability to leverage others. I am hungry to succeed and if I see a model or a person that has what I want, I always say, “Why not go for it?”

It’s not the act of learning from other’s failures that cause the problem. It’s also not a problem to avoid obstacles by imitating the successes of others. The problem comes when the person you place in the role of mentor or as a voice of inspiration becomes an object of your admiration, a finely crafted, idealized version that does not exist. You exchange the real person who has undoubtedly real problems and real challenges, with some kind of image.

Ryan Had A Bunch Of Mentors That He Modeled Himself After, But He Lost Track Of Or Never Knew The Whole Person.

“I mean, it’s like you look at an Instagram feed. You don’t take pictures of things that are unappealing, but you have to remember what happens between the photographs.”

One day, he woke up having a panic attack that landed him in the hospital because the mentors, the people he modeled his life after, may have been successful, but their success did not come without a cost, something that Ryan had not thought to consider.

The Pitfalls of Trying to Be Anyone Other Than Yourself.

Pitfall #1

Someone else has it “figured out.”

Someone may have “it” figured out,  but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. They have figured out: time management, relationships, kids, health, sleep needs, financial constraints, and goals. They may have it figured out for them, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

You have to take what they say with a grain of salt. Pull out the nuggets that make sense to you and make it your own. For example, you don’t have to jog at 5 AM to be successful. I have never exercised at 5 AM and I have had a lot of success. I do exercise. But not at 5 AM!  

Know thyself.

Pitfall #2 

Success Comes Without a Cost.

You may admire someone for the money they made or the shape they are in, but you don’t know the cost to their relationships, health -- or worse  -- happiness. Many successful people are really, really unhappy. Unless your mentor is really honest or self-reflective enough to have told you, you probably don’t have access to the whole story.

They may be lying and having an affair, bankrupt, miserable, and you just don’t have all the information. Rich people are not happier people. They have more stuff: cars, houses, nice soft sweaters, but pleasure and happiness are not the same.

Do you know the costs that person has paid? Are you ready to pay that price? Ask your mentor or write to your favorite blogger about what the personal cost has been. Know thyself.

Pitfall #3 

Everyone is the Same

My father is a world-famous physician. He went to college at 15 and finished in 3 years. We are not all the same. He works 6 days a week and he is 80 years old. Be honest. Are you that person? Finding a mentor that has a completely different constitution -- some people are regimented others are more creative -- is a huge mistake. Know thyself.

Pitfall #4

Trying to Live Someone Else’s Dream

The person you aspire to be may have a dream, a purpose that they have committed to that isn’t the same as yours. Try not to live someone else’s dream. You will fail. They are motivated because they have a personal purpose and dream that drives them.

You may be motivated to get the outcome or the result of their dream, be it money, fame, or freedoms. But, it rarely works to have enough personal motivation for an outcome that someone else dreamed up. So you will fail.

At the very least, if you succeed living someone else’s dream, you will be really stressed and overwhelmed -- a lot.  Motivation from purpose creates contentment. Motivation from the outcome of a purpose does not.

Find Your Own Dream And Set Up Your Life To Live That Dream.

An artist’s needs are way different from a business leader's. An entrepreneur's life is different from an athlete. And, the individual purpose that motivates each human being, behind the archetype varies. Know thyself.  

Pitfall #5

Confidence Will Come Through Imitation

We want to have success and much of that success comes from confidence. When we really believe that someone else has it figured out and we don't, we lose our voice. Daily focus on a life built by another takes us away from our own truth. External awareness strengthens and internal awareness weakens.

Some erroneously believe that with enough attempts at imitating that other person -- or imitating what we think they are doing to gain success, that we too, can live their dream.

Imitation, or mirroring someone else frequently enough, results in the loss of self. 

Without focusing internally and building up our self, we lose connection to our deeper self and with that goes our confidence. The very thing we wanted more of is sacrificed without our awareness. Know thyself.

Avoid Losing Your Self And Live Your Dream.

Do you have a mentor? Do you consume podcasts, blogs, self-help books in the name of self-improvement, but secretly you have begun to lose your confidence? I have done it. It feels impossible not to. In the same moment that I appreciate someone else’s website, podcast, or blog post, I begin to think about my own shortcomings, if I’m not mindful.

The solution is to stop simplifying life into a narrow one-size-fits-all solution to success.

Be happy for the person who has what you want, but stop short of actually believing they have it all. Stop yourself short -- now -- of literally imitating their life.

Begin To Imagine Your Own Personal Dream.

Start creating systems that work for you based loosely on the ideas you have appreciated in others. Start being happy for the successes of those around you, respect how hard they worked to get there, and how much they might have given up. Figure out what you are really willing to sacrifice and what you are not willing to sacrifice and decide what you really want out of your life.

I try to live my dream as much as I can. In the case of my family life, I pick up my son every day from school. I have done it every day for 7 years. I will not do anything that interferes with that goal. With this choice, I have lost a lot of money and opportunity that some may not understand.

But, This Is My Dream.  

I work hard every day and never cram at the last minute for anything. My inbox is always at 0 and I plan each week to the exact detail because I love having a plan.

I check off each thing I get done because I have decided to do it this way -- and I like it. If I finish everything, I go home. I try to work out. I don't do it enough for my real physical needs, but that is a work in progress.

That's part of my dream… What is yours?

*Originally from interview with Ryan Holiday