Being the Underdog and Other Martyr Related Musings

I posted this on my personal blog MyThreeSheep, but think it has a lot of relevance in the consulting world, especially for those of us who have our own business or dream of starting one so I decided to post something more personal today.

Hey, that sounds like my luck
I get the short end of it
Oh I love to be
I love to be the underdog

-Imagine Dragons

I spend significant time thinking about why things don’t always go the way I would like them to. In particular, I look at my career and the passion I have and wonder, “why won’t more people hire me?” I get frustrated competing against bigger companies or against competitors with a longer track history, i.e. they’ve been in business longer than I have been. Some of them just have better personal relationships with clients than I have; maybe they worked at the same company at one time or they share personal non-work time together. Whatever the case, it’s frustrating to so desperately want people to recognize you and what you provide, but they don’t seem to see you as a viable competitor or at least as having what it takes to place number one on a project selection. There have been a lot of second places in the past year or so and, as they say, there’s often no reward for second place because second place just isn’t good enough. This is not a lesson we seem to be teaching our children in our current society. It’s a harsh reality. But there is so much to be learned about ourselves when we don’t finish first. It is when we strive and try and fall just short of our goals that we really have to dig deep. It’s also a moment we can reflect and realize our successes and be proud of how close we’ve come. Not winning doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Failure comes when we give up and stop trying to improve ourselves. We must realize who we have become in the journey. It refines us, it shapes us, it improves us. If you really look at it through the lens of hope you can embrace the struggle.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” -C.S. Lewis from the movie Shadowlands

I love a good story. My favorites are the ones where everything has gone wrong for someone and everyone has turned their back on the protagonist. It’s that martyr moment when everyone turns away that we really find out what we are made of. How often do we have those moments when we want to crawl into our hole and hide from the rest of the world or we just want to drop our desires and passions because we feel like we’ll never have the things we hope for? We should all be grateful for the gift of hope, that small seed inside of us that never dies no matter what we are facing. The quote I shared is one that has stuck with me since I first heard it watching the movie Shadowlands, the story of the life of C.S. Lewis. It specifically is talking about loving and losing someone, but it is so much more profound than that. It explains every part of the human experience. Why do I keep striving in the face of rejection? Why do I keep suffering, keep hoping, keep going? Because not only is the quote something that is past tense, i.e. it’s better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all, but it’s also future tense; the joy and happiness we feel when things are right, when we win, when life is all we had hoped for, is made better by the experience of the pain we’ve gone through in getting to that point. If you are simply given everything you want, how will you ever appreciate it?

As I sit here today watching the snow fall outside my home office window, listening to some music on iTunes, I’m reminded of something about myself that keeps me going every day. I like being the underdog. I like to be underestimated. In some ways I like to be taken for granted. I like having the opportunity to show everyone what I’m made of. Overcoming obstacles and challenges makes for such a better story than, “I started a company and, from day one, I was successful. Everyone loved me, wanted to work with me, and I made lots of money.” Honestly, I have a hard time believing that story even exists and if it does, would that be something any of us would find compelling? Nobody makes movies called “Successful From Day One.” Whether we’re kids or adults we like stories like A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Star Wars or Harry Potter. We want to see the main character prevail, but what makes it compelling is the struggle. And so I say I enjoy my role as the underdog. It challenges me to be better, to “train” harder, to try to out think my competition. Maybe I’ll win and maybe I won’t. But when I do, there is great satisfaction in having overcome the odds. Wouldn’t you rather have a life that, if written in words, would be an interesting read? So would I.