Inner Strengths to Overcome Self-Sabotaging Behaviors
Why is it that many people, perhaps most people, are at one time or another their own worst enemy? [See the previous article, on “YOU are Your Own Worst Enemy”.] What is it that keeps most people from accepting, using, and developing their gifts of life, those qualities that make them truly human?
My answer to that is – they strive too hard to grasp those things which are commonly thought to be indicators of success—wealth, power, prestige.
I see success as being something different. I define it as doing good things with whatever abilities a person has. This means mastering and thoughtfully using one’s human capabilities for purposes that transcend oneself. I see success occurring when a person rises above the drive to obtain and feel safe and secure in material objects. The kind of success I am talking about goes beyond basking in feelings of smugness and importance from one’s accomplishments and from having secured the approval of others for having outperformed everyone else. I see success as being the living of an authentic life, courageously struggling to do the best one can with his or her natural endowments in the circumstances he or she encounters.
An unusually talented person with gifts of intellect and sharp wit may do better in terms of pay and rank than someone of only average intellect and verbal ability. Yet the latter person may actually struggle more gallantly with issues of right and wrong, be more authentic in interactions with others and more trustworthy because of it, and may come up with more creative approaches to bettering the quality of work, even if only in small ways, than their more gifted counterparts. I believe that what happens within us is more significant than what happens to us.
I believe that the key to effective performance in the workplace— and to lasting satisfaction with one’s work—lies in fully awakening, using, and developing one’s human capacities. This is particularly true in knowledge-based economies, such as ours, where people are paid to use their minds more than their backs. We also need to recognize that in every life there is to be found some ﬂaw, some weakness, some appetite, or some disabling peculiarity that lurks ready to limit or harm or even destroy the person completely. We need to face our trouble-inviting foibles honestly and then either control them or work around them, or, better yet, learn to harness and use them to higher purposes. But we must never ignore our vulnerabilities or pretend that they don’t exist.
Let’s look at the difficulties people face and struggle with—be they from circumstances in which they find themselves or from frailties within their own personalities—as they try to use and nurture their human capacities.
There are nine capacities that distinguish humans from all other life forms, nine essential elements that are uniquely human. These are the same elements that make people highly effective contributors in the workplace.
1. The capacity to create. Humans have a divine-like, inborn element in their makeup. It is the power to create. By using these creative powers, highly effective people are able to expand and perfect them.
2. The capacity to distinguish between good and evil and to choose right from wrong. We live in a world in which there exists a moral order. We make ourselves more secure, we earn the trust and respect of others, and we become more effective when we live by ethical standards, when we choose to act morally.
3. The capacity to think and to dignify one’s existence by high-quality thinking. Thinking involves the ability to reason, to make informed judgments, to see beyond the obvious, to solve problems, to figure things out for oneself. Thinking liberates an individual, giving the person the capacity to engage the world as an active being, to make informed choices, and to advance knowledge for self and others to use.
4. The capacity to expand one’s knowledge and understanding; to learn and grow intellectually and emotionally. Learning is not something one person can do for another person. It is something that a person must do for himself. The most effective people found in the workplace have the amazing ability to turn each experience into a powerful lesson, which is then used to guide thoughts and actions in the days ahead.
5. The capacity for self-understanding and self-acceptance. Each human is unique and it is important for each person to identify his or her unique interests and abilities, allowing them to inﬂuence their decisions in choosing work and doing things at work that best tap their special abilities and passions.
6. The capacity to rise above passivity, accept responsibility, and initiate action. An effective person in the workplace acts responsibly, doing what ought to be done without having to be told exactly what to do in light of unfolding circumstances.
7. The capacity to respect persons, to treat others with kindness, and to be as concerned for their well-being as much as one is for her own. A highly effective person in the workplace restrains her actions, treating others not as she might feel like treating them but as she knows she ought to treat them.
8. The capacity to see and inspect one’s behavior. The ability to control oneself is the benefit one derives from this human capacity. Without this capacity, people would be unable to live by the virtues we all admire—qualities such as punctuality, industriousness, perseverance, civility, rules of etiquette.
9. The capacity to be of service to others. Without the capacity to be in awe of powers and ideals that are greater than oneself and ideals that dignify life, humans would behave as though they were gods. They would make themselves petty-minded and would diminish and destroy themselves because of it. Having a sense of awe for things like truth, beauty, justice, goodness, God—the ideals and powers that ennoble the quality of life on our planet, inspire humans to want to serve worthy ends, which ultimately give their lives meaning and dignity.
The ideal for anyone is to become a complete person by using and developing his or her capacities to their fullest. But reaching this ideal, as we all know, is never easy. This is because we are vulnerable to the ill effects of our own inner tendencies that keep us from bringing the full possibilities of our personhood to bear on our work. In addition, outside forces and circumstances often work against us: unfairness, pettiness, misfortune, tragedy, and malice. Indeed, our world is not as generous and evenhanded in its treatment of people as we might think the Creator would want for us or that we would prefer for ourselves.
Talents and abilities are not evenly distributed among us. The circumstances that people come from are not the same. Fortune and misfortune do not, like falling snow, land on us evenly. The distribution of rewards people receive in the workplace is rarely equitable. The world of work, just like the world in general, has yet to evolve into a paradise where everyone enjoys plenty and where rewards are won through merit alone. We all know that hard work is not always appreciated. Poor performers sometimes move ahead of their more reliable and competent counterparts. Jealousy, resentment, and competitiveness make relationships difficult and nice people don’t always succeed. No, life is not fair. It is not fair in terms of our health or our endowments or our luck in being at the right place at the right time.
In our minds, success involves the character of the actions one takes, not in the tangible results they produce. The way to the kind of success we are talking about requires using one’s God-given capacities to their fullest possible extent.