Dropping The “Make Or Break” Mentality | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Dropping The “Make Or Break” Mentality

Here’s something that doesn’t make much logical sense.

I imagine that, at some point in your life, you worked on a task that felt really “make or break” to you.  Maybe it was a project for an important client at work, or perhaps you were a student and preparing to take a test worth a big share of your grade.  Whatever it was, your whole career seemed to depend on your success at it, and “failure was not an option.”

When Starting Is Not An Option

Have you ever noticed that these “make or break” projects are actually the ones you have the most trouble starting?  That, the more that seems to be “riding” on the outcome, the harder it is to make progress?

From a rational perspective, this is hard to understand.  You’d think we’d dive headfirst into a task we see as “mission critical.”  Isn’t that what all the motivational bestsellers tell us — that we need to “chase success as if our lives depend on it”?

But when we look at this issue from an emotional perspective, it starts to make sense.  After all, if I really believe that making a mistake in my project could “break” me or my career, that probably means I’m basing my sense of self-worth on how well I perform.

If my self-worth depends on how my work is received, of course I’m not going to start my project.  This is because, if I finish my task and present it to the world, I’ll run the risk that people will see what I’ve done as inadequate, and then I’ll have to feel inadequate.

I think this is one reason so many people seem to have a book they’ve been “meaning” to write, or a business they’ve been “planning” to start, for the last ten years.  They’re worried that, if they come out with a final product and others don’t appreciate it, they’ll stop appreciating themselves.

Being Okay With Our Non-Okayness

Now, it would be easy for me to say that “the solution is to be okay with yourself no matter what.”  But as I think you know, that’s not so easy in practice.  Building up our basic sense of “okayness,” in my experience, takes work, and there’s no “30-day miracle cure.”

One practice I’ve found simple and effective, though, is to watch carefully for moments when you’re basing your sense of self-worth on the results you get in your work.  When you notice yourself thinking this way, just acknowledge what’s going on, without trying to change it.  Simply admit to yourself:  “I’m worrying that, if people don’t approve of my work, I won’t approve of myself.”

When I do this, I often feel the sense of heaviness in my body dropping away, and find myself chuckling out loud.  When I look directly at the painful story I’m telling myself, rather than trying to push it aside or pretend it isn’t there, the light of my awareness tends to burn it away, like the sun burning off the clouds.

On a practical level, when I let go of the sense that a project can “make or break me,” and see it more as a chance to play and experiment, I find concentrating and finishing my work so much easier.

6 thoughts on
Dropping The “Make Or Break” Mentality

  1. Sandra / Always Well Within


    I appreciate the simple wisdom you offer in this article. It’s not easy to separate our sense of self worth from our activity. The simple act of awareness that you present is the perfect way to start making a gradual break between the two and to lighten up in the process. Perfect!

  2. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I must say if I’m starting something involved – then I need my slate to be clean, or nearly so … so that any intrusions actually don’t swamp me .. and I can carry on with my project.

    Finally I’ve reached that point and am actually going to get going with something I’ve been longing to do for a couple of years .. learning loads, and seeing where the doors open and lead me to … lots of ideas ..

    I’ve had a full plate recently with my uncle, and continuing with my mother, house and flat move and general unsettlement .. that lot needed sorting .. so though my plate is still full at least I can bring in other things and move on – finally!

    I feel cheerful and carefree – almost .. cheers for now .. Hilary

  3. Evelyn Lim

    I enjoyed this article very much. The fear of being rejected have kept me back several times. I would become paralyzed. But once I decided to take the perspective that everything is a work-in-progress and that I need to get started, the fear just dropped away. I visualized seeing the completion of my project rather than spent time focusing on my fear and concerns.

  4. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sandra — I like that way of putting it — realizing the distinction between who we are and what we do — that’s wisdom I could definitely benefit from remembering nearly every moment of my day.

  5. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I could definitely feel your curiosity and excitement when you talked about starting something you’ve been meaning to do for a while, and I’m glad to hear you’ve been feeling cheerful about the direction you’re going in.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — I liked what you said about everything being a work in progress — it sounds like a refreshing mentality, because it allows us to let go of the notion that we have to be perfect or fully evolved or enlightened before we can start in on a project we want to do.

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