Could You Have Been a Contender?

Picture of marlon brando realizing he could have been a contender in his boxing career

Do you have that nagging feeling you are not living up to your full potential?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself when it comes to living up to your full potential?  10 being you’ve gone beyond your childhood dreams, 1 being you wanted to explore new worlds and go where no man has gone before, but you never managed to leave your home town.

You’ve probably got a perfectly good number.  But.  Does it drop when you see some of your peers are leading lives that are An 11?  And then do you get that nagging feeling that you could have been doing more with your life than you have been?

I get that feeling once a month when I open up the Harvard Alumni Magazine and see how my fellow classmates and alums have become billionaires, best-selling authors, and Oscar winners.

Everyone thinks they are not as successful as they should be

It used to bother me a lot more that I wasn’t keeping up with the collegiate Joneses.  Until I found out that most other alums feel the same way.  And so does everyone else.

A Psychology Today article, I Coulda Been a Contender,  by Abby Ellin,  explains that almost all of us can identify with Marlon Brando’s character in On the Waterfront. She points out that this feeling is even more acute now because of the “public blaring of the fabulousness of other people’s lives.”   In her  compelling and painfully funny piece,  Ellin describes why, “The Contender Syndrome is subtly different from envy.  It’s more a sense of not living up to the best you.”

Escape aspirational limbo  with a reality check and a good Plan B

Although it goes against everything the self-help books and Oprah say, at some point you need to do a reality check on the idea of becoming a  paid opera singer, directing a documentary featured at Sundance, or getting your investment banking position back.  So how do you know if you’re the next Susan Boyle or delusional off-key singer at a Karaoke bar?  Ask.

In the Psychology Today article, psychologist Peter Spevak describes the value of learning how others see you, “They can give real feedback about our aptitude. But we have to listen. A lot of times we have weird lenses on and we don’t see certain realities because they’re too unpleasant.”

What others say about you (you can’t sing!) shouldn’t be the only thing you take into consideration. It should, however, be one of them.

An executive recruiter I know often has to hold a Come to Jesus meeting with some unemployed investment bankers who are still holding out for the jobs they used to have with bonuses that exceeded the GNP of small countries.  She nicely, but firmly, explains that most of those jobs have gone. Forever. And the openings that remain are going to much younger, shinier applicants.  What she does offer are Plan B type positions – like being a career advisor at a top notch business school. An older, wiser financial veteran can advise the young pups what to look out for and get them connections at the firms he used to work at.

You don’t have to give up your passion

If you love finance, singing, writing – that’s fab. Use that to inform your more down to earth Plan B goals.  There are more options than penning a New York Times best-seller if you love writing. Those same people that gave you a reality check can also help you come up with some achievable alternatives.

Be inspired by others instead of negatively compare yourself to them

According to psychologist Shane Lopez, “Excellence in others expands our sense of possibility, giving us a positive surge of energy – unless we’re too wrapped up in a knot of negative self-comparison to gain that vicarious boost.”  Her suggestion is to use success stories as inspiration.  Don’t compare yourself to anyone except you. Care about your own performance, not how you measure up.

You’ve already hit Life’s Jackpot

You’re living far better than the vast majority of people who have ever lived.  Randomly pick anyone in the world and odds are they would give anything to be living your life right now.  Just look around in your own community and see how much harder many others’ lives are. Want to get some real perspective?   Volunteer at a food bank, homeless shelter, or your favorite charity this holiday season.

Mojo Moves

  • Get feedback from your Accountability Wingman and others who know you well, on your main strengths and weaknesses
  • Focus on your own performance of attainable goals instead of negatively comparing yourself to others
  • Gain some perspective and gratitude by volunteering (not just sending a check) over the holidays to help others less fortunate than yourself

What’s your contender story?  Tell it in the comments below.

Photo credit:  Movie

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Did you enjoy this post?
  • Josh Sklar

    How funny, in my Facebook info I’ve had this for the past several years:

    About You: I coulda been a contender.

  • Medicine Ball Exercises

    Useful blog website, keep me personally through searching it, I am seriously interested to find out another recommendation of it.

  • Angel Cosier

    Can you provide more information on this? cheers

  • Maria Sharapova

    You made some nice points there. I did a search on the matter and found mainly folks will agree with your blog.

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