In Ireland, we have a concept known as ‘notions’. By a notion, we aren’t simply referring to the early onset of an idea. Instead, it is often used to put down someone else. Saying that someone has ‘notions’ is a way of saying that they think something more highly of themselves than is true in actuality.
The idea that you are better than your ‘station’ in life is not supported where I come from. We hold modesty and humility to a high standard here. That is the justification for it. You should never think more of yourself than you are. ‘Always play yourself down’ we are told and avoid showing how great you are to others.
Most of the role models and success stories downplay themselves and that endears them to the country. Confidence and arrogance are often confused and we are firmly shown what our limitations are.
Now, we could go in depth into the psychology behind this. Is it some form of cultural insecurity that has developed out of the cynical experience of being occupied by a foreign power for so long? But that is a question for another time. Instead, what I’m interested in is how you rise up in an environment which wants you to stay at your level.
For instance, in order to pursue your dreams… to start a business, to become an actor or musician, to rise up in your organisation to the very top, to be the best in your industry… you must first of all believe that it is possible that you can, in fact, succeed. This means you must by definition have ‘notions’ about yourself. You must believe that you are or at least have the potential to be good enough to reach the top.
So, how do you reconcile this with the world around you? The trick is to understand that you can turn notions into dreams by being as honest as possible with others about it. Sticking to reason makes it impossible for them to have a problem with it. For example, if you want to start a business, you can explain that you are aware of the 90% failure rate of start-ups in the first five years of business… but explain that you love the idea and really want to give yourself a chance knowing full well that you may not succeed.
You see the reason that people sometimes resist your success is because they don’t want to feel less than you. If you let them see that you don’t see yourself as better than them but that you are going for it because you want to rather than any other reason, it means you are driven by your dreams rather than your notions. You are focused on what you want to achieve rather than why you can succeed.
Most of the research out there suggests that mastery comes from hours and hours of hard work and practice. By suggesting that your success comes from that too, it makes it hard for anyone to feel insecure around you in the same way because you are playing into the narrative it is not who you are but what you do. This might not always be true but people like the idea of it being true. It also maintains the value of modesty and humility as it is not about any attributes just action.
So, go after your dreams with one thing in mind. The only people who will have a problem with it will be those who compare themselves with you. If you can show that you’re working hard to do whatever might be possible then maybe they too can see an example that inspires them. Maybe their notions can turn into dreams as well.
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