What If You Had Nothing to Prove?
A competitive bunch were we. In a program in which the freshman class of 100 gets slashed to 25 students by sophomore year, it’s no wonder that every one of us felt we had something to prove. We wanted to be “chosen”. To prove that we were good enough. To prove that we had the talent. To prove that we had “what it takes”.
The irony was, the more we tried to prove, the worse we were.
I remember getting notes from my theatre professors saying something that seemed so counter-intuitive. “You’re pushing. Stop working so hard,” they would write. It made no sense to me at the time. How could I prove I was serious about my craft if I didn’t show them how hard I was working? If they could just see how much I wanted this, how much I was willing to do, then I could prove to them that I was worthy. That’s what drove so many of us. The desire to prove.
It’s not surprising that actors find themselves feeling this way, (after all, there aren’t many other professions out there that require mass applause to let you that you’ve done a good job) but this need-to-prove-thing is certainly not confined to the acting profession. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met – business owners, students, young managers, stay-home-moms, attorneys, doctors, emerging leaders, senior leaders – whose primary aim is to prove themselves. Prove that they’re smart. Prove that they’re successful. Prove that they’re capable. Prove that they’re “as good as…” Prove that they’re worthy. No, the need to prove isn’t an actor-thing, it’s a human-thing.
Now some would argue that “proving” unleashes a tremendous energy. People work really hard when they’re trying to prove. People will push themselves further when they’re trying to prove. People will achieve great things, make things happen, and get lots of great stuff, when they’re trying to prove. What could possibly be wrong with that??!
Well. A lot, actually. For starters:
1. When we’re focused on “proving” our actions can be destructive
Think of the guy who’s bragging all the time. The name-droppers. The one-uppers. The one who has to be the smartest person in the room. Always. That’s proving.
Worried about “keeping up with the Jones”? Have to have the newest gadgets, the fanciest labels, drive the best car (even if it means living beyond your means)? That’s proving.
Do you measure people’s value by their credentials and have to tout yours in every conversation? That’s proving.
Do you know people who make a nice living but continue working a million hours at the expense of their relationships, to make or achieve more? Hoping that someday “more” will equal happy? That’s proving.
Do you know people who have disregarded their own values to look good or get ahead? That’s proving.
Do you hang out with people you don’t like or respect because they’re important/cool/popular/successful? That’s proving.
Do you know people who seem to agree with everyone around them but never take a stand for anything? That’s proving.
Do you do what is “expected” rather than what you dream – and then resent it? That’s proving.
Do you push yourself, your team, your kids, etc. to be perfect, even though “perfect” is a fantasy? That’s proving.
Do you take care of everyone around you at the expense of yourself? That’s proving.
To some degree, we’re all “provers”. And we pay a price.
2. When we’re focused on proving, we never feel satisfied
When we’re doing our proving-thing, it’s never enough. We can never be enough, achieve enough, feel appreciated enough. In our attempts to be validated and seen, we alienate. When proving we’re “special” we find loneliness. We are surrounded by riches but cannot see them.
3. When trying to prove, we are our own biggest roadblock to being powerful
How powerful can we really be, if we feel like we need to prove something? Because to tell ourselves that we “need to prove” is to say that we need someone else to validate our worth. Why put that someone else’s hands? The more we try to prove, the less powerful we feel.
When actors focus their attention on trying to prove, on trying to get the director’s validation, or the audience’s applause, they push. They force emotion to create an effect. They’re not sensitive to the other actors in the scene. They act badly. A great performance is one in which the actor can move beyond their concerns about what others think and have the courage to focus on powerfully igniting a moment in time and truly connect with their fellow actors on the stage.
Perhaps that’s true for all of us. When we’re trying to prove, we push. We force. We act badly.
It’s not that we’re bad. It’s that we just don’t know how good we are.
What if (go with me here) all the energy we were putting toward proving ourselves could be re-channeled? If instead, we could focus on powerfully igniting the moments in our lives – at work, at home, and in our communities – and truly connect with those around us?
What would be possible, if you had nothing to prove?
©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (originally posted October, 2013)
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!
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