Do You Feel the Need to Be Impressive?
Photo courtesy of Brad.K.

Do You Feel the Need to Be Impressive?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Confidence

Hi, my name’s Neil Hughes and, because I’m human, I want you to be impressed by me.

This is normal. We are social animals, so it’s natural to be concerned about our status within the tribe. Am I important? What will people think when they meet me?

As ever, there’s both a healthy mindset and an unhealthy mindset for impressiveness:

Unhealthy: If I don’t have a massive list of incredible achievements, I am next-to-nothing.

Healthy: Simply working on my passions and having fun as I explore my potential is impressive enough.

When we’re in the unhealthy mindset, it’s easy to discount the idea of simply enjoying our own potential as “cold comfort for losers”… but it’s actually true that we don’t need incredible achievements to be impressive. Think about the times when you’ve been impressed by others. Were they all world leaders? Famous inventors? The best in their field?

No, of course not. We are naturally impressed when people are comfortable in their own skin and live up to their potential, whatever that means for them.

But it’s not easy to remain in this healthy mindset. Plenty of things can get in the way…

Multipotentialites Can be Especially Scary

Hi, I’m a multipotentialite, and I speak eleventy languages, have published whompteen books, and only stop working on my multiple businesses when it’s time to master metalwork. Or whatever else I feel like mastering that day. Before breakfast.

Multipods can be intimidating! It’s easy to feel that we don’t measure up and that we aren’t as impressive. And these thoughts of inferiority can take the shine away from our own achievements.

I was really happy when I wrote that blog post people liked, but then I saw someone get a thousand retweets and now I’m convinced that I suck.

Our achievements are not lessened by the achievements of others. Winning an amateur football trophy isn’t meaningless just because it’s not the World Cup.

Remember: We Don’t Need to Impress Anyone

When we’re at our strongest, we multipods explore our passions because we want to. Others may not understand why we want to learn to read Old English, or to paint using watercolours, or to grow tropical plants. We know why, and that’s all that matters.

It’s not about other people. Sure, part of our motivation may be to help or entertain others, but it’s still our motivation. It’s not a hollow desire to impress, but a solid core of our own desire to create something for another.

Instead, when we start doing things purely to impress others, we undermine our fundamental strength. We risk poisoning the joy by switching our motivation from “this seems cool” to “others might think I am cool if I do it,” losing sight of our personal growth and enjoyment. Demotivation and lack of joy can soon follow.

The solution is to remind ourselves of what we truly want, and to go for it. If anyone else is impressed (and they will be!) then that’s a bonus.

But, hold on… My status-obsessed-primate-brain is objecting again. What about when we encounter somebody who is undeniably doing better than we are? Someone who is simply a better writer, or businessperson, or linguist? In practice, it’s hard to avoid feeling inferior when this happens. So how do we deal with this?

We Decide What Success is

For each of our interests, we get to choose what it means to “win.” Perhaps we won’t be satisfied until we’ve mastered it. That’s fine. Or perhaps we’ll be happy after grasping the basics. That’s also fine.

I taught myself guitar a few years ago. I suck at it. Really. I’m not just saying that. With a guitar, I am offensive to both music and the physics of soundwaves. I can nearly play a few chords. Badly.

But I’m happy with that. I got as far as I wanted to, and learned about chord structure, which massively improved my ability to play other instruments (on which I am not quite an offence to all that is good in the world).

Success is what we choose it to be. The only way to fail is to forget that we set the victory conditions, and to falsely believe that we need to impress others to win.

This liberates us, allowing us to both be contented with our achievements and to enjoy the experience of improving. (If you enjoy clichés, you can insert your own paragraph about “journey not destination” here.)

Although… there is one final objection. What if our victory condition truly is “I must be impressively good at this?” Are we cursed with unhappiness in that case?

Our Mental Models of Talent are Skewed

The most visible people in every niche are usually the most successful/skilful. This means that our mental model of others in our niche(s) is waaaaay skewed in favour of people who are more successful than average.

According to Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow), our brains use something called the availability heuristic to make judgements. Our minds take shortcuts by creating a mental model based on the first few examples that come to mind when we think of a specific thing.

For example, if we think of “a tennis player,” we think of people such as Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, but we forget the many (many!) more tennis players who are less talented and who play in their local park instead of at Wimbledon.

If we met every tennis player in the world, we would have a much more accurate picture of where we stand. But we can’t do that, so our brain takes shortcuts and compares us to the most obvious examples – usually the very best! This makes us feel disproportionately bad about our own abilities.

And it applies in every niche we’re involved in, including the multipotentialite community. In reality, we’re probably more impressive than we realise…

… but that doesn’t matter. If we make impressing ourselves our goal, we will find it much easier to be happier and successful. And, ironically, others will be more impressed by us too.*

* But that’s not the point.

Neil Hughes hopes you liked this blogpost, and thereby validate his existence.

Your Turn

Do you feel the need to be impressive? Do you put more pressure on yourself to achieve because of your multipotentiality?

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

43 Comments

  1. Nela Dunato says:

    Oh hell, I do feel the need to be impressive. It’s part perfectionism and residue of the times past when I was “buying” my parents affection with good grades, and the comparison they’ve imposed on me.

    Since I’m pursuing multiple interests, I will never be the best designer I know, nor the best artist I know, nor the best writer I know, nor the best teacher… And I’m slowly coming to terms with that. It’s not easy. I don’t like it! But trying to be the best at everything is impossible. So I am what I am.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I think this sounds like the ideal attitude, Nela. Striving to improve ourselves while accepting whatever that means :) Totally know the feeling of buying affection though – it’s so easy to get into that habit.

    • Melissa says:

      I too have “bought” affections with my accomplishments or my ability to be competent. It is a tough thing to maintain and an even harder thing to break out of.

    • Philippa says:

      I loved this reply, Nela – totally sums up how I feel.

  2. Consider your post *liked*, Neil! You are validated. (And impressive!)

  3. Albert says:

    If anything I strive for the Pareto 80/20 principle, in that I get better-than-average to almost master in something, then leave it once I realize the rest of it becomes tedious and will take more time that I am willing to “master” it.

    Many things I would say I am at least better than many of my peers, but they would be experts at each of their main fields of interest. I have enough knowledge to keep up, but not any to outshine their expert fields.

    Not saying that I have tried everything, there are more to learn out there in the world. Being a multipotentialite we are curious creatures, and whatever muse flies our direction and distracts us sufficiently enough, we stick. Some for a while, and some for but a fleeting moment.

    IN the end, I would say our impressive skill is our ability to learn, stay focused, and in the end apply not only what we learned but how we learned to another field or subject matter.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yes, that minimal effort to get decent at something is such a multipotentialite trait :D

      Definitely agree… it’s that continual curiosity which drives us :)

  4. Christina Stoudt says:

    Lol this article is funny. It’s true. We all struggle with that… and as a multipotentialite it definitely feels harder. Everyone measures their success based on their long term achievements-they stuck with something for 4+ years and graduated, turned it into a career, are “the best” at what they do… because they’ve put so much time into it. But I say success is about living a happy, healthy life true to yourself. If others want that, awesome! But this past year has taught me to let go of the need to impress people… it wasn’t getting me anywhere anyway lol I kept having an inner to if war of whether or not to do things. Was I doing it for myself or for others? Like you said, it’s good to help people but it’s not healthy to give until you can’t give anymore. Here needs to be a balance. Thanks for this post!!

  5. Terri says:

    “Success is what we choose it to be.” That’s getting posted to my bathroom mirror.

  6. Keith Kehrer says:

    Well maybe this is desperation talking a little but I think my landlord gets to decide what in impressive is at least in regards to my fiscal responsibilities.

    Having a band month

    KK

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ah, that’s very true, Keith… there are some things we have to manage – food, shelter, etc. But beyond that, it’s important to be in charge of our own definition of success. I suppose I should have mentioned the hierarchy of needs in this post.

      Hope you’re well and that you manage to sufficiently impress your landlord with plenty left over.

  7. Gabi says:

    How about this one … ;)

    And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with the fresh delight of experiences lived.”
    — Brandon Sanderson (The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1))

    I’m aiming for as much “fresh delight” of my experiences.

    I’m always surprised when someone says I’m their role model or how impressed they are with my whatever. It does feel good though and occasionally I look for that approval, then feel horrible about my vanity.

    @Nela Dunato, I’m learning it is a primal thing, needing the approval of those who birthed us. Finding a way to let go of that is something I haven’t figured out, let me know if you do.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ah I love Brandon Sanderson :D Great quote too!

      I think it’s okay to enjoy somebody being impressed by us… it’s when we NEED it that we put our happiness in the hands of others.

  8. Melissa says:

    I have struggled with this same thing for pretty much my whole life.

    It seems that every time I decide to take up an interest (typically after the usual lengthy indecisiveness period) one of my friends also decides to do the same thing but better, faster, or more epic than I could ever manage. I instantly become disheartened and loose interest in the activity. I then feel guilty for feeling narcissistic or possessive about that activity. Then I start trying to find something new to get excited about and the cycle begins again. I had this very thing happen last week when another multipotentialite friend I have who has recently started soapmaking began posting all of her creations on FB and everyone in our circle raved about them and couldn’t wait to try her wares.

    It’s not easy sometimes to just decide to do things because you enjoy them. I find it easier with things such as learning about “insert topic here” but not so much with activities that produce a physical product or is more of an artistic endeavor such as dance or fine arts.I have a huge guilty pleasure to be seen as unique and accomplished as I relish the ability to “perform” well for others.

    I am glad others feel the same way that I do and that this feeling is not just me. I think the “Success is what we choose it to be” will be a very helpful mantra for me. I may have to put it on my mirror too just like @Terri says.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ah! I wasn’t thinking about people ‘muscling in’ on our territory but that’s totally a contributing factor to this too. I guess when we remember that we define our own territory we realise that nobody else CAN muscle in. It’s definitely not just you, though.

      It’s thrilling that “success is what we choose it to be” is resonating with so many people. Maybe I should write it on MY mirror too – it’s so easy to forget.

  9. Sandrine says:

    Hi Neil,

    Thank you for such a great article. I am always astounded at the timing and serendipity of life. The Universe always sends me the right articles at exactly the right time. So, I really needed to read something like this and it is helping me re-focus on the meaning of MY success!

    Thanks,
    Sandrine.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yay, that’s wonderful Sandrine. I hope you’re remembering it again today – you define YOUR success!

  10. Zion says:

    Definitely something I struggle with. Spent over 10 years being in a rock band as my “day job” and it is very easy to accept it as fact when people spend their time applauding you and calling you a “legend”. I never strived to be impressive because, when I told people what I did, being in a band was often the trump card.

    However, since coming to the conclusion that I no longer enjoyed it – and having entered into many other pursuits like film-making, book writing, business starting – I have been left bewildered and very, very confused. Didn’t help that I turned 40 during all of this.

    I have spent the last two years scratching my head, wondering what the hell it is I do. Or want to do. More recently, I have gone from zero to learning all about the stock market and investing. Where the hell did that come from? But whenever I thought about totally committing to any one thing, a cold shiver came over me.. “Yeah, but what about when I want to do that instead”.

    Finding out about Multipods and sussing that I must be one of them was a real weight off my mind. Extraordinarily liberating. Who knew? Of course, I am left with the residue of impressiveness, wondering why people no longer bow at my feet and linger on my every word. And why they don’t yell “That’s fkn awesome!” when I tell them I spent an afternoon researching some share prices. It’s a hard comedown; a long fall from grace but my quest to be happy will override the desire to be impressive.

    Great article. Ta.

  11. MJ says:

    Soooooo needed to hear this! Thank you for taking the time to address the issue. I thin this is definitely where I am. This also applies to being a beginner at something. Its sooooooo easy to give up because you see how faaaarrrrr you have to go that you stop based on sheer overhwhelm. But defining what you success is to you is a very good way to not freak completely out and give up altogether.

    Thank you again….and yes you are impressive :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, I was kidding about the validation (but it never hurts, so thank you ;) )

      It makes me happy to hear it resonated. I’m loving that this article came at the right time for some people to hear this – I need reminding myself from time-to-time too… it’s so easy to fall into this trap!

  12. Kristen says:

    I’ve struggled for years (all my adult life) with worrying about what other people think of my profession (or seeming lack thereof at times). Putting too much weight on fitting in and impressing others has led to several decisions that were not in my best interest. Appreciate the post!!!

  13. Sasha says:

    Neil,

    I think we need to define our own success, even if our definition of success follows convention. One thing I have found as a multipod is that I like to be a “serial master” and flip between industries. I do go after some of the conventional “trappings” of success because it makes me happier than not pursuing it.

    It’s important not to expect the rest of the world to conform to our definitions, whether it’s conventional or unconventional. As long as you’re defining what success is and it makes you happy, go for it.

  14. Isabelle says:

    Hi Neil!

    Thank you for this great article, full of mantras!!!!

    I just want to share that a few days ago I read this sentence “Prends confiance en toi, car tu es importante” which translate approximately into “Be confident in yourself, because your are important.”. And reading this really touched me.
    I feel my unhealthy need to impress that still gets his way too often comes from a lack of self esteem…. so reading “you are important” as a statement, with absolutely no condition, was mind (and heart) blowing.

    I hope it could help other people, to know that they are important. They just are. By definition.

    Thanks again!
    Isabelle

  15. Ema says:

    Albert, you are my twin!

  16. Christina says:

    Dear Neil,

    Thank you very month for this. It’s something I’ve been struggling with since the “path” I thought my life was on shifted dramatically. To define success differently and make choices based on happiness are such important concepts to really internalize.

    I hope that I will be able to do so with the intelligence and grace that you have. Consider me impressed.

  17. Kaci says:

    I really, really needed this! I have spent almost 20 years in the unimpressive field of child rearing and housekeeping, and now that my kids are more independent I find myself with chronic fatigue due to invisible illnesses, so there goes my chance to pursue an impressive life. I often feel worthless for never having had a career. Never mind that in my adult life I learned to paint and draw, quilt, bead ornaments, dance competitively, coach cheerleading and gymnastics, direct a flute choir, lead worship services, edit manuscripts, design brochures, cut music, and write articles. I’m sure there are more things I’m forgetting. But because I rarely got paid I felt like those things didn’t count. I need to define success differently. In money I may be poor but in experience I am rich, and in the end isn’t that what defines a life well lived? Thank you for the perspective, Neil!

    • Marie Mayes says:

      Just brilliant. Having chosen to be a stay at home mum myself (old fashioned family values) I too felt “worthless” when I told people I worked part time in a supermarket. I too flit from project to project whenever the mood takes me, becoming fairly adept until I get bored. I currenly sing with both a choral society and a barbershop group simply for the contrast. I’ve been an avid gardener, clothesmaker, knitter, have run and danced competitively, played the piano and guitar, performed on stage, done stage management, nurse training, office work……I could go on. Yet I spend half my time trying to be a hero and doing far more than my fair share. Its true that it’s built into us to strive to be the best from an early age, and its sometimes soul destroying when you aren’t physically capable. Well done for this article (and for all the brave responses to it). We rock.

      • Neil Hughes says:

        So true! I’m glad you two shared this – I’m sure there are many more out there in the exact same boat too :)

  18. Nitsan says:

    I think that the need to impress is one of the major drawbacks of being a multi. I know that if I gave all my attention and ambition to one field, I would get impressive results but I get bored and move to something else before I get exceptional. So instead of becoming a specialist as a veterinarian, I chose to work part time and Pursue my photography hobbie, and then moved on to film making etc. sounds impressive, right? But not when I compare myself to people my age who went to film school and been doing it since. And these are the people I tend to compare myself to and get disappointed.

  19. Nikki says:

    An interesting article. I don’t think I want to appear successful to people as such, and even if I were successful by my own definition it wouldn’t fit my friends or family’s world view (money, fame, recognition), but I do strive to do things that matter to someone, particularly if that something is typically viewed by others (I .e writing a book that will be published/in the public eye).

    I thought I wasn’t doing well at writing a book, but (as I use Scrivener) once I’d added up the words I’d written so far it was over 20,000!

    I also began learning Spanish and lots of people have asked why and I don’t have a solid reason – because I want to and its a nice-sounding language? I also learn things super-fast (don’t we all? ;)) so thought why not?

    I often find my successful ideals are stymied by my own self doubt – based on what I think others determine success as. An example is a few weeks ago someone asked me if my dream goal was to have my name and book up there in the best sellers list. Well, actually, no. That’s not success to me.

    If I can make something matter for someone, that’s enough. To make a difference. I think too many of us don’t realise the difference we make to others, the potential we have to impact a life. I don’t think success has any part in that.

    • Sandra Ehlers says:

      “If I can make something matter for someone, that’s enough. To make a difference. I think too many of us don’t realise the difference we make to others, the potential we have to impact a life. I don’t think success has any part in that.”

      Beautifully said!
      We do impact each other all the time. The simplest things can be inspiring and even potentially life altering to the people we connect with (hopefully in a good way). Remembering that helps not only to make everyday situations more meaningful, but helps alleviate that urge for recognition. I’ve been there too, but there came a point for me where doing good for the right reasons turned out more intrinsically rewarding than any amount of “likes”.

  20. Margie says:

    I have a need to feel appreciated and acknowledged, especially if I’ve done a lot of hard work at a job.

    I need to feel self-impressed. Not outward but inward. Does that make sense?

  21. Marine says:

    Hi Neil and hi everybody !

    this blogpost comes at the right time for me !
    I’m actually having this feeling for most of my new projects :
    for instance, I want to impress my husband by making my new (multipotential) website, because he is kindly laughing at me – “you don’t really know about coding, etc… it is going to take you years !”
    Grrrrr ! He’ll see what i will do !

    So I think you are right when you say that being impressive is part of our motivation. And when the aim is achieved, we are soooo proud !

    But it can be a risk. “What if it becomes far too difficult ? I will look and feel stupid”.

    The ideal is, as you say, to remain ourselves, and perhaps a bit more modest…

    • Katy says:

      Yeah! You go for it! I studied computer science for my degree. It doesn’t take years to learn to do the kind of coding you want to do. It might take a while to learn some of the fancier tricks and some coding languages (like C++) can be very complex to learn, but you can be up and running with simpler coding very quickly. If you spend time designing well, you’ll have less bugs to fix. Enjoy!

  22. Kate says:

    >Neil Hughes hopes you liked this blogpost,
    – Yes, I did. I liked this post. In fact, I like everything I read on this site. I’ve RSSed Emilie’s blog and I learn a lil’ something with every post.

    Because you asked. Nicely.

    >and thereby validate his existence.
    – You exist! Yaay or wot?!

    My good deed of the day: Check!

    Oh! Oh! I can earn brownie posts with this, too:

    >He would like it if you found him at http://www.walkingoncustard.com
    – Now before you go thinking how incredibly nice I am, I’m not going to tailor my comments for each of your two sites. Copy + Paste, thank you very much.

    By the by, I did not find an About page on your site, so this goes as a Comment on your latest post:

    >http://www.walkingoncustard.com/is-it-too-late-for-me/
    – Appropriate, me thinks. Puttylike is one of the sites I’ve been meaning to, um, for a *cough* while, execute my good deed of the day. Is it too late for me? He…ck to the no!

    >Do you feel the need to be impressive?
    – Pfft, all the time in public! Not in a flashy, full-of-myself way. I hope. I’m confident, comfortable, and um, cantankerous with my choices. I’m also quick to admit my inabilities and inefficiency with whatever it may be. Love to watch people’s expressions when I self-deprecate! *grin*

    >Do you put more pressure on yourself to achieve because of your multipotentiality?
    – I’m not a multipod. While I don’t stress myself out trying to achieve something, I’d like to think I set goals for myself with a realistic path and timeline.

    Enjoy walking on custard, Neil! Why not kick it up a notch sometime with a sprinkling of cinnamon dust or a split vanilla pod. Hey, give crushed cardamom seeds a go, too!

    Kate

  23. jen says:

    This article hits me right on the spot. Seems like your actually reading what is inside my mind and this article was your response. We live in a world where we feel the need to be accepted and feel validated where in fact the only opinion that matters in our quest for greatness is our own.

  24. Katy says:

    Having reached middle age and burnt out twice in my life – both times when I was doing something perceived by society to be very successful but that eventually my heart wasn’t in any more – I have been thinking a lot lately about what success is. Because I find I can achieve a good-to-better than average standard in just about anything I try, it is often the talents that people comment on if they are talking positively about me. But quietly, I have often deemed ‘success’ on a personal level to be someone who has a kind heart and generous nature. Sometimes I would like to be judged on those traits rather than what I can do. Therein lies an issue of our culture I think. Only once in my life, did I bump into someone I knew from years ago whose first question was not “What are you doing?”, but “Are you happy?”

  25. Katy says:

    I have recently started painting again, something I have wanted to develop for a very long time and extend on a natural ability. I am quite conscious now of the duel process going on about external approval and internal satisfaction with my progress. What I have been trying to do is to really enjoy the whole process rather than being daunted by my ‘availability heuristic’, I know that it is likely impossible to paint like Monet or Dali, regardless of how much practice I do. I excitedly show my friends my learner paintings and I do enjoy their ‘approval’ – it externally validates my personal judgement that the paintings are ‘good enough’, if not very good for the level I am at. I watched some other students in the class struggle with not being like a famous artist and feel dejected. I could really see how unhelpful this was. I would (as usual) put in a good effort while enjoying the beauty of it all, the delicious colours, the feel of the paint, the instinctive brush marks and finish with something that *I* deemed successful, that I was satisfied with. The external cooing over my painting fed my ego – I could feel it, but my inner satisfaction was the bedrock.

  26. As a social animal, we always look for our reputation no matter whether it is our family, office or other outside world. Well, I always try to improve my skill and capability to make a strong presence in this world. I believe this is the only way we I make an impact and get the status that I always want to get.

  27. Lianna says:

    Dear Neil,

    Thank you so much for writing this, and articulating one of my ongoing struggles! What a chore and bore it is to constantly worry whether or not I’m good enough/big enough/best enough, and what a relief it is to start thinking “This is fun and cool and I’m awesome!”

    That mindset does free us up to actually do some interesting work in the world, and have fun doing it, and enjoy the rest of our lives too.