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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Buyer

#96: Self-Confidence


Arguably the most critical piece of my identity is predicated on my ‘play hard, work harder’ mentality, which is a silly version of the catch phrase “work hard, play hard.” Cringe as it is, having this on a custom, pink neon sign next to my computer is one way that I remind myself of my identity. I don’t expect to be the most intelligent or the most athletic person, and I understand that I’m far from it. Knowing that I’m not any of these things gives me something to work towards. I fully expect myself to give it my all, in the most sustainable way. That’s where the “play hard” is relevant. If I see someone else who might embody this silly phrase more effectively than me, it means I’m leaving something on the table, and that I can do better. 

I’m convinced that in most cases, the person who tells you how hard they’re working isn’t working that hard. If the person were, they would show you rather than convincing you. I’m well aware that writing this post is taking away from actually ‘working hard.’ It’s also important that number of hours worked doesn’t equate to productivity or ‘hard work.’ I’d always rather minimize hours worked so that I can maximize productivity: If I can accomplish a task in three hours of intense focus, but instead spend five hours at my desk of less intense focus, I’m not working as well as I should be. Working hard includes working smart – something I can improve on. 

When executed properly, this strategy enables steady state flow, both at work and in my personal life. If I’m entirely focused when I’m working, I’ll have time to enjoy the gym and time with friends. No matter how strong your focus muscle, there’s only so many hours in a day that the brain can hyper-focus in this way, and over-exertion one day leads to decreased capacity until the brain has a chance to recover. According to Deep Work by Cal Newport, the maximum amount of time is 4 hours for the trained brain. If I’m confident that I’m optimizing for steady state flow, there’s plenty of research to back me up on not second guessing myself. Why am I second guessing myself? 

I’m second guessing myself as I learn about the routines of someone who, I’m convinced, is outperforming me at work. Our work has no overlap, so thankfully, I can retain plausible deniability. I struggle to comprehend how this person manages to [enjoy] work more than me and find time for the gym and reading many of the books that I should’ve already read. This may be a funny way of giving credit where credit is due, but I recognize that it’s absolutely due. I’m impressed. Independently, I want to understand if this is an indication that I’m leaving something on the table, a lapse in confidence, or both.  

My goals are self-improvement focused, although that may initially seem counter-intuitive to my overarching goal of pushing boundaries of the ‘human experience.’ The keyword here in explaining why I shouldn’t invest all effort into a research breakthrough or a heavier deadlift, for example, is that I’m after the human ‘experience.’ In order to maximize overall growth, I want to ensure that I make progress across areas of life that enable me to push the boundary – socially, mentally and physically. I firmly believe that proactively caring for my body now will lead to increased productivity in the short-term and set myself up for more years of productivity. I also recognize and value the importance of human connection. The better that I can balance between work and connecting with others, the more I learn and apply the learning to my own life.

Each person has a unique set of goals. I’m not supposed to compare myself to others, but apparently, I still have some insecurity to work through in order to stop that. No matter how competitive I am, I need to remind myself that competition should only be a ‘finite game’ rather than part of the ‘infinite game’ of life, or I’ll drive myself crazy. Besides, as I learn more, I’m discovering that although we share similar values, we have different goals, which necessitate different routines. He prioritizes speed. I prioritize longevity. The most difficult thing is to accept that someone is more career-focused and has achieved faster growth than me, regardless of goals. I’m beginning to accept that I’m 80% career focused, but some people will be 100%. I can use this to challenge myself to continue to maximize productivity, while recognizing that I’m happy with my goals.

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