“He only sleeps for four hours a night.”
“He gets up at five o’clock every morning.”
“He doesn’t sleep during the week at all, maybe an hour here and there.”
We’ve all heard these phrases being reverentially used about some high-performing chief executive, politician or celebrity. These men (for they are almost always of the male persuasion) who are held up as examples to us all also possess a variety of other almost superhuman qualities. They are “one-page men”. They do not suffer fools lightly. They always call it like it is. They are ruthless. Dynamic. Energetic. They don’t take No for an answer. They are laser focused. Often, paradoxically, they are described as “regular guys”.
To me these people sound horrendous, and yet we are constantly told by the media, self-help gurus, business coaches and their ilk to be more like these Übermensch. Us ordinary folk are just not up to scratch. We sleep too much, laze about too much, have far too much work-life balance, spend far too much time with our families. In short, we have lives – messy, irregular, angular, slobby, sticky-outy, poky lives. These executives, these high performers, these over-achieving yuppies – what do they have?
I’ll tell you: great careers, the adulation of their followers and shed-loads of money in the bank.
We are told these days that there is an anxiety epidemic. Innumerable people tossing and turning in their beds, losing sleep (quite literally) over not being up to life. Not only are we getting the message from social and conventional media that we should be more like the four-hours-a-night men, but in work we are constantly urged to have a “growth mentality”, to engage in “continuous improvement”, to “be better”. What are all these buzz-words and initiatives but a way of telling us that we are not quite up to the job, that we can always do more, be more, give more? That we fall short. No wonder those of us who work in continuous improvement environments are on edge quite a bit of the time.
Most of us do not have the make-up, be that physical or mental, to be Übermensch. We are, genuinely, regular guys and gals. Furthermore, I don’t think most of us have the ambition or desire to be one of these exemplars. I, for one, certainly don’t. We’re not slobs, with our horizons set on leading average lives. Our ideal is not limited to having a nice couch to loll on while we chow down on Uber Eats and consume reality show after reality show. Some of us are reaching for the stars in our personal and work lives, but in a quiet, steady, unobtrusive way. Some of us want to be the best version of ourselves that we possibly can – but we don’t want to get there by aping the four-hours-a-night men or rowing in behind the army of self-help and -improvement gurus.
So, how do we push back against the ever-present pressure to be over achievers? I think the solution is to focus on the self and what you really want for yourself. Don’t take what the gurus in the self-improvement industry proclaim as gospel. Don’t attempt to ape the four-hours-a-night men and don’t listen to their cheerleaders in the media. Be kind to yourself. You’re not a robot or a machine. You’re not a buggy operating system in need of an upgrade or a patch. You are you, you are human. You’ll never be perfect. Take the good bits and build on these. Try to chip away at the failings, or learn to accept them. As the song by Jerry Fish and the Mud Bug Club goes: “Be yourself, mistakes and all”.