Eric Karjaluoto

Stop Acting Like A Loser

Imagine you’re hiking through a treacherous mountain pass, and the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worse. You’re stuck, and the situation is becoming worrisome. Your two guides propose differing means of extricating the group from danger. Both are experienced, but one wavers when he presents his recommendation, whereas the other speaks with absolute confidence. Which one do you follow?

My bet is that you’d choose the more confident of the two. Although the other’s plan might be equally valid, most will trust their gut—particularly when under duress. Your gut is typically unaffected by notions of investigation, logic, or evidence. Instead your gut sways to whichever option feels less risky. This same bias towards assuredness impacts our lives more than you might realize.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend. He’s a writer whose work you’ve probably read—and he’s good. Due to a run of bad luck, though, he hasn’t landed much paying work in a while. As a result, he’s beat up, burnt out, and acting like a loser. Note my choice of words: he isn’t a loser; he’s acting like a loser. He’s a talented and knowledgeable individual who’d be an asset to anyone who hired him, but he’s allowing his situation to overshadow these capabilities.

Many allow their circumstances to outweigh their skills and talents. This tendency is easy to give in to: A project goes wrong and you take the setback personally; sales are slow and you start to think your company is broken; you’re rejected for a date and wonder if there’s something intrinsically wrong with you.

Many have experienced these fears, but the way you react to such obstacles is what informs the kind of life you’ll lead. Most times you’ll see a setback for what it probably is: one negative response, a glitch, an opportunity that wasn’t meant to be. So, you move on and get back to work. At other times you’ll respond differently—particularly if this is one in a string of concurrent obstacles. If you succumb to these fears, you’ll find yourself in a downward spiral. This leads to indulging in pessimistic (and improbable) thinking about your value, worth, and abilities.

Negative thoughts are bewilderingly powerful, and wallowing in them can lead you to act like a loser. This is dangerous—because people will start to believe you. Humans make fast decisions, and few are capable of evaluating whether someone is incompetent, or has simply experienced a run of bad luck. By acting like a loser, you introduce toxic doubt that can be impossible for others to look past.

The friend I had lunch with isn’t losing projects because he can’t write; he’s losing them because he presents himself as a loser. Although many would benefit from his help, no one wants to go near a loser, for fear that this aura of failure will rub off on them. Nobody wants to catch a case of bad luck.

I’ve acted like a loser. You’ve acted like a loser. At one point or another, we’ve all acted like losers. Sometimes a crummy turn of events brings you down—fair enough. Just don’t allow an obstacle, or series of them, to balloon out of proportion. The moment you present yourself as a loser, others will distance themselves from you. When they do, opportunities will be lost, resulting in your fears compounding—and becoming more real.

Walt Disney, Emily Dickinson, Steve Jobs: History is laced with examples of those who were rejected, and later proved to be remarkably gifted. Are you any good at what you do? I don’t know. Odds are that you don’t know either. Truth is, your skills might not even matter. Plenty of determined people have succeed in spite of their shortcomings. However, persistence is an absolute imperative. In fact, the one shared characteristic of the three people I note above is that they kept working, in spite of the curves that life threw at them.

Maybe you’re tired, worn out, and feel like you haven’t caught a lucky break in ages. Could be that all you’ve seen for months are rejection letters, criticisms, or just plain silence. I appreciate how tough that can be. Believe me—I’ve been there. Also believe me when I say that all of that can change overnight. But I assure you that your circumstances won’t change, if you wear a sign that tells everyone you’re bad news. So, take off the sign, get back to work, and see what happens. You never know which act will lead you to a breakthrough.

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