Feb 8 2016

Sources of Insecurities

When I was in LA last week, I had breakfast with Nick Grouf. We’ve been friends for 20 years and, while we don’t see each other often, it’s the kind of friendship that immediately lets you talk about deep, interesting things with almost zero foreplay.

At a small Coffee Bean coffee shop in Hollywood, with a music track from our childhood playing over and over again (I’ll spare you the track so it doesn’t get stuck in your head also), we ended up in a discussion about sources of insecurities.

Nick made the assertion that unless you fundamentally don’t feel safe on this planet (e.g. you experienced death of a child or were raped as a kid), there are two primary sources of insecurities.

Either:

  1. You don’t feel lovable or
  2. You feel like a fraud

We then went through a list of people we knew and tried to come up with another primary source of insecurity. Nick was clear that his source of insecurity is that he doesn’t feel lovable. We quickly were able to label a few of our good friends this way. The second – you feel like a fraud – is widely understood and expressed through the startup community as imposter syndrome. We bounced around this for a little while and then went on to the next topic.

But, this stuck with me. While I’ve never struggled with either of these, like all other humans I know, I definitely have some insecurities.

As I pondered this, I came up with the notion that my insecurities are driven by my feeling of being overly responsible for things, especially those I am not responsible for, and cannot impact in any way. This was one of the sources of my first major depression in my 20s and over the years has resulted in multiple situations where I’m completely worn myself out trying to “fix things” that were broken.

At 50, I’ve mostly let go of this. I rarely find myself in a situation where I feel like I’m being overly responsible for something I shouldn’t be, or cannot impact. I also rarely feel insecure anymore, although I attribute that more to me working on the issue, rather than just aging out of the emotion.

There’s a cliche in business that you should always try to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more capable than you are. I’ve never felt like it was a very nuanced cliche, as different people have very different strengths and weaknesses and the “more capable” person is going to be very context specific.

As we were talking about sources of insecurities and this cliche came up, Nick made a different suggestion which I hope is either a cliche or will become one. It’s that when you are in a foxhole in battle, you want the person with the strongest arm to throw out the grenade.

Ponder whether one of these sources of insecurities apply to you. I’d love to hear if you think there are other fundamental sources of insecurities. And, when you are next sitting with your team (regardless of your role), observe whether the person with the strongest arm is throwing the grenade out of the foxhole.