Have you ever wondered why others are succeeding instead of you?

Alesha Peterson
11 min readMay 5, 2024

It’s because they know. And the only reason they know? Because they decide to invest in themselves.-Mandy Stadmiller

“[T]he engineers concluded they could not make that deadline… [Steve] Jobs did not get angry; instead he spoke in cold, somber tones… ‘I’m going to ship the code a week from Monday, with your names on it.’… Once again, Jobs’s reality distortion field pushed them to do what they thought impossible… Real artists ship, Jobs had declared, and now the Macintosh team had.”
— Steve Jobs,
Walter Isaacson

“The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”
— Seth Godin,

Have you ever wondered why others are succeeding instead of you?

It’s because they know. And the only reason they know? Because they decide to invest in themselves.

There’s a famous interview with Steve Jobs in 1994 wherein he reveals this secret of life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is — everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know, if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Or consider this manifesto from entrepreneur Seth Godin called “Pick Yourself.” It’s from his book The Icarus Deception about choosing to choose yourself:


You want the authority to create, to be noticed, and to make a difference? You’re waiting for permission to stand up and speak up and ship?

Sorry, there’s no authority left.

Oprah has left the building. She can’t choose you to be on her show because her show is gone.

YouTube wants you to have your own show now, but they’re not going to call you.

Dick Clark has left the building. He’s not going to be able to get you a record deal or a TV gig because he and his show are long gone. iTunes and a hundred other outlets want you to have your own gig, but they’re not going to call you, either.

Neither is Rodney Dangerfield or the head of programming at Comedy Central. Marc Maron didn’t wait to be cast on Saturday Night Live — he started his own podcast and earned a million listeners.

Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says “I pick you.”

Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you — that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella — then you can actually get to work.

The myth that the CEO is going to discover you and nurture you and ask you to join her for lunch is just that, a Hollywood myth.

Once you understand that there are problems waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

The opportunity is not to have your résumé picked from the pile but to make the pile irrelevant by leading without having to be asked.

When we take responsibility and eagerly give credit, doors open. When we grab a microphone and speak up, we’re a step closer to doing the work we’re able to do.

Most of all, when we buckle down, confront the lizard brain, and ship our best work, we’re becoming the artists we’re capable of becoming.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

The grandiose person is never really free; first because he is excessively dependent on admiration from others, and second, because his self-respect is dependent on qualities, functions, and achievements that can suddenly fail.”
— Alice Miller,
The Drama of the Gifted Child

Now I am going to briefly speak to those who live in fear, as I did for so long, of incorporating too much self-love or self-esteem and suddenly becoming a giant asshole.

The question I usually get from those who listen to me tell this story is a kind of waving of the hands and concerned rebuttal, “But don’t you think… having too much confidence can turn you into a jerk?”

What I say to that is this: If you are already a pompous, arrogant narcissist to begin with, obviously you don’t need any of these “own your shit” tips — and you almost always have zero idea that you are that guy.

But for anyone who lives in fear of being That Guy who’s too cocky to bear listening to without squinting, you can rest assured: YOU WILL NEVER BE THAT GUY. Just the fact that you worry about being that guy is your built-in stopgap. Instead, move the dial far, far over to give yourself the fighting, self-confident chance you deserve.

Because if you make the choice to see yourself as a player — if you choose yourself instead of waiting to be picked — you will be.

That means being willing to stop playing the games that can be found in The Drama of the Gifted Child, a book about the after-effects of growing up with narcissistic parents, and incidentally, a favorite of Al Gore’s. One of those destructive games is the perfectionism of being afraid you won’t measure up, leading you to do self-sabotaging things like cramming for a test the night before, and then when you get a B or C instead of an A, you can have the “out” of saying, “Well I just crammed for it, and I didn’t really try.” Because how mortifying to actually try and give it your all — and then fail? That would make you a failure, right?

No. F****. Way.

I think the big secret that no one tells you about life is that no one just suddenly bestows opportunities and titles and states of being upon you. No one says, “Ta-da! You’re a successful writer now.”

This is not going to one day happen unless you see yourself that way first.

Until you have the internal belief system in place that you are what you want to be (yes, even a doctor — albeit with the temperament that you are a future doctor) and become your best advocate, it will be very hard to make the leap to becoming what you want to become.

Instead of listening to that doubt, I (silently) responded, “Hey doubt, thank you for sharing.”

So, shake off the cobwebs of shame and doubt and self-hatred. If you have these afflictions, all they’re doing is holding you back — unless that’s what you feel comfortable with, then sure, keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing all along, which will lead you to the same place it always has. And I get it.

Certainty can be a very comfortable state.

But what if you changed your state to this: You can be certain by trying new things that sometimes you will fail. But sometimes it will lead you to achieving the ultimate accomplishment of having had the guts to go for your dreams in the first place. Few people can say they’ve done that. If you detach from the outcome and the need for validation, the LIFE FORCE JUICE of creating and trying things (and yes, even spectacularly failing and falling on your face) will make you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.

And, something will awaken inside of you.

Your life only stops adding up when you tell yourself that it can’t. In reality: Anything is possible. Always.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

Not long after I took Mary Scruggs’ course, I took another giant creative plunge. I started writing for myself again — online.

It was a hard step for me. Because I was still so embarrassed and ashamed because online didn’t have the prestige of print, and 12-year-olds were writing blogs about their cats, and oh here I was with real credits, except look at me now. Ah, the stench of failure.

What if people I had worked with in newspapers years ago decided to Google me? What would they think that the outlet I was writing for now was… Blogger?

But instead of listening to that doubt, I (silently) responded, “Hey doubt, thank you for sharing.” Then I listened to the smaller guidance that was starting to flourish within: I believed that I had something worthy to say.

So for the first time in a long time, as I wrote up an “About Me” description, I did something I hadn’t been able to do in years. I owned my credits. All of them. Instead of agonizing, I chose to laugh at the absurdity of it all and feel the agency of joy. I did it for pleasure.

That’s so cool, I heard Mary’s voice say in my head.

I realized the insanity of telling myself that I was some has-been. It was then that I realized: You’re only that if you think you are. Even when people are being dicks, you’re still only that if you think you are.

“Who are you?” I wrote in the header description on Blogger, pausing briefly: “A writer and comedian.” I came up with a name for the blog that made me laugh and hit save. Bloggy McBlogalot.

I called it out, baby.

“Why is this called Bloggy McBlogalot?” I wrote. “Because Chuckly McLaffabunch was taken.”

Confidently, I owned my credits: “Where has your work been published? The Washington Post, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, the Des Moines Register, and now Blogger.”

Not long after the blog’s creation, I had yet another terrible fight with my soon-to-be ex-husband. I proceeded to unpublish the entire thing. (It’s so effective to punish yourself and show how angry you are through self-sabotage, isn’t it?)

The very next day, a reader from India who had been reading along for weeks emailed me a beautiful note. Where had all my writing gone? He loved it. Please, he said, keep writing. I listened, and I did.

It wasn’t long after I created this blog that my biggest fear did actually come true. Because someone I went to school with did in fact Google me.

He worked at the New York Post as an editor.

And he offered me a job.

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”
― Albert Einstein

When I started at the New York Post in 2005, I really didn’t intend to venture too much into the world of comedy. I wanted to kill it at the job because I was nervous about meeting expectations and didn’t want any dangerous jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none distractions in play.

Even though in Chicago, I had steadily begun doing stand-up and improv, and even taking the occasional acting course. (Incidentally, it was an acting course that taught me more about writing than any writing course ever did. Like, you don’t say “I want a divorce.” You say “Pass the peas.” But the intention is one of anger. You say “I want a divorce” by saying “Pass the peas.”)

You have to be willing to tolerate the discomfort of believing in yourself.

More than anything, now that I was in New York at this big dream job, I didn’t want to blow my shot. So I decided: No comedy.

But my morning pages had other plans.

One day as I was writing in my journal on the subway into work, I had this idea. What if I pitched a story about all the different comedy rooms in the city? It would be a legitimate assignment for the primary concern of the job, and it would also be a great way to get to know the scene in New York. And, that’s exactly what happened.

Then the same editor who hired me kept assigning me comedy stories. Then I got asked to enter New York’s Funniest Reporter contest, and I won.

Ultimately, this entire story — all of these realizations, all of this daring to believe in myself — is how I went from that PR job in that unhappy marriage where I secretly watched clips of The Daily Show all day long to sitting in Jimmy Fallon’s office as one of three finalists for a writing job and having Jimmy tell me, “You’re here because we love your packet.”

I didn’t get that job in the end (a hilarious writer from UCB did, and he deserved it), but it helped lead me to an even better job at xoJane. Which led me to the “Unwifeable” column at New York magazine. Which led me to writing Unwifeable the book. A real-life book. I finally wrote one. One that I’m incredibly proud of, even.

It’s also how I ended up signing a deal with the TV production company 51 Minds, which led to me pitching to networks and filming a TV pilot presentation. The pilot did not get picked up, but I learned how the TV creation process works, which is something that I’m in the middle of again after writing Unwifeable.

I can’t emphasize enough: All of this would have been impossible if I had not changed the very cellular framework in which I saw myself. Such gigantic changes would have been impossible if I had continued to constantly critique myself as being a poser, an imposter, a failure, and any other ego-driven put-down (or even doing subconscious self-sabotage that is so easy to fall into, like being late or not giving myself enough time to prepare or partying too hard).

Instead, I allowed myself to succumb to the unthinkable: I was actually trying.

There’s the rub. You have to be willing to tolerate the discomfort of believing in yourself.

It’s 2022 at the time of this writing, but by the time you read it, it will be 2024. I had to write a ton of content ahead of time to stay consistent despite what’s happening. 🔥🙌

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Alesha Peterson

Howdy! Entrepreneurship, fitness, music, acting, real estate, tequila & investing is sexy. Idea for an article? Input wanted! https://linktr.ee/aleshapeterson