The Iceberg Effect (Take II)

My somewhat poor attempt at describing the iceberg effect in my previous post compelled me to take a second stab at it. I think I over complicated it previously, so here’s a (hopefully) shorter but clearer explanation of what I think is an important concept to grasp.

If we view the progression of our efforts towards what is perceived as a successful state, and we compare that progression to the metaphor of an iceberg, then we need to turn that berg on its head. All the memes and the common wisdom suggests that our problems, struggles, failures, and so much more lie beneath the water line, while that which is above the water line is simply the successful outcome that is visible to others. I have two problems with this approach.

Firstly, it assumes that we experienced our problems and failures and everything else in private, and not in front of others. We know that this is totally untrue because it is in fact our spectacular failures in a public setting that discourages so many to avoid trying again. They’re the ones that are more focused on being defined by the validation they received from others rather than defining themselves according to how well they know themselves. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know ourselves well enough to be able to accurately define ourselves. Hence our inclination to take our cues from society. Perverse logic indeed.

Secondly, the above approach also assumes that our struggles remain below the surface, while we celebrate our success in plain view of everyone else. Again, this mostly refers to those that still harbour a desire to be celebrated for their struggles so that the magnanimity of their success can been appreciated that much more.

I think the truth is closer to the fact that the iceberg in its entirety is our journey towards success. The part that rises to the surface first is the steps that set us out on that journey. As we chip away at that surface, or what is visible, we remove chunks of uncertainty and doubt, and allow space for what’s next in that journey to rise to the surface. As we chisel away at these steps towards success, the success that rested at the base of that iceberg, and not the tip, slowly surfaces until eventually it is in full view. When we grow complacent, it melts away and is quickly replaced by more ice that once again suppresses the success, until it sinks to the bottom of the water line, and all we have on the surface is again the taunts of challenges and failures.

Most people don’t notice us when we chip away at what is holding us back. They only notice us when we’re in either extreme. Failure, or success. Failure, because they don’t want to be like us, and success, because they want to be like us. Everything in between is largely a private experience that we dress up in different ways for the world to see, while a few, or at least one or two significant others are allowed close enough to witness or experience that journey with us.

The moment we focus on dressing up our failures or challenges to make it less humiliating in the presence of others, we focus on their perceptions and validations, rather than the purpose that drive us to strive for that success in the first place. Keep a firm grasp on that purpose, and the ice will never be slippery enough to dethrone you.

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