I’ve been angry since college.
I never got a job in my field (Finance) after I graduated. No entry level position. No foot in the door. Nothing.
It made me mad to be rejected so many times by prospective employers without being given a single chance to prove myself. It seemed unfair.
Every successive job I didn’t get felt more and more like another “you’re not good enough” or “you’re an unnecessary and expendable cog in the system” slap to my face. These people in suits who decided my worth for me became my symbolic enemies. In reality, they were just doing their jobs, but that didn’t stop my anger from brewing (and it wasn’t decaf).
Unexpectedly, that anger helped me, but only because I transformed it into something useful.
The Hulk and The Power of Anger
We’re taught that anger is to be avoided, but anger is an emotion that can be refined.
Anger can morph into grit, determination, and perseverance.
Your hand constricts into a tight fist, your skin thickens, your pain threshold increases, and otherworldly stubbornness overcomes you. You’re mad. We’ve all had the feeling.
When expressed externally, anger is disturbing or even dangerous to others. But when anger is captured and controlled internally, it can be a tremendous force of usable strength.
Control is the key word here.
When Marvel’s Dr. Bruce Banner gets angry, he turns into a powerful green monster known as “The Hulk.” But The Hulk can’t seem to control his rage, and as a result, he is dangerous even to his friends. In the beginning of The Avengers, Dr. Banner is seen living far away from everyone he loves because the risk of physically hurting them is too great. He isolated himself because the downsides of his angry superpower outweighed the upsides; he couldn’t control it.
Later, Banner is recruited to the Avengers team. In a later scene, a giant flying mechanical worm attacks New York City and is headed right for the Avengers. Dr. Banner calmly begins to walk towards the massive enemy as Captain America says, “Dr. Banner, now might be a really good time for you to get angry.”
Dr Banner looks back and says, “That’s my secret, Cap’n. I’m always angry.” He then turns into The Hulk and smashes into the flying-mech-worm-beast-thing. If Banner is always angry, that means he has gained some amount of control over his Hulk persona. His newfound control makes a powerful force for good. He’s learned to control when and how he “releases” his anger. The same is true for us, albeit to a less epic degree.
How Anger Helped Me Succeed
If I can’t find a way to succeed, I’ll prove those suits (my symbolic enemies) right. But… they are wrong! *makes stubborn, determined fist and continues forward*
That’s the thought I had each of the six times I contemplated shutting this blog down permanently. (Note: Stubborn persistence towards a losing idea isn’t wise, but I had reasons to believe I could make it as a writer. It just wasn’t turning out as I hoped.)
When you know that you’re capable of something, and for whatever reason, you haven’t gotten it yet, you have a pretty good reason to be angry. Don’t be angry at individual people as that accomplishes nothing, instead convert that powerful “ARRRRRGHHHH” feeling into grit and determination to realize your potential.
Because of grit alone, I continued to write for this blog and others, despite most of my articles not being seen by very many people.
Then one day, a guest post I wrote went viral and I got 250 subscribers in one day. That was the beginning of a new chapter for me, because it made me even angrier. That’s right. Angrier.
Before I tell you what happened next, let’s talk about the exciting transition from grit to determination.
The Grit Phase Is Crucial, But Not Glamorous
When the world tells you (explicitly or implied) that you can’t do something, and you fight day after day to prove your doubters wrong, it’s a grind. It’s like going to the gym when you’re tired. You have to grit your teeth and move forward as best you can.
Grit can take you through that first layer of doubt, and it’s imperative that you get through it to be able to succeed, but it’s not you at your strongest. You need grit when the harsh sands of life are in your eyes and you can’t see your way out. It’s the slow crawl through crippling resistance and doubt. And don’t romanticize it, because it isn’t easy when you still live with your parents in your upper 20s, wondering if maybe those people in suits who decided you weren’t good enough were right all along.
But without that difficult phase, you probably won’t reach the next phase: success.
Q: When you break through to a new level of success like with that guest post, why would it make you angrier?
Any success you have is a sliver of evidence that you were right all along. It shows that the world was wrong for not giving you a chance before. Basically, it makes you feel like the world lied to you, and that makes you want to prove yourself right and the world wrong all the more.
When anger and hope combine, you get grit.
But when anger and strong self-belief combine, you get passionate determination.
This is an important insight: You’re at your strongest when you believe you can do what you aim to do. But there are very few people who can have strong self-belief before proving themselves. That’s why we need grit. We keep trying until we prove on some level that we can do it. Then we believe.
After that post went viral, I started writing guest posts consistently and got 10x more subscribers in the next few months than I did in the previous two years. I was no longer using grit. I had a new sense of self-belief and was determined to run with it.
The snowball kept rolling. I kept experimenting and researching and practicing my craft, fueled by my synergistic self-belief and results.
I’ve always believed in myself to some degree, but self-belief can vary from weak to moderate to strong. And it’s not that simple, either. You might believe fully in yourself but have little faith that others will believe in you or see your potential (a very relevant thing when you’re trying to get a job).
Whether it was dumb luck or a culmination of the previous 10 years of persistence, I came up with Mini Habits and found my career as an author. I’ve since sold hundreds of thousands of books across multiple languages.
The key to utilizing initial anger is to convert it into grit and determination. I wasn’t really mad as I worked, I was determined. There’s a reason that a closed fist can mean anger or determination. Anger and determination are not too different in feeling (and thus, easy to convert), but they’re very different in application.
Case Study: Kobe’s Angry Face
Retired basketball legend Kobe Bryant is well known for making an angry face during games. He usually makes the face after hitting a big shot or making a big play for his team. See it in this video here…
This is a perfect example of the anger/determination connection. Kobe might have his brow furrowed, his fists clenched, and his jaw jutting out, but is he really angry? Do you think he’s upset that he made a big shot? Of course not! He’s showing intense determination and passion to overcome any and all adversity.
Kobe probably did not make this face as a kid when he was first learning the game of basketball. The face most likely came after he began to succeed. It came after his hard work paid off. That’s because our fiercest determination and strength comes after success, not before it (yet another reason to choose strategies that begin with success like Mini Habits).
While I’ll probably always have a chip on my shoulder because of the challenges I’ve faced, it hasn’t made me an angry or irritable person. I’m cheerful and still determined to reach my goals.
Some may be tempted to ride the anger train into glory, fueling all of their ambitions, but I would caution against this. Anger in its natural form isn’t healthy to carry around with you too long. Like motivation, it’s better to use anger as a situational booster and not as your main fuel source. If it’s there, use it, but don’t seek it out!
But in the nature of this article, you needn’t fear feeling angry, either. Being angry means that you really don’t like something. If that something is your current life situation, then it’s a good indication that you would do well to make some changes. People say you should always be grateful for what you have, and that’s probably good advice, but don’t let that dissuade you from closing your hand into a tight fist, turning green, and saying, “I’m gonna do this, and no one can stop me.”
Those who can control their anger and convert it into grit and determination can achieve anything from a better workout to a better career to a better life.
(photo by JOE-3PO)