Erst muss man den inneren schweinehund besiegen

Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron)

This was one of several interesting quotes from Elliott Erwitt, included in the exhibit on this fantastic photographer at Fotografiska. The rough translation is: “(to succeed) you must first overcome your inner schweinehund”.

In German there is the concept of a “schweinehund”. The literal translation is “pig-dog”, but the true definition of shweinehund is ‘the thing inside you that holds you back, and keeps you from doing difficult and scary things’. I think that this is a profoundly important and useful concept, and I can think of no analog in English.

The schweinehund is part of you - it is the part of you that does not want you to feel pain, it does not want you to suffer rejection or failure. And the easiest way to avoid pain, rejection, and failure is to avoid any difficult situation where you might fail. We must overcome this fear, and risk failure and rejection, to achieve everything of substance in life. And so the schweinehund must be overcome.

One danger with the concept is that you think that you must kill the schweinehund to achieve personal greatness. You cannot kill the schweinehund; it is part of you, and it is a part of yourself that loves you (it’s sort of like a small child, or an overprotective parent, frightened of everything that could be dangerous). When you think that you must kill this form of misguided self-love, you run the risk of becoming ruthless. Ideally, we overcome our inner scheinehunde by accepting our fears and going forward anyway, over time demonstrating to the schweinehund (and ourselves!) that we can handle failure and that we can succeed far beyond our wildest dreams.

Best wishes for overcoming your inner schweinehund in the new year!