~ Robert H. Schuller
I love the above quote because it inspires me to think big.
I often make lists of all the things that I’ve dreamt of creating or being a part of. I encourage my clients to do it too. But when I begin to contemplate actually doing the things on those lists, the concept of failure often creeps in and makes its presence known with a long, dark shadow.
It’s easy to shoot for the moon until the prospect of crashing to the ground enters the picture.
We can dream and scheme all we want, but making our dreams real requires us to act. And doing so brings us nose to nose with what is likely our most formidable opponent: fear of failure.
Failure means different things to different people.
But I think the most fear-provoking thing about the idea of failure that it leads to pain—pain of rejection, embarrassment, loss, financial ruin—not to mention its actual physical variations. The interesting thing about pain is that—thankfully—it is usually finite. It comes and it goes. And though we may not always have any control over whether we experience it, we do seem to have some say in how long it lasts and how uncomfortable it gets.
When I used get immunizations as a kid, I remember getting all worked up…
…before the needle even came close to my skin. And I’ve watched my kids do the same thing—even screaming or howling before contact was actually made. But seconds later, the injections are done before the kids even realize it. They left the exam table and went onto other things without delay—except maybe when one of them needed a little more sympathy and dwelled on the puncture or the blood on the bandage—prolonging the unpleasant experience and making it into something far more painful than it really needed to be.
I think we do the same thing when we anticipate the pain of what we consider to be “failure”.
Our minds have a way of making it far more ominous than it ever is in reality. And if we happen to find ourselves experiencing it, we can also fall into the trap of unwittingly making it more uncomfortable than it needs to be. But we can also use resilience and determination to bounce back and focus on something that will help us move forward in spite of an otherwise unpleasant experience.
I prefer a slight variation of that opening quote that goes like this:
“What great thing would you attempt if you knew there was no such thing as failure?”
Because it really comes down to what your experience—regardless of the way it turns out—has given you, rather than cost you. People who have accomplished extraordinary things in their lives are the first to tell you that they have had more than their share of what many refer to as “failure”. And many will tell you those experiences were, in fact, prerequisites for their success. What differentiates them from those who allowed “failure” to defeat them is that they got back up, figured out what they could learn, and moved forward, equipped with a new awareness, a new understanding, and renewed commitment to their greatest dreams and visions.
I think we all need a shot from time to time.
A shot of humility, compassion, and humor. A shot that will only serve to make us stronger, more determined, and far more resilient than we were before.
What great thing can YOU achieve today, knowing that you simply cannot fail?
Are you interested in more strategies for overcoming the fallacy of failure and strengthening your courage, resiliency, and momentum toward achieving your visions and aspirations? Stay tuned for more information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow, or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
Over the holidays, I had the delightful experience of traveling to Disneyland with family.
Every time I go there, it is like stepping into an alternate reality—one where the stresses and anxieties of the week before simply dissolve and the child in me emerges.
I am mesmerized by every intricate detail so carefully attended to by the multitude of people that make Disneyland what it is—from the enchanting castles and belly-dropping rides, to the perfectly manicured gardens and the warm smiles and tireless energy of every cast member.
And I can’t help but revel in a deliciously goose-bump-building thought.
All the wonder, delight and magic of this place—as well as everything that is associated with it (the movies, cartoons, storybooks and associated media)—ALL OF THIS began with a single thought in the mind of a man who took action to make it real.
I don’t know a lot about Walt Disney, but I imagine he was gripped by an idea—a dream that captured his heart and burst inside of him until he was compelled to gather the people and resources to make it happen.
This guy had a vision that couldn’t help but be embraced by others.
It spoke to their hearts and their spirits, and allowed them to be a part of something that does the same for everyone who encounters it. Disneyland is the “happiest place on earth” because it brings out the best in everyone who experiences it. It unleashes the magic each of us carries somewhere deep within us, and the most traditional of fairy tales are about that very subject. Even the performers on the various stages throughout the park sing refrains about looking within to find our heroes. What an amazing creation!
We all get inspirations from time to time. And the more we act on them the more we seem to receive them.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. When was the last time you got one that gave you goose bumps? And what did you do to take it to the next level of creation? Were you overwhelmed, thinking it was too big, or unrealistic to actually achieve? Perhaps it is too big for one person. But what if you were able to create a vision like Walt Disney did, that resonated in the very core of people who would gladly partner with you to make it real?
You have something inside of you that is waiting to be unleashed into the world.
The very act of doing it will rock your world, and that of others as well. Maybe it isn’t a multimillion dollar theme park, or a screenplay, or an organization. But whatever it is will carry the unique essence of you—who you are—and the compilation of everything each of your individual experiences has prepared you for. And if you bring it forward with the intention of making the world a better place, you will.
Who are you to deny that you are meant for greatness?
The beginning of every new year brings with it questions of what we most want to create in our lives and our work. If you are interested in strategies for better connecting with your vision and taking steps to bring it to fruition in a way that feeds and fulfills you, stay tuned for more information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow, or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
This week’s post features a video that I initially didn’t equate with getting out of fear. In fact, I originally titled the video From Self Absorbed to Self Empowered. But after writing last week’s post, A New Way to Look at Fear, I realized that this video is actually a demonstration of one of the best ways I know to get out of fear. It’s simple, easy and powerful. I hope you enjoy it. And I encourage you try it for yourself. Let me know how it goes, will you?
One of my favorite places to go on holiday weekends is Prescott, AZ. On one such trip with my mother and daughter we walked through an art festival in the town square. The place was dotted with people and their dogs, meandering from booth to booth, admiring the wares and taking it all in. White tents and tall, willowy trees sheltered artisans and their customers from the bright sun and intense heat.
There was a lot of jewelry, handmade signs with clever quotes, t-shirts (for people and their dogs), hand crafted furniture, blankets, tablecloths, framed photography, bird houses. If you could think of something that could be artfully designed and hand crafted, there was probably a booth for it in the Prescott square that weekend.
Some of my favorite booths were the ones with food in them. Freshly dipped caramel apples rolled in peanuts or toffee, kettle corn popped in large copper drums, homemade tamales, chocolate dipped cheesecake. And, oh, the best freshly squeezed lemonade ever, made with generous portions of sugar and large juicy lemons whose rinds floated in the clear plastic dispensers.
I was standing in a rather long line for one of those lemonades when I became acutely aware of the presence of swarms of bees flying around me and everyone else, hovering over people’s cups and food, and even landing on shoulders, arms, and clothing. People squirmed in their shoes, swatted them away, and some ran out of the line altogether.
I turned to see an older man with a closely trimmed white beard and long white eyebrows. His eyes twinkled and dimples appeared below his cheeks. I looked at him and smiled.
“Don’t be afraid,” he continued. “Bees only sting when they sense fear.” He rocked back and forth on his feet, with his fingers wrapped comfortably around the straps of his faded overalls. “It’s true!” He insisted.
Hmm. What an interesting thought. Is it true? I don’t know. I wouldn’t doubt it.
It got me thinking about fear in general, and the correlation it often has with unfortunate circumstances. Fear is widely considered to be the effect of an unpleasant and often painful stimulus. But the cause?
Could it be true that fear itself could bring about some of the unfortunate circumstances that we are often most afraid of?
I think so.
When we are afraid, we get consumed with thinking we need to protect ourselves, have the last word, save face. We become far more occupied with getting than giving. We can panic and engage in irrational and even hurtful behavior. A fearful response is often an overly aggressive one – one that can create more problems than it solves, and one that might otherwise be deemed as unnecessary. We say and do things we later regret. And we cut ourselves off from the wisdom and insights we would otherwise be able to tap to constructively resolve our differences and creatively rise up to our challenges. Our solutions tend to be half baked and often unsatisfying – as well as short lived.
But how do you override that somewhat instinctive and often knee jerk, fear filled response to what you believe could hurt you?
“Don’t be afraid,” the white haired man said. Easy for you to say, buddy. He obviously sees bees differently than I do, or at least have in the past.
And maybe that’s the answer.
Maybe it’s about learning to see things differently. Maybe it’s about questioning what we’ve come to believe and learning a different response – one that is more grounded, centered, and thoughtful. Perhaps it’s about trying something we’ve never had the presence of mind to consider.
The woman behind the counter handed me my lemonade and a single bee came along for the ride. It followed us throughout the square, from booth to booth, hovering around the large waxy cup that contained the sweet, refreshing liquid we waited in line for over ten minutes to receive. At one point, it landed on my shirt sleeve. I felt my blood pressure rise and took a deep breath. What if I get stung? I tried not to think about it. It flew away and came back a few seconds later.
We couldn’t help ourselves. We shooed it away with our napkins. It kept flying back. We tried hard to stay brave and calm, but we kept our napkins unfurled and continued to flap them around whenever the bee got too close.
We made it home without any bee stings. But the wheels in my mind are still turning at the thought that there may be some kind of insight or lesson in that experience for me. Have I grasped it? I don’t know.
One thing is for sure. The next time I begin to feel that familiar rush of adrenaline, you can bet I’ll think back to that white-haired man in his frayed overalls, with a large grin on his face and a quiet wisdom in those sparkling eyes. And I’ll do whatever I can to see things from another, less fear provoking perspective.
Have you ever been faced with a challenge that all but brought you to your knees? One that tested every ounce of grit, determination and courage you had?
Often these types of challenges are not something we volunteer ourselves for (at least not knowingly). And yet, we find ourselves immersed in them with no other choice but to reach deep within to find within the strength we need to persevere and make our way through.
About six and a half years ago, my martial arts practice pushed me to my limits. It was an experience that almost kept me from continuing in my journey — a journey that ultimately led me to be promoted to first degree black belt this time last year. I look back on it now with gratitude for all that I learned. And I recently came across an article I wrote when that test was finished.
I want to share it with you in the hopes that reading it will somehow help you to connect to your own powerful reserves — so that you can find within yourself the strength you need to face anything life throws at you. I hope you enjoy it.
Waiting outside the dojo, I quietly prepared myself, breathing slowly and deeply. I adjusted my mouth guard over my teeth, feeling like a horse trying to acclimate to its first bit. After my name was called, I was ushered into a circle of black belts standing around a plastic red padded floor until I stood face to face with my opponent. Our heads were swallowed up by the protective foam of our sparring gear, exposing only eyes, cheeks, noses and lips. Before me stood one of the most intense sensei’s I had trained with. It was not the first time this man had pushed me out of my comfort zone.
After bowing to each other, we began to spar. I threw a few of the punches I’d practiced every week in karate class and managed to get some kicks in. But for every strike I made, it seemed my sensei threw at least three more. I continued to circle, launching a few more tentative jabs here and there. The black belts surrounding us were shouting encouragement, their voices merging into chords of indistinguishable tones.
And then I felt a sharp blow to my face. I instinctively curled toward my stomach and felt a burst of fluid that was not yet visible. When the blood appeared, the sparring session was stopped and a hand appeared with a wad of Kleenex in it. As I cautiously dabbed at my nose and wiped my eyes, someone asked me if I wanted to continue.
I heard myself say yes. Squinting through the sweat that was dripping from my forehead and feeling my heart beating in my face, I raised my gloved fists higher and took a few more shots.
Before I knew it, I was taken to the ground. I was vaguely aware that there was at least one, maybe two other black belts in the sparring match now. As I grappled on the ground, fatigue set in. I struggled to escape the choke hold, forgetting everything I had learned and feeling like a spider’s prey wriggling and writhing to escape while the grip became tighter. And then, thankfully, that part of the test was over.
I walked into the bathroom to pull myself together, feeling bruised, bloody and beaten. Outside the door were others waiting for their turn to test, friends who through our shared experience somehow became bonded in a way that transcended language. I knew that if any of them had emerged from the dojo looking the way I did, I may have lost my nerve and my courage. So I had to find it in myself once again.
In the moments that followed, I sat exhaustedly pondering the experience I just had and waiting for the next portion of the test while people continued to give me Kleenex and hugs.
“Why didn’t you just quit?” I was asked in the oral part of my test. I stood facing a long table of black belts that stared back at me with inquisitive eyes. I would be asked that question many times in the coming days by friends and family who thought I was a little nuts to willingly participate in an activity with such a high probability of physical pain.
After a few moments I realized why I had to continue, despite the blood, the tears, and the exhaustion. It was the same reason I kept coming to karate classes all those years, the same reason I left my cushy job to start my own company, the same reason I picked myself up and kept at it after failed marketing attempts as an entrepreneur.
“I wanted to see what I had left in me,” I replied. And though what I had left in me on that momentous Saturday morning landed me in a headlock I could not escape from, I learned a lot about myself and life as well.
We will always be faced with challenges and opportunities. Some of them may feel daunting. They will push us to our edges and summon up every last bit of strength and fortitude we can muster. And we may find ourselves on the ground (literally or figuratively), feeling defeated and fatigued. In those moments, when we look inside ourselves we will find courage we didn’t think we had – even if only to stand up and be knocked down again.
Each time we rise to our challenges, we learn a bit more about how to handle the next one. Having been in the grip of our own fear and experienced the disorienting confusion that panic and adrenaline brings, we can learn to be in the midst of chaos and find our calm.
Here’s what I learned from my sparring experience that I intend to apply to all parts of my life:
- Keep your hands up. Children taking karate are encouraged to see their arms as the bars of a cage. “Keep the tiger in the cage,” they are told. This does not mean that we need to learn to become withdrawn and reserved so that others cannot see or interact with us. Rather, it means that we need to learn to love and protect who we are and deflect the jabs and punches of a society that will at times entice us to act in ways that are not aligned with our true selves.
- Breathe. When we become panicked, our breathing gets shallow and our brains do not get as much oxygen. We literally go out of our minds, unable to access the reserves of wisdom we always possess. Breathing allows us to inspire – to take in spirit, to regain our connection to something bigger than ourselves and allow it to guide and inform us.
- Take responsibility. We are never victims. In life’s most dire circumstances, much can be taken from us, but we will always have the ability to choose the way in which we respond. We can see life as a battle in which someone always seeks to defeat us, or we can choose to experience it as an odyssey made up of a series of epic adventures that allow us to become our own heroes. Just as I signed on for karate and knew that the testing experience would push me to my limit, so too do I sign on for life – knowing that with every challenge is a gift, every seeming adversary a teacher.
- Choose peace. In any conflict, our responses can range from fear and even desire to inflict pain to peace and willingness to practice love. When we become too attached to defending ourselves, being right, or winning we stay on the lower rungs of the ladder, engaging in behavior that escalates conflict.
However, when we step up a few rungs, we move from a point of view to a viewing point, one in which we can identify what is important not only for ourselves but others as well. In this manner, we can transform conflict into collaboration.
When we seek to understand what is most important to everyone involved, the energy that was previously fueling fear can be redirected into something that promotes peace. In my sparring match, I stayed on the lower rung, more identified with fear of being attacked than acting in ways that could promote peace. As a result, I cut myself off from the inner wisdom and knowledge that would have allowed me to deflect my opponent’s blows and redirect his force in a way that could have ended the conflict.
Next time, I’ll be that much more prepared. I will know what it feels like to lose my center and choose a different response. And though I may not be able to practice my sparring every day, I can choose to rise up in whatever circumstances I find myself in and help others to find the resilience in themselves to do the same.
Just beyond the borders of what we believe to be our limitations lie vast and unending reserves of strength, courage, ingenuity and love. May you discover and unleash it in yourself and everyone around you.
With much gratitude to The Center for Humane Living for all I have learned about karate and myself.
Can you recall the last time you were faced with great change, challenge and/or uncertainty?
Times of great upheaval and transition require that we bring our very best to the scene, and yet they also have a way of unnerving us. When you don’t know what to expect and feel as though much of what is happening around you is out of your control, it’s easy to begin to doubt your ability to successfully navigate through it (not to mention lead others to do the same).
This week’s video is about how to summon and embody your true strength — one that isn’t dependent on external circumstances, but rather self reliant and resilient in the face of any situation.
I hope you enjoy it!
We have all experienced times of pressure, anxiety and sudden change.
When jobs are tenuous or organizations are restructuring, it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
I know it may feel as though you are at the mercy of your circumstances. However, even in the worst of situations you have more control than you might realize. One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response. And that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
Start with awareness.
The greatest change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there.
Extraordinary leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
Watch your stories.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means — and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from.
These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security.
They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
What’s the worst that can happen?
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK in the worst of scenarios, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
You have everything you need.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
How do I motivate and inspire my team in the midst of uncertainty that could lead to the whole department being eliminated? I mean, I’m not even sure I know whether I’ll have a job myself!
This is a question a client of mine recently asked. A tough one. I didn’t have an immediate answer for him. He didn’t want to blow smoke in their faces or hand them a bunch of rose colored glasses. Nor should he. When an organization (or life itself, for that matter) is in flux, it can be scary for people. And there are no easy answers.
In times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever
to hold fast to the conviction that each one of us has what it takes
to rise above anything life may bring us.
This is what the greatest leaders have done throughout history. It’s easy to lead when things are stable and successful. It’s when all chaos breaks loose and the chances of survival are slim that the world’s heroes have inspired people to remember who they are and rise up to their most daunting challenges.
Here are three things to remember when you find yourself in a situation similar to the one my client was in:
(1) There is nothing that will come your way that you cannot handle. If you want proof, consider the fact that you are still here. Think back to the last struggle or setback you faced. What did you do? How did you get through it? What did you learn? In retrospect, what would you tell yourself in order to help you get through that? And what will you tell yourself now?
Sometimes it helps to think of the worst case scenario. What would you do? Really. What would you do? If you sit with that question and allow yourself to remain calm, you will find an answer. Because when you get quiet, you summon up that which is timeless within you – that which will not change with the uncertainty, but rather grow stronger in the face of it – your inner strength, resilience, creativity and ingenuity.
Benjamin Franklin said it well many years ago: “To be thrown upon one’s own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; four our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.”
Getting connected to your core strength is essential and must be done before you can provide any real inspiration and motivation to others. Your confidence will emanate at a level that people will feel – before you even say a word.
(2) Once you have reconnected with your own inner reserves, help others reconnect with theirs. Extraordinary leaders have the ability to connect with people at a deeper level. They see not only what each person they lead has done in the past, but also what they are capable of doing in the future. In times of chaos and uncertainty, people need to be reminded of their strengths because trying times tend to lead us to doubt ourselves and forget how very capable and strong we really are.
Speaking to people in terms of what they are capable of as a group can be helpful, but speaking to each person individually will have a far more powerful impact. Think about each person you lead. What have they done in the past that has impressed you? What are their natural talents – the things they are so good at that they make look easy? What do they tend to do that has a positive impact on themselves and everyone around them?
Maybe it is a sense of humor. Perhaps it is an ability to foresee obstacles no one anticipated and create a plan for overcoming them. Maybe it is an ability to think outside the box, a dogged determination to make things work, or a natural tendency to partner with others. What is it that gives you faith that no matter what happens, this person will rise above it? Speak to it with sincere appreciation and encouragement. Help that person to embody those qualities once again.
(3) Keep people’s focus (including your own) on possibilities rather than frustrations. As with everything in life, whatever we focus on has a way of becoming amplified. When we allow ourselves to become consumed with fear and doubt, our brains have a way of finding things that feed those states and we find that there seems to be even more to be afraid of or frustrated by. This phenomenon often happens without our conscious awareness, and it is a vicious cycle that can keep us falling deeper and deeper into despair.
Reversing this cycle requires a conscious effort. When we notice we are feeling upset by a certain thought, the first step is to become aware of the thought that has caused the reaction and deliberately choose another one to focus on. There is always something positive or hopeful to focus on. Sometimes finding it takes a bit of work, but that effort will be met with rich rewards.
A man named Ambrose Redmoon once said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.” We need to figure out what is more important – more worthy of our attention and energy and focus on that. As we do, our innate talents and strengths have a way of rising to the occasion.
With any change that brings uncertainty, there is a process of renewal involved. The old must fall way in order for the new to be revealed. This is true in nature as well as in our communities, organizations and in our very selves. We can focus on what we are losing and experience a great deal of sadness and grief, or we can focus on what is newly emerging around us – and within us.
Sometimes the most difficult changes are the very things we need to experience to get closer to what we really want in life. We may not realize the gifts change and uncertainty bring for weeks, months, and even years. But we can recognize how it has served us in the past and trust in the process, in each other, and in ourselves.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.” ~ Richard Bach
For more tips on navigating through change and uncertainty, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming a Real Leader, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Have you ever played a game that you just couldn’t walk away from even though it nearly drove you to the brink of madness? Well, mine was the game of PERFECTION. The video above explains what we all have to lose by playing it. At the end of the transcript below are links to other resources for overcoming perfection.
Here’s what I said in the video:
This game used to be my one of my favorite games as a kid. It’s called Perfection. You have sixty seconds to find the places where each of these little shapes stick into this game before the tray pops and everything flies in every different direction. And I used to LOVE this game as a kid. I would play it over and over and over. Even though every time that darn tray popped it would scare the crap out of me, I kept playing it.
The funny thing is, even after I outgrew this game, I was playing my own perfection game. It was “check the box.” Every box had to be checked before I could feel like I had done anything of value. The irony is, half the boxes I was trying to check were things that didn’t really need to get done at all. And not only was I trying to check the box, I was trying to get everything done perfectly — only to come to the end of the day or the end of the week when the tray would pop and everything would fly in every different direction and I wasn’t getting anything done.
I was playing this stupid perfection game which you may have wondered, “What the heck is she doing?” when you saw me. “Doesn’t she have something more important to spend her time on? Maybe she has a little TOO much time on her hands.” YEAH. That’s what happens when you do perfection. You never do anything of any significance. You scare the crap out of yourself because you can never reach that ideal that you’ve been killing yourself for. And you are terrified of the chaos because you have no idea how to navigate through it. You have been so busy trying to get all the pieces in their little places before things break out that you never do anything that’s really important. AND you also never ENJOY anything that you are doing while you are doing it because you are so wrapped up in trying to get it perfect.
When I was playing the game of perfection, I never dreamt about the things that I could achieve. I had trouble staying in the moment. And I was always behind — always feeling like things were churning in my head. Even after work I would be thinking about all the things I needed to do the next day, until the tray would pop and I would terrify myself again and again. And you know what? I’m done with this game. I don’t even want my kids playing this game. It’s going in the trash.
If you want a rush, forget about skydiving, bungee jumping, or walking over hot coals. Try speaking extemporaneously, from your heart to a group of people for at least ten minutes. They say public speaking ranks as people’s number one fear, even higher than fear of death.
I did that over the weekend. I chose that. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would push me smack up against my greatest resistance and fear and just see what would happen. I committed to doing it, even though it scared the hell out of me. I purposely didn’t prepare. I wasn’t exactly sure WHAT I was going to say or do. In the minutes before I would be called up to speak, I felt my heart beating in my mouth. My hands were sweaty. There was an electricity around me that I feared would paralyze every muscle in my body.
I never thought I was afraid of public speaking. I’ve facilitated workshops, taught classes, done lectures. I learned to enjoy being on stage or at the front of the room, though in the back of my mind horrible thoughts lurked – like, “What if I let these people down? What if I waste their time? What if the things that come out of my mouth don’t make any sense? What if my presentation is just ho, hum and people start to yawn, or check their phones, or tune out altogether?”
I’ve resisted these fears in my past – fought them with long, hard preparation and research and practice. I’ve poured over my subjects, outlining them, dissecting them, breaking the concepts down and then putting them back together. I’ve designed curriculum, carefully constructed to ensure that each learning point was supported, reinforced, tested. I’ve memorized it, dreamt it, ate it for dinner, and regurgitated it again and again and again for practice.
But the more polished and prepared I tried to be, the less I connected with my audience. The less fulfilled all of us came away from the presentation feeling. And my greatest fears became a reality. They were bored. They were restless. They left wanting something more. And so did I.
The truth is, for everything I know, there is far more that I don’t know and want to learn. The more I venture into that part of me that doesn’t know things, the more curious I am. And the more I indulge my curiosity, the less I care about managing my appearances, needing to come across as someone who’s got it all figured out. Instead of filling my mind with stuff that ends up feeling more like clutter than anything else, I find that my heart begins to open and beat with a new energy and vibrancy. It receives. It remembers. It guides. It connects.
I’m intrigued with people who are willing to courageously step on stage and talk about what scares the hell out of them. I enjoy watching the bloopers more than the polished, perfected performance. Let me see you at your most vulnerable. Not so that I can feel superior to you, but so that I can be inspired by you. Because what keeps us from truly connecting with each other is our need to cover up and mask the common denominator that truly unites us. We are human. We feel. We cry. We love. We yearn. We try. We leap. We fall. We get back up again.
In conversations with people, when I dare to forget about my mask, my facade, my persona — and just say what’s in my heart, I am liberated. I am connected. I am transformed. Sometimes when I do that, the people around me drop their facades too and things begin to get interesting. We dispense with small talk and go for the good stuff. We lose sense of time and space and are embraced by the electric buzz of possibility and wonder. And we leave each other’s presence feeling uplifted and inspired.
That’s what I want to bring to the stage in every area of my life. I’m beginning to realize that the powerful part of writing, speaking, creating a video, engaging in conversation — anything we do to connect with others — is not so much about finding the perfect combination of words, but rather about tapping into an energy — live, vibrant, pulsing, bright, beautiful.
Our greatest opportunity is to create a bridge through which this energy can somehow travel from one to another in such a way that it will liberate, soothe, uplift, energize, inspire, and fill us all up with boundless passion and light until we burst in a joyous explosion of blissful exhilaration, and brighten everything and everyone around us.
That was my intention this weekend when I got up in front of people and spoke without any preparation, and it is still my intention. With this blog, in my meetings with clients, with my family, my friends, and my very self. Polished? Perfected? Heck no. Fun? Thrilling? Worth the risk? Ohhh, yes. And I’m just getting started…
What can you do today to forget about polished and just let it rip? Move into your fear. There is energy and electricity there. For you. For me. For all of us.
I dare you.