You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Though I have been studying and reflecting on the process of working through fear for the better part of my life, my learning came to a head when I was thrown into an environment that provoked a whole spectrum of fear and anxiety. As a martial artist, after learning and practicing basic blocks, kicks, and punches, the time came to take it up a notch and begin to spar.
What does sparring have to do with your life?
What I have learned over the years as I have continued to develop my skill in this area is that sparring is metaphorical for just about any challenge you could possibly be faced with that evokes fear — making a presentation (or any kind of performance), pitching a proposal, going to a job interview, or speaking your mind, just to name a few.
These situations lead you to question whether you have what it takes.
And no matter what the challenge is, there is something at stake — your status, your security, your reputation, your comfort, your pride. However, there is one differentiating factor: with sparring there is a pretty high likelihood that you will get punched in the nose. Literally.
While many lessons come from having positive experiences, much of what I learned about working with fear came through trial and error — a lot of error.
My first error allowed me to learn about focus.
Focus is determined by what you allow to occupy your mind.
When I first started sparring, my focus was on getting it over with. I was fairly preoccupied with a feeling of inadequacy that led me to temporarily forget much of what I had learned over the previous years. Rather than trusting in what I had the ability to do, I became preoccupied by what I did not want to happen — getting hit.
And as a result, I got hit. Hard.
Then, I didn’t want to spar again for a really long time. I took myself out of the game. I allowed the fear to stop me. And my training stagnated. Until the pain of stagnation became greater than the pain of the physical blow.
When I got myself back in the game, my mind shifted from retreat to advance.
Instead of fixating on what I didn’t want, I zeroed in on what I did want. It wasn’t about not getting hit. It was about pushing through the fear. It was about applying what I had learned. It was about having more faith in what I did know than what I didn’t. And it was proving to myself that I had it in me to rise above the challenge.
I threw more punches. I closed the gaps. I began to bob and weave. I learned how to lure my opponent in so I had him right where I wanted him.
But what does that have to do with facing fear off the sparring mat?
Everything. No matter what you do, you have the choice to focus either on what you are moving toward or what you are moving away from. When you are fixated on what you want to avoid, you will hedge your bets. You won’t go all out. You’ll watch the clock. And you won’t really be engaged. You’ll cheat yourself out of the joy of the experience.
When you move toward something, you marshal the forces of desire. You ignite passion. You make what you want more important than what you fear. And this gives you the fuel to do what you really want to do — in spite of the fear.
The second tool for moving out of the grip of fear is presence.
Fear has you consumed with worrying about the future or fixated on something from the past. It keeps you in your head and prevents you from being immersed in what is happening right in front of you.
When I would try to remember a technique or think too much about how to properly execute anything, I’d miss what was happening and get hit. I had no real concept of what was happening, what was coming at me, or what I needed to do to deflect it. I felt as though I was in a blender, at the mercy of the blades and centrifugal force.
Ironically, being in my head kept me in a state of panic that kept me from thinking clearly. In fact, I became so gripped with panic that I forgot to breathe and ended up exhausting myself almost immediately.
In non-sparring environments, being in your head costs you opportunities.
When you are giving a presentation and are so intent on what you prepared that you fail to see that your audience is confused, or bored or irritated, you risk losing them. In a sales setting, being determined to stick to your pitch when your customer has questions that you didn’t plan on can keep you from making the sale.
The irony is that not deviating from what you planned because you are consumed by fear keeps you from being present and often ends up leading to that which you are most afraid of. The antidote? Let go of your preconceived ideas and hold your plans loosely so that you can be present.
When you get out of your head and become present, things slow down.
When I immersed myself in what was happening in front of me while sparring, I realized that every time my opponent would throw a punch he left himself wide open. Rather than worrying about getting hit, I began to look for vulnerabilities. And I learned that I could get him to raise his hands to his face if I threw a few high punches, which would allow me to land a couple low ones while he wasn’t expecting it.
I went from jumping around like a cricket without breathing to moving more deliberately and strategically and conserving my energy. Instead of allowing my opponent to back me into a corner, I learned to pivot and use his own force against him.
In any situation, being present leads to better connections and higher performance.
You will take in more information. You will breathe more deeply, get more oxygen to your brain and access higher creativity. You’ll be more likely to make whoever you are talking to feel more important, because you’ll be more focused on him and not yourself. You’ll think more quickly on your feet and come up with better solutions on the fly.
These insights led me to realize that often what is more important than preparation is practice, which brings us to the third tool: desensitization.
The more you expose yourself to what you fear, the less impact the fear has.
Fear never really goes away. It is a human emotion that is wired into our DNA. While we can’t change the fact that it will be ever present, we can diminish the effect it has on our performance. What allows the fear to diminish, is repeatedly being in the presence of what you fear and realizing that you will be okay.
The first time I got punched in the nose, it was horrible. And though I went to great lengths to keep it from happening again, it did. And when it did, I realized that the memory of it was far worse than the reality.
The more I sparred, the more I began to become confident in my ability to prevent it from happening. And the less my fear kept me from doing what I needed to do.
Many altercations and escalations are the product of untamed fear.
The importance of learning to spar is to develop within the martial artist the confidence to handle a physical fight if necessary — in order to prevent a conflict from escalating to the point that requires any force at all.
And the implication for each of us is that becoming confident in the face of fear allows us to rise to any challenge or opportunity with grace, wisdom and victory. In so doing, we inspire others to follow our lead.
Eleanor Roosevelt urged “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
What would that be for you? Chances are it is connected to something you really want for yourself. As you focus on what you’re moving toward, stay fully engaged in the game and the joy of playing it, and have the courage to repeatedly put yourself in the presence of your fear, the words of Henry Ford will ring true for you as well:
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t.”
Staying fully engaged without succumbing to fear, pressure and overwhelm can be tricky. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will give you approaches and methodologies that help you rise to the occasion and not only get better results, but also enjoy yourself in the process. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
I am all too familiar with that awkward, humbling stage that comes with learning something new – when you want to run with the stallions but feel more like a donkey. It’s a universal phenomenon, really. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that, “Every artist was once an amateur.”
We can all learn a lot about our paths to proficiency by looking at the ways in which we have mastered things over the course of our lives – whether it is how to drive a car, play our favorite sport, or take up a new hobby. Upon reflection, I realized how I can transfer my learnings from one arena to the other.
(1) There is power in persistent practice.
Sometimes my yoga instructor demonstrates a pose that evokes a “you’ve got to be kidding” response from me. I always give it a try, and usually the first time I do I look a lot like I feel – completely inept. She managed to work one of those dreaded poses in for several weeks. But I gave it a shot every time, and I have to say it gradually became less awkward. Before too long I was actually able to hold the pose – even if only for a few seconds. And I realized the more I practiced, the better I would get and the easier and more fun it would become.
Isn’t that like life, though? Every day there are things you can sail through and there are those things that require practice and patience before you can feel even the least bit effective. But if you keep at it, one day you will surprise yourself with how far you have come. And everything that led up to that point will be worth it.
(2) Learn from and admire others, but don’t compare yourself to them.
As a novice, you watch people perform so that you can see how things are done. And even as you gain skill, you can still learn a lot from others’ examples. But the minute you begin to compare yourself, you will lose your focus and dilute your effectiveness. This is true regardless of whether comparing yourself to others makes you feel inferior or superior.
When we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to others, the energy and focus that is required to perform effectively becomes scattered. And if you do not believe you can do something, you will inevitably prove yourself right. On the other end of the spectrum, when you believe you are outperforming others and become a little too smug, your confidence can turn into arrogance, which shifts your focus from what you are doing to how others are perceiving you. And anything that is more focused on appearances than substance lacks foundation and eventually crumbles.
The best of the best gain their confidence from within – as a product of their effort, focus, and the results that come with effort and focus. They don’t need to compare themselves to other to know that they are good – or to learn that they can get even better.
(3) Lighten up and have some fun.
When we get all balled up in knots trying to make things perfect and avoiding every possible misstep, we risk becoming stagnant and playing small. Getting too attached to the results leads us to stiffen up and become consumed with needing things to happen in the exact way we want them to. Without flexibility, we lose our ability to bend and make the necessary course corrections that allow us to ultimately excel. If you ever look at the top performers in any industry, sport, or artistic endeavor you will notice that accompanying their intensity is an ability to relax into their game in such a way that it appears easy and natural. The ability to play at work is another mark of the master.
(4) Replenish yourself regularly.
In our frenetic lives, it is easy to forget about the importance of pausing every once in awhile to make the most of our experiences – whether by giving ourselves a needed break, or simply taking a moment to assess where we are going, to what degree we are still on course, and what, if any, course corrections are necessary. Being willing to invest our precious time into replenishing ourselves in this way pays handsome dividends – and sometimes the times we think we can’t afford to slow down are in fact the times we cannot afford not to.
The speed and effectiveness with which we move toward mastery is a direct result of the way in which we approach our challenges and opportunities. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive is a program designed to help you make a bigger impact while enjoying the process, both on and off the job. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
“Yeah.” He answered without missing a beat.
“Would you have any hesitation going snowboarding again after your wrist heals?” I inquired.
“Nah!” he replied. “Let’s come back for sure.”
This is an excerpt of a conversation I had with my son at age thirteen on the way to urgent care after his first attempt to snowboard. I was inspired by his lack of hesitation. And his courage. But most of all, with his mindset.
Mindset is the key to overcoming setbacks. Your mindset determines—to a large degree—whether you see the experience as a success or a failure. And the way you see the experience will have an enormous impact on whether or not you will try that experience again.
What’s the big deal if you don’t try an experience again?
Well, the problem isn’t so much the broken bone—in my son’s case—which will inevitably be accompanied by a certain amount of pain. The problem is letting the setback deprive you of a future that could bring you an immense amount of joy and satisfaction. And most people let seeming setbacks deprive them of joy and satisfaction more often than they realize.
It could be the proposals they poured their hearts into to that never really went anywhere. Or the promotions they were working toward for months that ended up going to someone else. Perhaps it was the first time they went out their comfort zones, only to feel as though they landed on their backside with nothing but broken bones to show for it.
Confusing Skill with Potential
You confuse skill with potential when you decide that you’ll never be good at something because you didn’t get it right the first time you tried it. Or the second time. Or the tenth time. Most people do not have a high degree of skill when they try something new. But doesn’t mean they don’t have an enormous amount of potential.
When you confuse skill with potential, you tell yourself a story that has you making an assessment of yourself based on a very limited amount of data. The story goes like this: “Boy, I was really bad at that. I’m just not cut out for it. I should leave it to other people who actually have talent.”
You allow it to keep you from trying something again. And trying something again is exactly what you need to do in order to gain the very skill you are having difficulty executing. So your story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You miss out on the joy of ultimately mastering that skill. And so do all the people who would have benefited from what you could have accomplished if you did.
But that’ s not the only story that can get you into trouble.
Taking an Experience Personally
When you take an experience personally, you make it more about you than anything or anyone else. Your universe constricts and you become the center of it. You feel hurt and rejected, or angry and resentful. You replay events in your mind and question what you did to screw things up. You think, “if only I would have done this, or been more like that, things would have gone better.”
You become so fixated in feeling wronged or victimized that you render yourself powerless. In an effort to avoid being hurt again, you may hedge your bets, fly under the radar, try not to get your hopes up. And this act of withholding keeps you from doing the very thing that could allow you to succeed next time.
Often, setbacks have nothing to do with you as a person.
You lost a big client. Yet in retrospect, you realize the client was a huge pain in your rear end, sucking up time and energy that you could have dedicated to someone you really love to work with. And if you take it personally, you’ll keep your perfect client from seeing the very thing in you that could cinch the deal.
What If It Was Personal?
But what if it did have to do with you? What if you came on too strong? Or too meek? Or if there was something you could have done to get that promotion, keep that client, succeed with that proposal? Well, if you take it personally you may never have the courage, the confidence and the open mind it takes to solicit or receive the feedback you need and to act on it in a way that allows you to succeed next time.
There is a difference between taking things personally and learning what you could do differently next time. Taking things personally causes you to contract. And learning allows you to expand. Which will you choose?
My 13-year-old son reminded me of the importance of mindset in my own life.
Though it’s not likely that snowboarding will be in my future, there is a good chance that I will fall the next time I try something new. When I do, I will remember how his lack of regret and eagerness to try again kept him from an unproductive mindset.
And I will pick myself up, tend to my broken bones, and allow myself to enjoy the joy and satisfaction that comes from getting back on the slopes.
Aligning your mindset with your desired outcome is an essential and often overlooked practice – a major focus of The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
~ 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.
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.
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about feeling your fear and doing it anyway. I wrote that after going months without writing a single word for my blog. I thought I wanted to write. I loved the idea of writing. But the truth is what I really loved was the idea of having written. There is a difference. I wanted the satisfaction of having a finished, polished product that made me feel as though I had accomplished something worthwhile. But I couldn’t get my heart and head into writing at all.
I told myself it was because I didn’t have the time. There were too many other things I needed to do. Too much going on. And while it was true that there my plate was quite full, it was also true that I could have made the time to write if I really tried.
In a moment of complete honesty, I realized that I was simply experiencing plain old yellow bellied fear. I was talking to a friend one day about my worry that I couldn’t write a decent article. She blinked in confusion. “But – you’ve written and published a whole book! You know how to write.” I laughed in recognition that she was right. But it didn’t matter. I was still paralyzed by doubt. And to make matters worse, I was also judging myself for being a pansy.
Have you ever done something like that?
Have you ever let your fear and doubt keep you from doing what you really need and want to do?
The longer I went without writing, the more monumental the task seemed. I just wasn’t sure I could still pull it off. And to save myself the agony of flailing and failing, I just didn’t try at all. I manufactured a bunch of other things that justified putting it on the backburner. But it continued to eat at me, haunting the edges of my mind – and so despite my attempts to avoid it, I experienced agony anyway.
One day when I just couldn’t stand sitting at my desk for another minute, I went for a run. I didn’t really want to, but I needed to get away and clear my head. It had been awhile since I went running. My body was heavy and stiff.
“Do I really want to do this?” I asked myself.
“No. But I’m gonna do it anyway.”
So I started moving my legs and ran down the street. It was not fun. I was not enjoying myself. But I kept at it because I knew that feeling wouldn’t last long. I just needed to warm up and find my zone, and then it would feel good. Maybe even great. And that’s exactly what happened. I came back refreshed, renewed, and energized.
And then it hit me. Perhaps the same approach that got me into my running zone could get me into my writing zone. Maybe all I needed was to warm up – to give myself permission to not be in my zone, but to move anyway. Every athlete worth his salt knows the importance of warming up. Broadcasters do tongue twisters before they get on the air. Some of the best actors are in character long before they get in front of the camera. Even cars and other machinery runs better when the engines are warm.
I remembered reading recommendations for writing warm-ups. I had scoffed at them before, thinking they were a complete waste of time. If I couldn’t find the time to write as way it was, why would I want to add another chunk of time onto writing something that I would end up throwing away? It seemed silly. But I tried it.
What I discovered is that a warm-up – whether for writing or anything else, doesn’t necessarily need to take a whole lot of time. Five minutes is all that was recommended. Five minutes of sitting at my computer writing a stream of consciousness, letting my fingers dance across the keyboard without stopping, and without regard for spelling, punctuation or typos. Five minutes of typing anything – even if it was “this is stupid, I don’t know why I am doing this. I don’t even know what to write about. I don’t think doing a warm-up is going to help anything. I want ice cream. Blah, blah, blah.”
The more that I typed, the more I began to express my fears and doubts. I moved into my resistance and put it right out there on the paper in black and white. I wrote about what was on my mind, what was weighing on me. What I was afraid I would do. And what I was afraid I wouldn’t do. And I began to feel lighter, less encumbered, and more fluid as my doubts began to give way to something more interesting that was waiting to break through.
Five minutes. The timer buzzed. And then I proceeded to write an article. I was amazed as what used to take hours came flying out in a matter of minutes. I let it rip, deciding not to edit myself as I went along and giving myself permission to go back and polish things up later. I put my judgment on hold and just did what I wanted and needed to do. And it was wonderful. I was enjoying the process again. And when I did, the end result took care of itself.
Later I had lunch with another friend as I shared with him my latest discovery. His kind brown eyes narrowed with intensity as he asked, “Why do we doubt ourselves?”
“Because we’re afraid we can’t do what we need to do.” I answered.
“Do you doubt that you are sitting here in front of me?” He replied.
“No,” I laughed. “Of course not.”
“Why do you not doubt that?” he asked, unphased.
“Because I can see for myself that I am sitting in front of you.” I shot back.
“Exactly!” he said. “You don’t doubt what you can see, hear and feel with your own senses.”
And then I realized why a warm-up is so very powerful. When we doubt ourselves, we begin to tell ourselves stories about how we can’t do anything all that well. And then we believe those stories and become more firmly entrenched on our backsides. We become stuck in inertia without indication that we can do anything but stay there.
But when we start moving in a direction – any direction – we begin to have even the smallest shred of evidence to contradict the doubt. And once we start moving, we gain momentum that allows us to carry on. Even if we are moving in the wrong direction, that momentum gives us what we need to turn things around and go another way.
So I started doing writing warm ups in the morning before I begin doing anything, whether it is writing or anything else. And I challenge you to do the same. Think of it as a bit of stretching and some light calisthenics for the mind and the spirit. Allow yourself a few minutes (even if it is just five) of not judging yourself – write whatever the hell you want. You might be surprised at what comes out – and what letting it rip allows you to do that you may not have ever realized you had in you.
“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.”
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Every day when I pull into my garage, my headlights illuminate a box of solar garden lanterns my father bought for me for Christmas a few years ago. Every time I see them I am reminded that I need to set them up. But something stops me. I don’t know what it is, really. Maybe I feel like I don’t have the time to do it. Part of me is unsure exactly where to put them. But I have to admit that I also worry it will be too complicated. That I won’t be able to figure it out quickly. That I’ll get bogged down with it. And so these beautiful lights are still sitting in the box in our garage.
A couple of shelves over from the solar lights are bags of palm tree supplements and fertilizers. I bought them a few months ago with the good intention of trying to give our trees an extra leg up in the scorching summer heat. Every weekend, I see on my list of weekend projects, “fertilize palm trees”. But the bags are still sitting on the shelf. They are heavy and stinky. And it’s hot outside. Admittedly it is not at the top of my list of priorities. But really, why have I let them sit for so long? When I’m totally honest with myself, I realize it’s because I’m anxious about whether or not I’ll figure out the right ratios and the right way to spread the stuff around the dirt – whether I’ll have to dig or sprinkle, and then I just figure there’s something more pressing that needs to get done.
Silly, stupid stuff, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The other day it hit me that these things I let sit in the garage may be indicative of a larger, more significant pattern in my life. One that is keeping me stuck and jamming up my creative energy. You see, I haven’t written in a very long time. I love to write. It frees me. It feeds me. And yet I haven’t allowed myself to do it. Why?
I got hung up in my head. Silly decisions that I kept putting off. Little complications that I allowed to fester and grow. What to write about? Should I do an article or a video? Where should I post it, now that I have a couple of different websites and a column that I contribute to? When should I write? What if I can’t get it all done in the time I have? What if I start and then I can’t finish? I go around and around in my head until I become incredibly irritated with myself.
And then I go find something else to do. Something safe. Something clean and easy to check the box on. And I have a few seconds of a very fleeting and artificial sense of accomplishment that slowly fades into a nagging, unsettling feeling. Over the last few weeks, I’ve developed an irritating muscle cramp that has become so painful I am having trouble moving in certain ways. Whether it is related or not, it is the perfect physical equivalent to what is going on in my mind.
And this morning it hit me. The dynamic that keeps me from tackling the boxes and bags in the garage is the same dynamic that has blocked my writing. I’m in fear. And I’m doubting myself. I’m worrying about all the things that could go wrong. That could make things hard. And I’m creating all kinds of distractions and complications to keep myself from doing what I really need to do most. And it is becoming painful.
The last box that I let sit for months was a printer we got over the summer for my kids to use for their school projects. I could tell you it sat in the box because they didn’t really need it until school started. But the truth is, it stayed in the box because I didn’t want to deal with it. In my mind it was a complicated endeavor that would have me confused and take hours of time. After school started again, I realized I had to muscle up and get the darn thing plugged in.
I know some of you are probably laughing right now. Really? How hard can it be to set up a printer? When I finally tore open the box and started following the directions I was laughing at myself too. It really wasn’t that hard. Until we flipped the switch and got an error message that the carriage was jammed before we ever even put paper in it. I spent the next forty minutes talking to technical support and then finally boxing up the printer to send back to the manufacturer (I had waited too long to be able to just bring it back to the store.)
My fear was validated in the same way that it was validated the last time I tried to assemble a piece of furniture only to find that when I thought I was almost done I had to completely disassemble everything and put it back together again following instructions written in really bad English and accompanied by pictures that didn’t look anything like the parts I had.
This morning I realized it’s not that my fear isn’t justified.
It’s just that I can’t let it stop me.
I almost let this fear keep me from coaching my daughter’s volleyball team. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. But I hesitated because my daughter has never actually played volleyball and I have never coached any sport at all. What if I couldn’t remember how the game goes, what the positions are, how the players rotate? What if I let the girls (or their parents) down? What if it becomes apparent that I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing?
I didn’t see it as a lucky thing at the time, but it turned out that the only way my daughter and her friends could be on the same team was if I became their coach. So I did. Reluctantly at first – and somewhat begrudgingly. Then I realized that despite my reservations, it’s really a lot of fun. And I don’t have to have all the answers. Others are happy to help me fill in the gaps, tell me what I don’t know, give me ideas, and offer support. And the look on the girls’ faces when they do something they couldn’t do before is priceless. Thank God I didn’t let my silly doubts and fears keep me from this amazing experience.
Funny how little things like solar lanterns and palm tree fertilizer can provoke such powerful insights. The irony that I am a coach who helps others get out of their fear and into their zones isn’t lost on me. But I get it. I understand why it’s so hard. And I also know why it is so very important. That’s why I wanted to share with you my own inner struggles – because we all have them. The only thing that really matters is what we do about it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some palm trees to fertilize.
Photo credit: David Castillo Domenici, Free Digital Photos
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
When was the last time you stretched yourself? I mean literally, physically stretched yourself?
It wasn’t that long ago that I had trouble touching my toes. I started doing yoga, and in one of the classes I attended we were asked to bend our bodies in a somewhat unusual way. The instructor effortlessly folded herself in half while I leaned slightly forward and came to an abrupt halt. It wasn’t really pain that I experienced as much as plain old discomfort. I wanted this part of the class to be over.
We were told to relax and breathe. Everything inside of me resisted even the idea of this crazy position that was the furthest thing from what I thought I or any other reasonable human being would consider restful. My muscles were tense and my body felt like it was in a knot. But I did my best to follow the directions – relax and breathe into it.
And as I did, a funny thing happened. After a short time, my muscles seemed to soften in spite of themselves, and I found myself gradually dropping more deeply into the stretch. The longer I held it, the (dare I say?) better it felt, until I was actually kind of enjoying this strange new sensation.
And then the thought occurred to me that this whole process is analogous to doing something – anything – that takes us out of our comfort zone.
We see something that beckons, perhaps something that we know will be good for us, and yet we resist. Often we move tentatively into it and then hit a wall of discomfort. In this discomfort a myriad of unsettling thoughts and fears barrage us – “I’m no good at this…,” “this was a bad idea…” “I’m wasting my time…” and on and on. And the resistance itself seems to intensify the discomfort. We tighten up, literally and figuratively, and block ourselves from moving into the experience.
But if we can remain patient and open – if we can allow ourselves this initial period of discomfort and stay present with it, relaxing into it and breathing through it, we might be surprised at the results we experience. Think of the last time you tried something really different – something new and exciting and kind of terrifying all at the same time. If you stayed with it despite your initial resistance, chances are that over time the discomfort gave way to exhilaration and over more time, perhaps deep gratification. And the longer you kept at it, the easier and more satisfying it became.
We are all capable of so much more than we realize, and I believe now more than ever we are beginning to see that that it is time for us to stand taller, to reach higher, and to be willing to open ourselves up to allow our greatest work to emerge. Do not be fooled into thinking that going outside of your comfort zone is merely a self serving exercise that can wait until you have more confidence or time. In fact, there is no better way to increase your confidence than by taking this kind of action in spite of your fear and discomfort. This kind of courageous exploration enriches not only ourselves, but everyone around us who will surely benefit from the gifts we uncover and give form to. When we shrink, we cheat more than just ourselves. And when we expand, we allow ourselves to truly lead – in whatever form that leadership will take.
As leaders, we cannot expect others to stretch themselves if we are not willing to do it first. We must allow ourselves to be humbled and vulnerable so that we can identify with and understand the experiences we ask others to participate in. And we need to be patient and supportive with them as they encounter and work through their own forms of resistance.
What can you do today to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone? And how can you apply what you learn to make you a stronger, more influential and transformational leader?
The above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Photo by Ambro.
Well, I made it through my karate belt test on Saturday. I actually really enjoyed my belt test. Yes, it’s true.
In last week’s blog post, Overcoming the Illusion of Fear, I wrote about the anxiety I experienced after my last karate belt test that led me to fear and dread the next one. And I also wrote about what helped me get into a mindset that would allow me to finally feel ready to stand in the fear and do the thing I was afraid of. If you would have asked me a year or two ago what victory would have been, I would have told you it was making it through the test without getting hit in the face. And I didn’t get hit in the face, but that’s not what I feel most victorious about.
You would have thought from reading last week’s article that the whole test was sparring and grappling. In fact, I’m told it only lasted a total of four minutes (though it feels like an eternity when you’re in it). The actual belt test in its entirety was five and a half hours long. Yes, that’s right – 95% of my anxiety and fear was about a four minute portion of a five and a half hour test, a fact that was pointed out to me and other karate students in class two days before the test. It was a startling realization. As I reflected on it, I became aware that it’s not the first time I’ve gotten so worked up over something that I poured more of my energy into worry and anxiety than anything else.
“I’ll feel so much better when that presentation is behind me.”
“I just want to get that project done so I can relax.”
“I won’t be able to enjoy myself until I have that dreaded conversation.”
Do you ever say things like that to yourself? Check the box, and then feel grateful for having checked another box. The trouble with that mentality is that it leads us to withdraw ourselves from the very things that we need to be most present for. We get so attached to the outcomes that we cheat ourselves of the experiences and the real gifts they offer. Sure they’re uncomfortable. Of course we look forward to having them over with. But the real victory is not in winning the trophy, it’s in having played our best game. And to do that, we must be fully present – while the game is being played.
We can prepare all we want. We can rehearse. We can plan and practice. And all of that is good. But really, the outcome of any of these things that spin us into a frenzy is directly linked to what we do during the experience itself. We have to detach ourselves from our plans and carefully rehearsed versions of whatever is about to unfold. Because the reality is that we can never fully anticipate what is about to happen. We need to be in the moment, tuning into the people we are with, the things that are being said and done and what we are being moved to do in response that may not have anything to do with what we rehearsed. We need to trust in that part of ourselves that will direct us in just the way we need to go in the moment.
The key benefit of practice and preparation is that we get our minds around the fact that we have everything we need to rise up to any challenge we will be confronted with. In short, we must believe in ourselves and our ability to respond to whatever is taking place even if we’ve never experienced it before.
Merriam Webster defines “victory” as 1: the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist, and 2: the achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties. The true enemy/antagonist in my battle was the part of me that didn’t believe I could handle the karate test, or any test for that matter – the one that just wanted to get it behind me so that I could go onto easier, more enjoyable things. This is the enemy that created the greatest odds and the most horrendous difficulties.
The biggest thing standing in the way of our ability to achieve whatever we endeavor to do is the part of us that keeps us believing we cannot pull it off. True mastery and success will occur for each one of us as we endeavor to rise up in the midst of this opposition and do what is ours to do. And as we do, we will create something we can be truly grateful for – the experience of discovering and unearthing that part of ourselves that can remain calm in the face of any opposition and access the best possible solution in the moment – any moment. This victory is the only kind that is lasting. And each victory of this kind builds on the one that came before.
A toast, to victory! And to every experience, for better or worse, that gives us the opportunity to truly experience it.
I would like to personally thank the Center for Humane Living and every person who is a part of it for enriching my life, and that of others in so many profound ways.
For more on achieving Victory:
Checklist image by Rawich.
Jumping silhouette by Biansho.