“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”
~ 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.
There is something magical about being at the threshold of a new year.
It is like climbing to the top long staircase to find ourselves on a landing, standing before a large glimmering door just waiting to be opened. As we look down, we realize how far we have climbed to get here. Yet, we cannot help but wonder what lies behind the door.
Often we underestimate the amount of growth we have achieved.
It’s important to take some time to reflect on the unique combination of experiences that have led to both successes and disappointments and what we have learned from them. When we do, we often gain the insight that helps us become aware of what we most need to do from this point forward.
I often work with people who feel they are ready for a change, but aren’t sure what that change should be. They aren’t necessarily miserable in their jobs or other areas of their lives – they just long for something that will fill them up in ways they haven’t been fulfilled in the past.
When I coach people who feel this way, they often want me to tell them what the next best step is – give them the answer, or perhaps a step-by-step process that will lead them to find what they seek. Of course, no person has these answers for another. Our greatest challenge and opportunity is to find them for ourselves.
Each of our lives has a story with perfect order and meaning.
As within a novel or screenplay, each character has a specific relationship to the main character and every scene has some relevance to his growth and evolution. There will be victories and disappointments, as well as twists and turns that transition us from one to another and back again.
We will have occasion to laugh, cry, and experience a myriad of other emotions that are somewhere in between. And as a result of this perfect combination of events and mini-plots, we discover ourselves to be better people.
When we are reading a book or watching a movie, the perfect order is often easier for us to see than it is for the characters enmeshed in the stories we are watching. Yet, the mystery and intrigue, the humor over each misstep, and the courage we see the characters exude to find their way give substance to the story and allow us to leave the book or the theatre feeling moved or inspired in some way.
As you reflect on 2016, can you identify your story’s most pivotal turns? What did you learn from them? Think about your character sketch. What are the endearing qualities you have that make you unique and special? How can you leverage them to build on the previous events to create a story worth telling?
Think also about the people that surround you. In what ways are they helping you grow? What are they teaching you about yourself – whether in joyful or painful ways? And what are the qualities they possess that are similar to and different than yours? How do you compliment each other, and what might it be that you can create together?
You now sit at the threshold of another chapter in your story.
Contemplate what you have already experienced and ask yourself how you might build upon it to add a bit of intrigue and adventure. Identify the ways that you could add a little lightness and humor. Think about the interplay between the characters and how you could spice things up a little.
We have each been given the makings of a beautiful tale. Open your eyes and survey them the way you would the perfectly planned detail of your favorite movie or novel. Give yourself completely to the adventure, the possibilities, and the humor in your life.
Then find a way to revel in the joy of living it.
As you turn the page to your life’s next chapter, consider emphasizing the experiences that help you gain clarity, wisdom, and momentum for years—or chapters—to come. Stay tuned for more insight into those moments and information on my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow. Click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon be available.
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
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.
One day when my kids were younger, they had a play date with some friends. I heard one of them telling the other that Santa Claus wasn’t real. My son, who was eight years old at the time, vehemently defended the jolly old man, with elaborate explanations of why something not easily proven was worth believing in anyway.
It reminded me of my own childhood.
I had to laugh, as I flashed back to one of my own experiences with a little girl in my neighborhood who made fun of me for believing that a fat man in a red coat actually came down my chimney every year. I was so mad that, when she wasn’t looking, I broke all her crayons and put them back in the box (and spent the rest of the holiday season worrying that I had just put myself on the naughty list).
I have since learned that it is okay if everyone doesn’t believe what I do.
And if he hasn’t already, my son will learn that too. But he is the one who taught me something that day. I was buoyed by his unwavering belief and faith in something he’s never really seen and inspired by his example.
I can’t help but believe that those who trust in something magical will experience that magic in ways the skeptics will not. And I think the same is true in life.
There will always be someone around to tell us what cannot be done.
And there will also always be people who, upon being so told, will do it anyway. Their faith, determination, and belief in something they have yet to see will allow them to persevere until their dreams become reality.
One of my favorite authors on personal and spiritual growth, Alan Cohen, once said “You do not need to get others to believe in your truth. You just need to live it.”
Trust, faith, and perseverance go a long way.
In a world where much is uncertain and the old success formulas no longer seem to work, I believe it is more important than ever to trust in what we know to be true in hearts, even if our minds cannot figure it all out. It may go against what we have been conditioned to believe, see, and do – but perhaps this makes it even more important.
To bust out of old paradigms that keep us from realizing our greatness, perhaps we need to stop questioning what is possible and start challenging our limits instead. As we do, we will begin to make manifest that which we previously only dreamed was possible and, through our example, show others the way to rise.
Believing what we want to see is especially important when creating our future. But it is only one component of a vital process I’ll be covering in my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom and Flow. Stay tuned for more information 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.
Sometimes despite our best efforts, things go awry.
Be the source that raises the level of energy of those around you. Utilize Desire, focus and courage to help yourself and others.
Watch this video for tips on becoming the light in darkness for those around you.
If you would like to learn more about building confidence, being authentic, and moving beyond old patterns that keep you from fully enjoying your life, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader, available at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.
The story of the Chinese bamboo tree that I wrote about in my last post is one of patience, perseverance and faith. I was moved when I heard it and eager to share with others who would also appreciate and enjoy it. Upon sharing the story with one of my dear friends, she relayed an equally inspiring tale to me. And two weeks later, out of the blue another of my close friends said there was a story she just had to tell me. To my amazement, it was the very same one my first friend shared.
I believe it is no accident when you encounter something numerous times – especially when it has meaning for you. And that is why I want to pass along to you the story I was told.
In the far east, there lived a boy named Ling who loved to garden. His “green thumb” led him to surround himself with plants that he lovingly tended to and enjoyed. One day, he heard that the emperor, who had no sons of his own, was seeking a successor and had asked for all the boys of the village to gather in his courtyard. Ling’s mother encouraged him to attend.
The emperor addressed the young boys, giving each of them a seed. He instructed them all to plant the seeds and return to his palace in a year with what they had grown from this seed. He explained he would judge their results and proceed to pick the next emperor.
Ling took his seed home and potted it. He proceeded to nurture and care for it with as much love as he did all his other plants, tending to it daily. After about three weeks, the other boys began talking about their seeds and the sprouts that had begun to grow. Ling’s pot remained empty. He gave it extra care and nutrients and spent even more time with it. After a few more weeks, he moved it to a sunnier area, and then a few weeks after that back out of the direct sun. Still nothing.
Months went by with still no growth and the other boys began to mock Ling and laugh at him. Some felt sorry for him. Ling was frustrated and confused. He knew how to care for plants. He had done everything he could. And still, nothing had happened with his seed. Soon the year was up and it was time for the boys to reconvene to the palace courtyard.
As Ling approached the courtyard, he couldn’t believe the greenery he saw around him. Boys on all sides of him carried in lush, vibrant plants – some of them flowering, others with long beautiful vines. Hiding in the shadows at the back of the gathering, he clutched his empty pot and felt shame wash over him.
Soon the emperor appeared. He surveyed the boys and their pots, smiling and admiring the prolific green leaves. When his eyes caught sight of Ling and his empty pot, the emperor ordered his guards to bring the boy to the front of the gathering. The others began to point at him and laugh. Ling was terrified.
The emperor silenced the room and asked the young boy his name. Ling replied, feeling his face flush with warmth. He felt like a failure and feared that the emperor might have him executed. But to his great surprise, the emperor took hold of his hand and raising it up announced, “Behold your new emperor. His name is Ling.” He went on to explain that all the seeds he had given the boys had been boiled and as such were incapable of producing any of the trees, plants and flowers that the other boys brought with them.
When I first heard this story, I thought it was simply about honesty. Ling was rewarded because he was the only one who had the courage to be honest. This is a great message in and of itself, but after hearing the story a second time and reflecting on it later, I began to realize that there is much more to this story than the importance of honesty.
This story speaks to the fear within all of us that what we have is not enough – that who we are is not enough. We are conditioned to believe we have to look as good as or better than the next guy. Many of us spend a good part of our lives comparing ourselves to everyone else and doing whatever we can to stay in the proverbial game. We are constantly tempted to sell ourselves out and just go do or buy or imitate whatever the people around us do or buy or are like. We are led to believe – and often unwittingly propagate the illusion that not doing so is failure and defeat.
It might be the latest gizmo or style of clothing, or the fanciest car. Or it could be a way of doing business – marketing in a manner to generate a feeling of scarcity or urgency, emphasizing profits and growing market share over people and service. It could be a way of behaving within an organization – stomping on others to get ahead, or sucking up to people in power in an effort to rise through the ranks. All with the justification that everyone else seems to be doing it and that playing along is how you survive.
The lengths we go to in an effort to “measure up” and “get ahead” have us creating a lot of flash, but at the cost of substance, sustenance and even sanity. It never seems to be enough, and has us continuing to look over our shoulders and outside of ourselves to continue to keep up appearances. These efforts are almost always short lived. They require tremendous amounts of energy that leave us feeling exhausted and depleted.
Those who are wise can see right through these facades. There is a growing population that is increasingly ready and willing to say NO to this crazy way of living. Some of them are customers who will no longer tolerate empty promises and hype with no follow through, or service that leaves them feeling like an afterthought. Some of them are talent that have had enough with being treated in ways that belittle their creativity and desire for meaning and purpose in their work .
Some of them are entrepreneurs and executives who know there is a better way of doing business and are itching to create workplaces that allow people to come alive and do what they do best in a way that truly serves others. Many of these people are waiting and watching, nurturing ideas and dreams of a better way of living and leading, and gradually they are beginning to act on them.
Though Ling’s pot was empty, his heart was full. He didn’t allow the temptation to fit in and do as everyone else was to taint him. And though he was terrified at what the consequences may have been, he exuded the courage to stand in his truth. The qualities that allowed him to persevere through a year of waiting, wondering, questioning, and listening are the same that will make him a great leader – one that doesn’t rush to the easy solution. One who holds dear the importance of staying grounded and being strong and acting in alignment with a higher truth. One who inspires others to do the same.
Real leadership requires courage to say NO to relegating oneself to a life of complacency with ways of being that don’t ring true – even though it might be scary, and lead us to feel alone and judged and mocked as young Ling did. It requires faith in ourselves – and something bigger than ourselves – which will guide us to find what we seek through the small sweet voice within that has all our answers. And it requires vigilance and dedication to continue to listen to that voice instead of allowing it to be drowned out by the booming voice of ego echoed in the masses that have us believing who we are and what we have to offer is not enough.
Our reward is something that doesn’t come and go with the seasons , or that can ever be taken away from us. It is the cultivation of inner strength and wisdom that will allow us to meet any challenge with grace and to create opportunities that allow ourselves and everyone around us to share in the glory of living and leading inspired lives.
Don’t sell yourself out. You’re worth more than that. And it’s never too late to begin living your truth.
Almost exactly two years ago, I had a karate belt test that pushed me beyond my limits. I wrote an article called Tapping Your Reserves that captured what took place as well as the lessons I learned as a result. But reflecting back on that experience now, I realize that in the months that passed, I ended up learning more than I initially realized.
Here’s an excerpt of that article, depicting that experience:
Waiting outside the dojo adjusting my mouthpiece like a horse trying to acclimate to its first bit, I quietly prepared myself, breathing slowly and deeply. 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 – one of the toughest, most intense sensei’s I have encountered as a martial arts student. Our heads were swallowed up by the protective foam of our sparring gear, exposing only eyes, cheeks, noses and lips.
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 wrote the Tapping Your Reserves article to process that experience and make the most of it. Ironically, despite the insights I gained, in the months that followed I found myself feeling far more fear about what happened than I did on the day that I got punched in the nose. The experience became exaggerated in my mind, a horribly warped version much like the image reflected by a fun house mirror. The sense of accomplishment I enjoyed after having completed the test was replaced by a fixation on what it felt like to be trapped with no recollection of how to escape. I felt the blow to my face over and over again as I replayed the events in my mind. And it was far more painful in my memory than it was in reality.
What is amusing to me is that often fear like this comes before an event – as I see in my mind’s eye all manner of things that could go wrong and then magnify it until it becomes a mental picture so horrid that I would do anything to avoid it. But this time, I was using a somewhat fictional account of an actual event to work myself into a frenzy that led me to avoid the future based on a past that was more imaginary than real. After all, when given the choice on the day of the test, I decided to jump back in and keep going after getting hit. My hesitance about the whole thing didn’t really set in until after it was over.
As my kids’ team practices and dance rehearsals began to conflict with karate classes, I was secretly a little grateful that shuttling them from school to field to court to studio prevented me from attending with the regularity I once did. God forbid I would be asked to test again – to spar again. No, not an experience I was eager to repeat. Every time anyone referenced sparring in karate class, I felt a shudder go down my spine. The idea of even putting protective gear on made me nauseous. I became overly concerned with playing safe – doing whatever I could to avoid getting hit again. But I knew at some point I would need to get over it and get back in the game.
Gradually I got tired of being scared, of holding myself back, of playing in the shadows. I was still afraid, but found myself growing more and more eager to face those fears and step into them. I began to pay careful attention in the strategy sessions that were being offered. I started to envision a different scenario than the one I was previously playing out in my head. And I even attended a special open sparring class just so that I could put myself in the experience of facing an opponent and replacing my fear with the tiniest shred of confidence I could muster.
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to test again. I accepted. The test is this Saturday.
I’m nervous. I’d like to be a little more prepared, and I realize that no matter how much I practice, the fear will still be there. But I don’t need to give into it. I just need to stand in its presence without letting it grip and control me. And I think no matter what happens in this test – even if I get knocked out cold or do something incredibly embarrassing, I will be victorious. Because the real battle I am fighting is with myself. And it’s not just a sparring match. It is a metaphor for overcoming resistance (and the illusion it creates) that keeps me from doing what I really want to do in all areas of my life.
In the end, the pain of holding out and playing small became far greater than the physical pain I can recall from the event that provoked the fear in the first place – perhaps far greater than any fear my little mind can conjure up. Enough already. I’m ready to play.
Bring it on, baby.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.” ~ Ambrose Redmoon
For more on Overcoming the Illusion of Fear:
Karate image by Kriss Szkurlatowski.
Fire head image by Salvatore Vuono.