When Halloween rolls around, it invites the question: if you could be anything for one evening, what would it be?
The tradition invokes a feeling of fantasy. Whether your answer is a super hero or a villain or something in between, the very act of asking the question and imagining a response reminds us that we have the ability, even if for a simple costume party, to explore aspects of ourselves that want to be expressed.
And the invitation to step into a new way of experiencing the world (or projecting what the world experiences of us) doesn’t have to wait for Halloween or stop when it’s over.
Have you ever secretly dreamed of becoming something different than what you are right now? Maybe you’d like to be more of a strategic player, become more visible, make a bigger impact, or lead more people. Perhaps you have visions of learning a new skill, working in a different industry, or serving a different customer base. Or maybe you’d simply like to step into a new way of living and leading – one that allows you to be more confident, calm, and engaging, or less stressed, pressured and anxious.
Regardless of the change you seek, you would not have the desire if you didn’t also have the capability to achieve it. As Napolean Hill once told us, “Whatever you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.” Moving from thought to reality requires that we embrace three simple, yet powerful truths:
- You don’t have to be born with an innate talent to do something in order to learn it,
- You don’t have to eliminate anxiety and doubt in order to perform well, and
- You don’t have to sacrifice who you truly are in order to become who you want to be.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these.
You don’t have to be born with an innate talent in order to learn it.
On its face, this statement seems fairly obvious. After all, none of us knew how to walk or talk when we were babies. Many of the things you know how to do today were things you had no idea how to approach at some point in your past. While it is true that some of the things you learned over the course of your life came more easily to you than others, with practice and persistence you were able to increase your proficiency and improve your desired results.
You may think you don’t have the aptitude to learn or become certain things. But the problem may be more in what you are believing than anything. In her ground-breaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck discusses two different approaches to learning a new skill. Some people operate from a “fixed mindset”, considering talent to be an inborn trait for some (but not others). Others operate with a “growth mindset” which allows for the possibility of learning something that doesn’t come naturally to them. Her research shows that those in the latter group consistently outperform those in the former.
The fundamental difference comes in how those mindsets impact your behavior. With a fixed mindset, you’ll dread failure because you believe it is a reflection of your innate abilities. However, with a growth mindset you’ll be more likely to see things not going well at first as an opportunity to learn and grow in ways that improve your performance. A fixed mindset will lead you to quit before you even start, while a growth mindset will impel you to continue to practice, learn and improve.
The words of Henry Ford come to mind, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
But that doesn’t mean it will come easily, which leads to the next fundamental truth we must embrace.
You don’t have to eliminate anxiety and doubt in order to perform well.
Chances are that whatever you aspire to become is something that is beyond your current zone of comfort. If it wasn’t, you’d already be doing it. As I wrote in The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader, anytime you endeavor to make a change in your life, you will be met with resistance. Whether that resistance takes the form of anxiety or doubt or plain old yellow-bellied fear, no amount of careful learning and preparation will completely alleviate it.
Many of us (myself included) have spent years attempting to hone and refine our skill from a mental level before ever attempting to execute. The irony is the that most impactful and effective way to learn is often to simply do. In doing, we discover what works and what doesn’t and gain an intuitive feel for what we need to adapt to achieve the success we desire. Through trial and error our skill and effectiveness grow.
But the anxiety and the doubt and that little voice in your head that incessantly rattles on in ways that lead you to question your ability and your nerve will continue. If you can see those feelings as signs of progress that you are stepping up your game, you can perform in spite of them – and maybe even begin to appreciate them.
You can also learn to recognize that little nagging voice for what it is: a product of your thoughts and nothing more. As you stop giving it so much of your energy and attention, you may find that you can coexist with it in the same way you tolerate any other irritating but seemingly harmless disturbances, like a rattle in your car or an annoying commercial on the radio.
Sometimes that little voice will ask, “who do you think you are?” which leads us to the third fundamental truth we must embrace to move from desire to reality.
You don’t have to sacrifice who you truly are in order to become who you want to be.
The idea of dressing up implies that we are putting on a mask that eclipses our true identify. But often the things we desire to explore are actually innate parts of ourselves that are ready to emerge. We are drawn to people who exemplify the qualities we want to emulate. Sometimes we are even envious of them.
It is important to honor our own evolution by giving credence to our desire to grow and change and allowing those desires to guide us. They key to being authentic and true to ourselves is to listen to the beat of our own drummer rather than allowing the sheer force of our accumulated patterns, habits and the expectations of others determine our identity. Often the way we have behaved or expressed ourselves over the course of our lives is more a product of what we’ve always done than who we truly are.
So when the idea of trying something new, or exploring a different way of showing up in the world is appealing to you, indulge yourself and see what happens. Finding your own authentic expression is a matter of fine tuning. Try something and see how it feels. You can start by emulating what someone else has done. And then add your own twist. Let go of or tweak what doesn’t work and do more of what feels good to you.
This is what the most impactful of leaders have done throughout the course of history. They start by leading themselves – listening and indulging the desires of their hearts, believing in their ability to grow, evolve and achieve, and finding their own unique expression. And in so doing, they serve as leaders to the rest of us.
So don’t let the fantasy and fun of Halloween stop when October ends. Ask yourself what you’d most like to become and don’t be afraid to see where it takes you. In the words of George Eliot, “It is never too late to be what you could have been.”
If you are interested in more strategies for getting clarity on what you would most like to accomplish, create or become, as well as steps to help you close the gap between desire and reality, download my special report, Why Real Leaders Don’t Set Goals (and what they do instead).
I often conduct 360 feedback interviews for my coaching clients, which entail interviewing an assortment of people including their bosses, employees, customers, and peers to find out what the client’s perceived strengths and areas of opportunity are. It almost never fails that the areas that get in the way of people’s effectiveness and continued success are in some way strengths overdone.
The best listeners often get so wrapped up in passively listening to others that they forget to talk or to bring their views to the forefront. Those who have the admirable quality of being direct and letting others know where they stand can fall prey to delivering messages with a little too much force and not enough tact. Optimism can become naiveté, and realism can become pessimism. Thinking big can lead to overlooking the details, and those who are known for their precision are often criticized for missing the bigger picture.
Think about your unique strengths.
What happens when you turn the volume level on them up too high? A big part of sidestepping our pitfalls is simply becoming aware of them. Without that, you will never know what you do not know and your strengths overdone will become your blind spots. But when you observe yourself with awareness, you can recognize the areas that can be fine tuned and take action to keep yourself from falling into patterns that are unproductive and ineffective.
Lead with our strengths.
They are an essential part of our leadership and the uniqueness we bring to it. It is important for us to find work that is aligned with these strengths (and to do the same for our people). But we cannot allow our strengths to become crutches. When we over rely on them, we are blocking other parts of ourselves that need expression.
We can begin to balance this out by recognizing others who have strengths that compliment our own and appreciating what we can learn from them. And we can stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone in an effort to explore parts of ourselves that do not regularly come to the table. The more we practice these new behaviors, the better we will be able to employ them.
Implications for Real Leaders
The Real Leader Revolution is bringing to a head the need for businesses to better tap the power and potential that exists within the people who are the lifeblood of their organizations. This energy, when properly catalyzed and harnessed, will create the kind of value that earns loyal customers, increased market share and strong, sustainable profitability.
To find out more about how you can unleash this talent, energy and potential in your own organization (starting with yourself), sign up below to receive your copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto as soon as it is released.
Have you ever noticed that some people have a knack for making amazingly difficult feats look easy? Maybe it’s the dancer that seems to merge so completely with the music that it seems to actually come through her. Perhaps it’s the chef that chops and sautés and gently folds ingredients together in such a way that they become an impressive creation of mouth watering art. Maybe it’s the speaker that gets up in front of hundreds or even thousands of people and uses a combination of words and emotion that transcend language and reach right into the hearts of everyone present, leaving each person somehow transformed.
Wouldn’t you love to reach that level of mastery in your own life? I would. I once heard someone say, “Every master was once a disaster.” Over the four plus years that I’ve been learning karate with my kids, I have certainly had my share of embodying the disaster part of that expression. I can also tell you that those who truly pursue mastery — and seem to the rest of us as though they have already arrived — rarely (if ever) use the word “master” to describe themselves.
This week’s video post features a lesson I learned through my experience in the karate dojo that gave me insight into the pursuit of this thing called mastery – that can be applied to everything we do.
Here’s what I said in the video:
[The first part of the above video] was just a small part of a martial arts sequence called Kata. The first time I saw black belts doing that three or four years ago, I thought “there is no way I will ever be able to do anything like that”, but gradually I learned. And I wasn’t able to learn it all at once. I had to start out by learning what a U-block was and how you punch, and how do you do a center knife-hand (which I still need to work on). And then I was taught the sequence — what comes after what.
The first time I did the sequence it did not look like a dance. It did not look like a kata. It looked like a choppy series of techniques that I hadn’t quite mastered yet. I had to think about every single thing I was doing and what came next and whether or not I was doing it right. And I was completely in my head.
Only when I did it enough times, over and over and over again was I able to forget about thinking and trust that my body knew what to do, to lose myself in the drama — and really that’s what the Kata is — a simulated fight against attackers. That is when it really came together for me.
It is so similar to what happens with us whenever we learn something new. We always start off looking a little silly, a little foolish and feeling a little stiff and certainly not smooth or fluid or graceful — and maybe think we’re never going to master it. But over time, the more we practice, the more we build confidence, the more we’re able to trust that we really do know what to do.
Then we’re able to get out of our heads and come from our heart. And that is when our work becomes our art.
For more on mastery:
Dancer photo by Alexander Yakovlev from BigstockPhoto.com.