When you get to my age and in my kind of work, you get to see people with so much talent but very little success. On the other hand, you’ll see people with little talents that go a long way because of their ability to apply themselves well in any endeavor they pursue. The difference between these two types of people is courage. By courage I don’t mean lack of fear but the ability to act despite it.
I don’t think it’s laziness that causes people to not apply themselves fully in their endeavors. I think It’s a lame excuse. I think it’s fear, debilitating, paralyzing fear of failure. Some people are willing to accept that they’re lazy rather than cowards.
So the important question of the day is how do you overcome this debilitating and paralyzing fear of failure? I have a suggestion. Create your magic switch.
I have always been afraid. I still have those debilitating and paralyzing fear of failure that keeps me wondering how much further I would have reached had I not allowed them to stop me from taking more risk. But I must also say that on more occasions, I was able to work my way through fear so I can face and succeed over a challenge and this is how I do it.
Step 1: Be clear about what you want to achieve in your life. Remove any doubt that you want it and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I want to be a successful training professional who helps people realize their full potential. Nothing’s going to get in my way from fulfilling that goal.
Step 2: Recognize that there are certain things you fear that you will come across with and question whether you can succeed or not. Here’s a list of mine:
- I fear that I do not know enough. I don’t have the educational pedigree that others have.
- I fear that I might be wrong, that people are laughing behind me because they find what I say ridiculous
- I fear that I might not be a good model of what I say. I often find myself with guilt whenever I say things that I myself have difficulty doing
- I fear that I do not communicate well enough
- I fear that people might not accept me and won’t believe me because they don’t like me
- I fear that my being a short, fat guy with poorly lined teeth, gets in the way of my message
- I fear that I might hurt people with what I say and I don’t like it whenever that happens. There’s nothing in this world that I like least than offending people
- I fear that I am not smart enough
- I fear foreigners.
- I fear people who have power and poor listening skills
Believe me when I say that this, the above list is not even half of the things I fear. Each of this should stop me from going out there and do what I do. I spent sleepless nights scolding myself for accepting a project that exposes me to any and all the risk of failing as I outlined above. It continues to happen and even with my best effort, it will continue to happen. I will always be afraid.
Step 3: Create your magic switch. Whenever I am faced with a challenge that I fear, I quickly ask myself if it contributes to my journey towards my higher future self. The ultimate realization of what I want to be in this life? If the answer is yes, I imagine a yes or no switch. And I flick that switch to yes. It’s a signal, a command for me to do the following:
- Accept the challenge
- Accept that I have to do what I am afraid to do to get the best result
- Accept that failure is a possibility I must accept
- Accept that I should be okay.
Step 4: Honor the switch. Recognize that when you turn that switch on in your mind, you become a slave to it. You must follow its orders and the orders are, do your best, extend yourself, don’t show fear. Yes, even if you feel it. Fake it till you make it.
Step 5: Practice switching as often as you can. When you hold the door going to the office, turn it on. When your boss, gives you a task, you’re not sure how to do, turn it on. When you have to talk to people whom you feel are above your league, turn it on. When you don’t feel like working but you have to work anyway, turn it on. Let it energize you, let it get you used to being at your best. It gets easier to turn the switch on.
Our mind is a like a muscle, it gets stronger as we exert it. And our life gets better as we make it a habit to practice turning that positive switch in our brain.
In this day and age of “like” buttons, it’s fairly easy to show appreciation for good ideas. We see them every day in social media and when we like them, we “like” them. And then we move on to appreciate and “like” other things. Here’s the problem, we often end with clicking the like button and nothing else. When that happens, all the good ideas we see do not contribute to our growth. Here’s my recommendation. When you see a good idea, pour over it, reflect on it, ask how useful it can be for you and figure out how you can apply it. Allow yourself to be excited enough by the idea to run away with it. When Steve Jobs went to Xerox’s Palo Alto research center in the 70’s he got excited by a demonstration of a $300 computer mouse that he pulled all stops to make a $15 mouse for Apple. Read the whole story here to find out how much more ideas Steve Jobs ran away with.
Here's a personal story. Last year, I was invited to talk about social media marketing in one of DTI's public seminars for people who are interested to start a business. It was pretty uneventful. A few people came. I shared what I know, they asked questions, I answered and then we're done. I was never invited again. I already forgot all about it. Last week, one of the participants connected with me on Facebook. She told me that she like what she learned from my talk last year, she is now applying it as she starts her peanut butter making and distribution business! You can just imagine my happiness on knowing that the short stint (2 hours) I had with her last year paid off! The message here is this; its not about how much knowledge you gather, it's about how you use the knowledge to pursue your goal or push an agenda.
Here are a couple of questions to get you started. What idea have you read, hear of or thought of that excited you so much lately? What did you do with it?
Now, here’s an instruction; APPLY IT!
Some people thrive on recognition. I know this to be true because I am one of them. You probably are too. This is why managers should learn to inspire, appreciate other people's work and be generous with recognition.
Nothing wrong with that. However, to be paralyzed by lack of recognition or to be unmotivated because of poor supervision is self-destructive. I often hear people complain about their supervisors' lack of concern that leads to their lack of motivation or commitment to perform well. Valid or not, having someone else to blame for one's poor performance doesn't change the fact that one is performing poorly and will likely lead to poor career outlook.
My suggestion is to learn to be self-motivated. We all need to learn to be our own source of inspiration and recognition. Being self-motivated is a good training for leadership. Up there at the helm, recognition come in trickles. You create your own source of inspiration. It often comes from the fact that you set your own challenges and the hurdles only make you strive some more. Being self-driven therefore means setting your own bar of performance and keeping your eyes on your goal in the horizon. When what you want to achieve is clear and compelling, very few things can stop you from pursuing and eventually achieving it.
Think about it. How many times did these things happen to you?
- You knew the answer but you did not raise your hand to answer
- You knew the problem and had a solution in your mind but you did not speak up
- You did not understand but you didn’t ask
- You needed help but you did not ask or wanted to offer it but you did not reach out.
What could have been?
You could have built your reputation. You could have helped someone. You could have done better. You could have shown leadership. You could have gotten help. Of course it could have backfired, you could have been embarrassed. But what is the price you’re paying for avoiding embarrassment?
- An opportunity to lead
- An opportunity to get what you want
- An opportunity to know better
- An opportunity to build relationship
- An opportunity to succeed
- An opportunity not to be afraid of being wrong
Assertiveness is the ability to speak in a manner that’s forceful but not pushy, humble but not in a pushover manner. Assertive is neither aggressive nor passive. It is adult and professional. I enjoin you to explore it, build your skill in it, see how it will open doors for you in the immediate and the long term.
I can't imagine doing work that requires even an average amount of mathematical calculation. That's just not my strength. Imagine highly successful people like Mark Zuckerberg doing work other than what he is doing now. He would probably not be as successful. I'd like to talk about this now because I've seen too many people waste their time applying for work that clearly are not aligned with their talents. They often fail during the screening process or if the process is bad, they get hired and fail miserably at work.
I believe all people have a particular set of aptitudes that suit certain kind of work. I think it is a good investment of time and effort to discover one's strengths and then align one's career plans with it. After discovering your strengths it is important to enhance them by exposing yourself to activities that will use it similar to doing a specific exercise to grow a particular muscle. For example if you found that you are good in written communication, read books on how to become a better writer and/or write a blog to exercise your creative writing muscle. If you like dabbling into computers of programming, try working on a coding project. train yourself to expand your coding prowess.
I also highly recommend Clifton StrengthFinder
. It will help you discover what strengths or "themes" you have that you can capitalize on. You can download the full list of themes here.
It is also a good idea to learn more about your personality and see which careers fit you. The web is full of free online personality test. Here's a really good one.
Discovering your strengths will help you choose a career your can do well in. Find work that you can be good and enjoy doing and you will be one happy, productive worker. Your success will push you up to bigger roles in the organization that you are in. Make sure that you do not stray away from your strengths and your source of professional bliss.