“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying she describes her years of experience working with patients in their finals days. As a palliative nurse she cared for those who had often lived a long life, and were reflective in their last days. As she recounts in her book, if any of her patients had regrets reflecting on their life, the themes were consistently of being authentic and true to oneself, daring to take on their dreams and challenges, and staying in close touch with friends and family.
The number one regret voiced was “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” It’s not laziness and indolence that holds us back. It’s an inability to overcome the fear of trying. Courage is not blindly facing the unknown and stampeding ahead anyway. Courage is instead carefully understanding and recognizing the risks, obstacles and opportunities before us, and proceeding in measured steps.
By carefully understanding, and preparing for each forward move, we mitigate risk and become stronger and mentally sharper with each step. But the stepping is critical. The starting means everything. When initiating a new endeavor we have never attempted before, it’s important to overcome fear and paralysis by making forward progress, however small. Action creates clarity.
Here’s what I mean: You can think and envision and ponder and predict what will or might happen when you start that new business, give that big presentation, run that marathon, or travel to Madagascar. But you won’t know, really know, what it’s like until you start. Experience is invaluable, and micro adjustments along the way are required, which is why action creates clarity.
Consider the acrobats in a Cirque du Soleil event. Their tremendous feats flying high above the arena are the result of hours and hours of careful and methodical training. You know this. But there was still a first time they leapt without a net. There was still a first time that an Olympic skiing long jumper launched off of a 90 meter jump. And there was also a first time you gave a presentation in front of fifty people, or gave a formal report to your executive team.
It’s often not fear of failure that hold us back, but rather fear of success. That’s right. Success is stepping out and doing something different, perhaps something different, or radical, from your peer group. We may feel isolated and alone in this new effort. And explaining where you have been, what you have accomplished may be looked on with scorn or fear or envy. You have stepped out. Accomplished something your peers and colleagues haven’t or aren’t interested in, and now you feel alone.
Fear of social and emotional isolation is the first hurdle to overcome on our way to taking on, and crushing, our own audacious challenges. Leaders recognize the fear of success, and then encourage and nurture bold thinking in others.
The greatest leaders, and our dearest friends, cheer us on when we try something new.
Demonstrate to others they are safe in following their ambitions. Cheer on and support your friends and colleagues when they step out and try something bold. True, they might bomb anyway, but make sure they don’t bomb because you made them feel like they don’t deserve to succeed.
Courage can be learned and courage can be practiced. The more we practice risk, the more we are able to take risks.
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