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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Go First

October 9, 2012 3 comments

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.   — Lao Tzu

First Turning LeavesThis inspiring thought from Lao Tzu is often quoted, and I think, is often true. A leader succeeds best when her followers have adopted her vision as their own; embracing it so fully they don’t even recognize that it came from outside them.

It’s also true, though, that sometimes a leader has to be visible in her willingness to go first, literally to lead—and I am not only referring to “hero leaders” in positions of formal authority. Each of us, from time to time, has the option to go first from the middle of the pack. When all the other leaves are green, one leaf has to say, “Well, it’s time to turn orange now.”

“But,” you may object, “I don’t want to be the first leaf to turn. That leaf is dying!” Yes, it’s dying, and leadership often involves a kind of dying. We have to acknowledge the death of the system or the process or the product or the relationship that until now was the way we knew. We have to trust in the rightness of what’s next. (I’m aware, by the way, that leaves don’t actually have a choice in the matter…but you get my point.)

We go first when we become aware of something that the others aren’t aware of yet, when we get unhooked from something that is still getting in the others’ way, when we love the others enough to take the risk.

Where is your opportunity to go first right now?

Braving the Discomfort Zone

April 10, 2012 7 comments

Waiting to singOne person’s fear is another person’s fun, right? A friend of mine is totally unfazed by donning 50 pounds of scuba diving gear and breathing apparatus to plunge into 75 or 100 feet of water, but when she is faced with the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers her heart races, her breath gets shallow, her palms sweat.

For me, singing in front of an audience can drive my anxiety up to acute levels. What sets off your fight or flight alarms? Regardless of what your particular challenge looks like, the fact that it feels risky is a solid clue to tell you that there might be something of substance for you to learn from it.

Oh, sure, we might wish to hang out endlessly in our comfort zones, those cozy, familiar, not too challenging places where we feel safe and self-assured.

Or we might crave more time in the flow zone that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identified as the state in which people experience their greatest capacity for happiness and creativity. When you are absorbed in a “flow experience” he says, “…your sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

These two inner-directed zones are absolutely vital to a balanced, joyful, healthy life, representing a spectrum of unconscious feeling that ranges from serenity to ecstasy. But even if we could choose to spend all of our time there, we’d be cheating ourselves out of something critical, wouldn’t we?

Just as important is that discomfort zone in which we get conscious about what scares us and what matters to us most. It’s there that we identify the gaps in our life and define our opportunities for growth and understanding. In short, it’s there that we learn.

It’s only in the discomfort zone that you can gather valuable data by asking, “What makes this experience so difficult for me? What would it take to convert these feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, stupidity, frustration, or uncertainty into feelings of comfort and flow?” Your discomfort zone is a practice field where you can acknowledge and challenge your biggest fears and declare your intention to disarm them in pursuit of what you really care about.

When you choose to enter the discomfort zone with intention and curiosity—walking into that room full of strangers, standing up there to sing—you build your muscles for navigating this challenging zone the next time you find yourself there unexpectedly. Will you give it a try?

Dream, Not Dread

When fear dominates our awareness“Fearless,” is how his collaborators described Neil Patrick Harris for being willing to deliver an exuberant, on-the-fly rap to end the 2011 Tony Awards broadcast. A quick scan of recent news stories finds the word fearless applied—with notably different shades of meaning—to other performers, film directors, journalists, athletes, explorers, soldiers, activists, and even politicians.

Whether we’re talking about life-or-death situations or simply the possibility of embarrassment, we admire people who are willing to take a risk when the stakes are high.

But, are these people really fearless? Surely not. Some measure of fear is essential to our survival and to escape it completely would be folly. On the other hand, to let fear dominate our awareness is equally dangerous because it erodes our capacity to create and produce—in fact, to live.

What we can learn from the risk-takers around us is that it’s possible to make fear the footnote instead of the headline. Grounded in clarity about their values and purpose, risk-takers choose to pay more attention to what they want than what they fear. And that makes for a richer, more meaningful life.

Watch and share this one-minute animation to remind yourself to tune in to the channels that energize you rather than the ones that frighten you.

Shadow Boxing

jumping shadow, photo by Mike SchubertCan you escape your shadow?

Probably not. It might be nice to think all those doubts and fears that we confound ourselves with could someday be retired for good. But most evidence and opinion suggests that those self-defeating voices are inseparable from our essential selves. We are no more likely to escape them completely than we are to wake up one morning as someone else.

Carl Jung formulated that our negative impulses are rooted in a universal, archetypal aspect of the human psyche: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

What does it mean to embody our shadows in our conscious lives? I think one answer is simply to get to know them; to bring them into the light of day, name them, and hold them where they belong—subordinate to our aspirations.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I thought it would be fun to share Robert Louis Stevenson’s playful consideration of the shadow, published in 1885. You might wonder, “How can a poem written for children illuminate my adult tendency to sabotage myself?” The poem gains dimension when you remember that the author was also the creator of one of the most iconic representations of inner struggle with the shadow in English literature: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

My Shadow
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

How well do you know your shadow? When do you find opportunities to leave it home in bed?