Anybody else out there feeling sort of… stuck?
If your life is currently running like a well-oiled machine that spews out meaning and value in a graceful fountain of zen-like flow, go ahead and skip this one. This post is not for you.
Everybody else, I’ve got a story to tell you. A story about how I got unstuck, and how you can do the same.
You see, August was rough for me. Personal challenges had me feeling just as scorched as the grass in Southern California by the end of the month, and I knew something needed to change.
I honestly wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong. All I knew was that, for the first time in a long time, I felt perpetually a step behind. Like nothing I did was good enough, and I found myself constantly explaining and defending myself to those around me.
It wasn’t until I was asked to serve as emcee and to speak at the Seattle Executive Leadership Forum here in Seattle that I stumbled upon the answer. You see, my talk was on how to build confidence and say no to your exec, but as with most things, I discovered that the real lesson went far beyond the professional application.
Now, the importance of integrity and saying no made perfect sense to me in a professional context. But as I spoke, it dawned on me that my definition of support in a personal context was quite different. I realized I had been, for basically my entire life, confusing support with validation.
I thought supporting someone meant making them feel good about themselves, keeping them happy and comfortable, even when that was not serving their long-term growth.
Worse still, I realized this is what I have expected from my support network, and that I would get angry, defensive, and indignant when they failed to throw a parade for my efforts, no matter how misguided, and when they dared to point out areas for improvement.
I needed a new definition of support that emphasizes dedicating resources toward helping someone reach their stated goals, even when that displeases them or makes me look bad in the short term. And I needed to apply it to all areas of my life, not just my career.
But that sounded really scary and hard, and I had no time to come up with a plan of attack before hopping on red-eye flight to the Administrative Professionals Conference in Chicago.
For the first two days of the EA Summit at APC, I was riding high. It seemed I had left my troubles back home, and I was able to focus on helping out newbies and handing out tips and tricks and life-saving apps like they were going out of style. I got the question from several people: how did you come so far, so fast? And the answer was always the same:
I threw myself in way over my head. On purpose.
My first year on the job was so challenging, I had only two options: keep up, or give up. And giving up is just not how I roll.
This message was echoed in every speech, every class, every conversation I had at APC: challenge yourself. Fail fast. Yes: it’s hard. Yes, it’s going to be hard every time. Do it anyway. Do it continually. Expect no applause.
The final keynote speaker at APC, the phenomenal Dan Thurmon, used the metaphor of circus performance (juggling, acrobatics, etc.) to illustrate the phenomenon of staying “Off Balance On Purpose.”
“I never could get the hang of juggling four balls… until I tried to learn to juggle five.”
Sometimes, if we’re struggling to level up, we have to make things *more* challenging for ourselves. Not less.
And that’s when it hit me. If I am feeling a step behind and not-good-enough, then I need to make things harder for myself, not easier. In other words, I needed to do exactly what the PlayFab motto [ad facilia per aspera] tells me to do: the hard thing.
As in most things, we know what the right thing to do is. But we don’t always do it because, well, it’s hard. It feels a lot better in the short term to go for the low-hanging fruit that creates instant warm fuzzies and gets us pats on the head. The problem is that no amount of head-patting can make up for the fact that we know, in our hearts, that we aren’t actually doing what’s best.
I knew what I needed to do. I needed to challenge myself. I needed to run headlong into the territory I had been skirting around in my personal life and sink or swim. And I needed to do it without waiting to see if anyone was watching, without complaining or explaining that I am good enough and smart enough and that, doggone it, they should like me.
I needed to stop waiting to have the time and energy to formulate a plan, and just take some action.
This is so obvious from the outside. It’s what I tell my kid (age 5) all the time. Last night, for example, she came home after her very first basketball class, looking sorta downtrodden. I asked her how it went and she said, “Mom, I was the worst at throwing the ball, and the worst at bouncing it.”
I gave her a big smile and put up both hands for a double high five. “That’s awesome!” I beamed.
She looked confused and said, “No, I said I was the worst. Everybody else was better than me.”
And I looked her dead in the eye and said, “And I said: that’s AWESOME. That means you’re surrounded by people you can learn from, and that you’ll learn faster and grow more than any of them. That is a total win.”
So. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to think of the scariest thing you could do this week. Yep, that one. The one you skipped right over in your mind and started to look for something slightly less scary than that. DO THAT. This week. Take that first step today.
Then come on back and tell me how it went, and collect your well-earned high five.
Live bravely, work deliberately, and eat good chocolate.