As the mother of a one-year-old child, I’m continuously marveling at the natural ability of tiny humans to embrace change, face new challenges and enthusiastically seek out growth opportunities. My son repeatedly stumbles, falls, and bruises himself as he struggles to learn to walk, yet he consistently picks himself up and gets right back at it.
It occurred to me as I watched him dust himself off from yet another fall that we all started out this way. We all began our lives by tackling seemingly insurmountable obstacles only to master them with pride and move on to the next challenge. Imagine, for a moment, if we had decided in early childhood that standing or walking was just too hard. Imagine if we concluded that it was too scary, too painful, or too time-consuming. Where would we be today?
When does that natural instinct to eagerly embrace new challenges and growth opportunities begin to fade? At what point do we begin to believe that staying in our comfort zones is more desirable than stretching ourselves beyond our self-imposed limitations? And what can we do to resurrect that youthful spirit and welcome new growth opportunities with more excitement and less fear?
As an executive coach, I work with talented leaders who have impressive track records of success in their careers. These leaders typically come to me when they’ve reached a roadblock that feels too difficult, emotionally overwhelming, or confusing to overcome on their own. Most often, they present with an external challenge – a difficult manager, a stifling work environment, or an unrealistic workload. As we move ahead, however, the true challenge emerges and it’s almost never the issue they originally raised.
The real challenge facing most of the highly successful leaders I support is lack of confidence. They lack the confidence to try a new leadership approach, have a difficult conversation, or pursue a new career opportunity. The fear of failure, rejection or the unknown keeps them trapped in their comfort zones, unwilling or unable to make meaningful progress. Once they are able to reframe that fear, they can then take action to achieve their professional goals.
Once again, imagine yourself as a child. When you were learning to ride a bike, did you give up because it was hard or scary? No! You endured the frustration and you embraced the fear because you were excited about the outcome – the independence and thrill that came with the ability to ride a bike.
The next time you find yourself struggling to make an important change, consider the following:
1. What will you lose if you don’t take action?
To maintain the level of motivation required to push through challenging situations, you need to be emotionally connected to your goal. If it’s not important or real enough to inspire you to do the hard work to get there, you’ll never make the effort.
Be clear about what you’ll be walking away from if you give up on your goal or fail to take action. Are you comfortable missing that opportunity? What are the short and long-term consequences of your decision?
2. When have you successfully made a change in the past?
Remind yourself that you can do this. You’ve faced many fears and challenges before reaching this point. The most obvious are the ones I mentioned in early childhood. But there are other examples in your past that can remind you that you are capable of overcoming adversity and achieving success.
Find one powerful example from your past when you successfully faced a fear and overcame a challenge. Did you perform well in a difficult college course? Did you make an anxiety-provoking career change? Did you have an uncomfortable conversation with your manager that resulted in positive change? Relive the experience in vivid detail so that you can recall the range of emotions you felt. Remind yourself that while your current challenge feels scary, this is not new territory for you.
3. Was it worth it?
Once you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on a time when you’ve successfully faced a challenge, consider how your life or career improved because of the action you took. More importantly, ask yourself if you would do it again. Chances are you’ll say yes. The vast majority of people regret the chances they did not take, not the risks they did take.
To reach your full potential, you must be willing to experience the fear and discomfort that come with embracing new growth opportunities. Keep this fear in perspective by reminding yourself that you have a successful track record of confronting challenges throughout your life and career. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t!
What change are you ready to make? Share your thoughts and experiences here.