power of saying yes

The Power of Saying Yes

power of saying yesYears ago, while out for a drink with a colleague after work, I serendipitously met the leadership team of another internal department. Having had no previous interactions with the group, I was genuinely curious about their efforts and asked a number of questions to better understand their structure and focus. Throughout the conversation, I also had an opportunity to share my experience in the partner development arena, which was a key challenge for this team.

Shortly after our initial meeting, I was asked to assume a leadership position on the team. My mind immediately began to race as self-doubt and the Impostor Syndrome reared their ugly heads. I was doing so well in my current position. Why would I take such a risk on an unknown?

Despite the intense anxiety, I intellectually recognized that this was a critical career opportunity. I was being offered the chance to create and develop an entirely new team – an “intrapreneurial” role that doesn’t come along often. Only the barest strategy had been established; the rest of the plan and execution was up to me.

I accepted the new leadership position and fought my way through fear, uncertainty, and confidence issues. It was not an easy transition. I stumbled multiple times but I leveraged my resources and leaned on mentors for support. And while it would have been much easier to remain in my comfort zone, this new role fundamentally changed the trajectory of my career. The exposure I now had to influential leaders, along with the autonomy and authority I had to make critical strategic decisions was more powerful than anything I learned in business school.

Our lives are all a series of decision points. Some decisions are small and seemingly insignificant – should I eat lunch at my desk or join my team? Others feel much more consequential, such as making a career change or accepting a career advancement opportunity.

Each of the decisions we make, regardless of their perceived significance, has the potential to move us in a new direction. Making the decision to go out for a drink with my colleague after work was the key driver in my new career path. Had I made the seemingly benign decision to go home instead, my life would be very different today.

When you’re busy, stressed, or anxious, saying yes to a new opportunity can feel too scary or risky. It’s only natural to have hesitations. But saying yes can also catapult you to a whole new career level. Your comfort zone will always feel safe and predictable but it’s not challenging. It won’t stretch you or empower you to reach your full potential. The only way to grow is to say yes.

Here are some of the common decision points that I see professionals wrestle with:

1. Building relationships with influential leaders

This process scares many professionals because it triggers a number of insecurities. Am I wasting their time? Do I have anything valuable to say? Am I stepping on my boss’s toes? This opportunity is too important to ignore. Your future success in your organization depends on your relationships and reputation with key influencers.

2. Taking on a challenging role or project

As I mentioned previously, I’m intimately familiar with the Impostor Syndrome. I understand that voice that tells you that you don’t deserve to be where you are and that you’re a fraud. Don’t listen to it! When offered an opportunity to expand your skill set and stretch yourself, say yes.

3. Leaving behind something that’s no longer working

The comfort zone is a powerful place. Even when it’s frustrating, stressful, or even toxic, it often feels much easier to stay put. As comfortable as the familiarity and predictability are, they are not going to get you where you want to go. Say yes to powerful change!

Where are you struggling to say yes? Share your comments and experiences here.


3 Ways to Conquer Perfectionism

PerfectionismSeveral weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading three powerful conversations on the Impostor Syndrome and the toll it takes on our confidence, careers, and overall well-being. The Impostor Syndrome, for those who are unfamiliar, is the term for the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy we experience despite evidence to the contrary. It’s the belief that while you might seem to the outside world like you know what you’re doing, underneath it all, you’re actually a fraud.

During these recent discussions, one of the key areas we explored was the link between the Impostor Syndrome and perfectionism. Many sufferers of the Impostor Syndrome struggle with the need to be perfect. Even in situations that don’t warrant special attention or extra diligence, it’s difficult to let go of the perfectionism.

It makes sense if you think about it. When you struggle with the Impostor Syndrome, as I have in the past, it’s terrifying to imagine someone finding you out. That fear of being exposed as a fraud is so anxiety provoking that you’ll do anything to prevent that from happening. It would be unimaginable to ask for help or let on that you’re not as competent or capable as everyone thinks you are.

It might make sense but it’s not helpful. First of all, there’s no such thing as perfect. If you keep chasing an unrealistic ideal, you’ll burn out trying to reach an impossible goal. Your commitment to producing high quality results is admirable and you shouldn’t lose that. But it’s important to recognize when something is complete and no additional effort is necessary.

Perfectionism also distracts you from other areas you care about. If you’re using up all of your energy trying to perfect your work, you won’t have the mental or physical bandwidth to engage with your family and friends, participate in recreational activities, or even manage your own health. It’s self-defeating and doesn’t buy you much in terms of success or reputation. Quality work is quality work. Nobody gets credit for the extra ten hours they spent on something that could have been completed in two.

While many consider perfectionism an admirable quality, even taking pride in their perfectionistic tendencies, it’s not a trait that we should nurture. Perfectionism, despite its deceptive appearance, is a toxic manifestation of fear. If you want to let go of perfectionism, you first need to face your underlying fears.

Consider the following questions:

1. What are you afraid of? 

What are you afraid will happen if you let go of being perfect? Consider this carefully as this is not a simple question to answer. Try to connect with what truly scares you.

Do you have a fear of failure? Do you worry about giving up control? Are you afraid that someone will perceive you as less capable or qualified to perform your role? Do you fear that you’ll no longer be loved or respected?

2. Where does this fear come from? 

Try to trace the roots of your fear. Why do you think you feel this way? Think back on your oldest memory of feeling this way. Were you a child? Were you in another vulnerable place in your life?

Many times these feelings of fear and vulnerability emerge when we feel that we have limited control over our lives and circumstances. A perceived lack of control feeds anxiety, leading us to seek out ways to control our environment, even if such control is, in reality, just an illusion. Perfectionism is such an illusion of control. We believe that if we work that much harder or invest that much more time, it will be “perfect” and thus protect us from our deeper fears.

3. What can you do about it? 

It’s only natural that we would assume that to protect ourselves from fear, we must avoid the fear itself and the forces that trigger it. Counterintuitively, however, the only effective way to reduce fear is to face it directly. The more you try to avoid your fear, the more powerful it becomes. By embracing your fear, you dilute its power and recognize that the object of fear is not as scary as you initially thought.

Identify one immediate step you can take to begin to let go of your perfectionism. If you’re working on a project, set a firm limit on how much time you’ll allow yourself to commit to it. If you’re writing an email, limit yourself to two re-writes. If you’re working on a low priority task, allow it to be “good enough.”

After taking that first step, notice what happens. Does the world collapse around you? Do you lose your job? Do you lose the respect of everyone involved? I’m confident that the answer to each of these questions will be no. What likely will happen is that you’ll recognize that your worst fears were not realized. And you’ll gain the courage and strength to continue to chip away at your perfectionism, one step at a time.

Have you found strategies to manage your perfectionism? If so, please share.

Resistance to Change

Is Your Resistance to Change Undermining Your Career Success?

Resistance to ChangeAs 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.