Every great thing that has happened in my life has come on the heels of taking a risk. Whether it was the risk of getting rejected by my (now) wife for a fifth time, the risk of moving to a new place and things not working out, or the risk of putting my words on a blog and being ignored, risk has and always will be what I call “the great deterrent of success.” Risk has a way of convincing otherwise capable and confident people that they aren’t good enough, qualified enough, or talented enough to be successful. And yet risk is unavoidable. Getting out of bed in the morning is risky, as is commuting to work. Eating Thai food is especially risky and not recommended. And listening to Dave Matthews Band is just down right foolish. But is it really risk that deters us?
At the root of risk is a fear of failure: Fear that I will put my whole self into something only to have it rejected. Fear that I will try and not be good enough. Fear that I may take the risk, reach out, try hard, make the move, or ask the question…and fail miserably. The pain of failure never feels good. And, because of that fear of failure, we count ourselves out of things that we would otherwise excel at. In fact, a fear of failure is likely what keeps us from diving into our passions headfirst to find a more fulfilling vocation. After all, receiving a steady paycheck from a stable job is pretty comforting. There’s nothing comforting about plunging into your passion and letting it take you wherever it may go.
So before we can ever gain the courage to identify our passions and pursue them we have to ask the question “is it worth it?” Is it worth it to you to potentially experience failure, even on a massive scale, and admit that it didn’t work out?
Of course, I think the answer to that is it’s ALWAYS worth it because when all is said and done the worst that can happen is admitting defeat, learning from it, picking yourself up, and trying again…or returning to the old life and chalking it up to experience. Stable paychecks and steady jobs will always be there to fall back on, even in this economy.
I witnessed an interesting phenomenon recently that was rooted in the fear of failure. At work, I help select and coordinate a small group of students who act as an advisory board to our leadership department. They are tasked with providing us feedback, collaborating on programs, and being ambassadors for our initiatives. Historically, students have either been appointed or have expressed interest and have been selected. This year we sent an email to all of our past students asking them to simply email us if they were interested and to include a brief explanation of what they felt they could add to the group. We were surprised by the slim number of submissions — we had thought the advisory board was more of a draw. Several days later, after talking with a few students, we discovered that many highly capable and qualified students had decided not to apply at all because they looked at their peers who may also be applying and didn’t feel they could compete. They turned themselves down for the program before ever applying! I repeat…they turned themselves down. Many of them may have been fantastic candidates. In addition, even if they weren’t selected this year we may have been more likely to consider them next year. I was baffled. What could cause these outstanding students to self-select out of the program before ever even giving it a shot?! Why would they not simply send an email with a short statement of interest, just to see what happens?? Ironically, I knew exactly why. I could empathize, and this experience got me thinking about the many, many things that I’ve counted myself out of before ever giving them a chance. Here is a short list:
Now, I don’t share these examples to illicit pity but rather to empathize. I know personally the feeling of allowing my fears to overwhelm my confidence and trump my strengths. Looking back, I believe I could have succeeded at any one of these three (and countless other) goals. And yet, before I ever got started I discounted my abilities and allowed my inner voice to talk me out of success.
So what’s the point? The point is that we generally become the main roadblock between ourselves and success! Not an application, or qualifications, or a lack of experience, but our own self-doubts and fears of failure. What a shame! But how do I get over it? Well, unlike many other self-help strategies that are complex, this one is pretty simple. Take the risk. Make the jump. Generally, the worst that can happen is a bit of damaged pride. And remember these words from Marianne Williamson (whoever that was):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What have you been afraid to do? What things do you want for your life and what is standing in your path?
When have you gotten in your own way? Share your thoughts below and please pass it on!
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve written before about the power of fear in dissuading us to try things that we might otherwise be very adept at. Fear has been my Achilles heel with pursuing my passion for many years. More specifically, fear of failure. But sandbagging has also played a significant role in delaying my progress toward more frequently exposing and utilizing my talents. Sandbagging is the art of deceiving someone by pretending to be weak. I actually use this all the time when I play basketball with guys younger than myself. At 6’5” most people would assume I am a slow, post-playing big man. I will typically play up this perception during pre-game warm-ups, throwing in a few close-range bank shots and perhaps even clanking a few off the rim for good measure. People instantly classify me as a lumbering buffoon, when in reality my game is more like that of a guard/forward, slashing to the rim, shooting mid-range jumpers, and exploding on people’s heads for vicious rim-rocking dunks. I made that last one up. The point is that sandbagging can be a great way to get an edge over a competitor, if only for a brief moment. It’s worked great for me for years.
However, real problems can occur when we use this technique to downplay or minimize our strengths and talents — “oh, it wasn’t that great of a presentation” or “thanks for your compliments but it was really nothing” or “I’m excited but not that excited — I have other options lined up just in case.” Sandbagging our strengths can become so routine that we may actually begin to believe that we really aren’t that good at something. What’s worse, we may hold back effort and live only to the level of the sandbagging: “Just in case I’m not as great as I think I am, I’ll put forth average effort and see what the feedback is.”
For example, I have worked with students in the past who are afraid to commit to applying for competitive programs because they fear that they won’t succeed. There’s something about being outright rejected that is almost too much to bear. The result is that they will either not apply at all or they may apply but keep it on the downlow, manage their excitement, and temper their’s and others’ expectations. As a result, they come across as a lukewarm candidate that isn’t really committed. In reality, these are likely people that have some real value to add to an experience!
As I write this, I’m guilty of utilizing this technique in my life. Something that I have always wanted to do has popped up in my life and yet I find myself constantly saying to my wife, “Let’s not make a big deal out of it, just in case it doesn’t pan out.” In reality, what’s the worst that could happen!? If it doesn’t pan out I can live through the failure and face another day! It’s better to give your all and fail than to be left wondering what might have been.
So ask yourself the following:
If you answered “yes” to any of the following, then welcome to the club. Now let’s get past it and embrace what we do well! Opportunities generally arise when we utilize our talents and allow others a glimpse into what we are truly like when we are living up to our potential.
Recently I was discussing the hiring process I went through at Rice with my manager. She told me that one of the main reasons I moved onto the interview stage was because of my cover letter. Before I wrote that cover letter, I remember spending significant time reading tips about how to write an effective letter and I wrote multiple drafts using those tips, but nothing felt right. Then I stumbled on an article with the best tip, I followed it with exactness, and, apparently, it landed me an interview.
Before I share it, it’s important to understand the purpose of a cover letter vs. a resume. Why do we even have to write these tortuous letters at all? Resumes are about what you can do – your skills. Whereas cover letters are about who you are – your character. The goal of a cover letter is to give the application reviewer a glimpse into who you are as a human. Employees are often viewed as either objects, or cogs in a wheel that produce “things,” or subjects, human beings with desires, motivations, and beliefs. Using this analogy, the resume objectifies you, describing what you can do, and the cover letter humanizes you, turning you into a subject and revealing what drives you.
The great tip that I read when writing my cover letter was this: be authentic. In other words, write about who you are. Don’t just re-hash what you did from your resume, but describe why you did what you did, do what you do, or hope to do what you plan to do. What motivates you? What values does that fulfill for you? How does that affect you? I’ve been part of several committees and programs that review applications and have read hundreds of cover letters. Time and again the ones that rise to the top aren’t formulaic. They don’t follow a specific plug-and-play pattern. Rather, they typically start off by talking about how they found the job announcement, why it is interesting or exciting, where it fits in their career path, and what they hope to contribute and learn.
Before you start your cover letter, answer these three questions:
This now becomes the foundation of your letter. Start by highlighting your excitement about the job, lead into two things in the description that you connect with, sharing examples or anecdotes to support your affirmation, and then conclude by sharing something about yourself that gives the reviewer a glimpse into who you are. Cover letters aren’t meant to be long, especially no longer than a page, and the goal is not to cram everything you can into one page. Be authentic, be concise, and show self-awareness. Cover letters are not the place to talk about things you don’t do well or that you hope to develop – save that for the interview. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you read over it and feel like it is a solid representation of who you are.
And if all else fails, do this: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/kid-sends-perfectly-blunt-cover-letter-for-wall-street-internship–and-now-tons-of-people-are-trying-to-hire-him-151518002.htm
Sometimes the afternoons drag. The clock slows, energy wanes, eyelids begin to redden and swell over eyeballs, and core body temperature drops in an act of corporeal self-preservation. You are experiencing midday hibernation, that phenomenon that occurs when the heart rate slows and the body enters a shock-like phase as work bears down, tiredness kicks in, and your attention span begins to wane. We all experience it at some point, and it is in these moments that you may ask questions like “what am I doing with my life?” or “am I using my strengths to their potential?” In these moments, creativity is weak. Why does this happen?
Leave Lasagna Out of This
Many might blame lunch, as if my lasagna is at fault for decreased productivity. Sure, sometimes engorging yourself on Mexican food can be an energy-buster. But I think the age old post-lunchtime lull is a scapegoat for a far greater catalyst: lack of passion for the task at hand. I was reading an article today from the Harvard Business Review called “Creativity and Creative Groups: Two Keys to Innovation.” It focused on how managers can effectively create an environment that breeds creativity and one point in particular caught my attention. Based on research from Teresa Amabile, a Harvard smarty pants, inner passion to solve a problem leads to far more creative solutions than do external rewards, such as money. Moreover, intrinsic motivation can absolutely be influenced by the work environment. Thus, if you are working toward solutions that are linked to your passions or interests, or that use your talents and strengths, you are far more likely to maintain high levels of motivation and produce more creative results.
It’s important to point out that external motivation, like money, can also have a bearing on creativity but it is weaker than the power of intrinsic motivation, such as passion. This solidifies the need for individuals to find work that engages their values, strengths, and passions or to craft job assignments in a way that appeals to their interests. This kind of work is an antidote to mid-afternoon slumps.
Yeah, But What Motivates Me?
Think of the last time that you were really engaged in something meaningful where you seemed to lose track of time and feel fully invested. This reflective tactic is a key to identifying those activities that are intrinsically motivating to you. You may not consciously participate in them because they appeal to your passions but you are drawn to them because they subconsciously fulfill some kind of need. Pinpoint the last time that you felt “lost” in a task, whether for leisure or for work. But don’t stop there. Identify why you were so engrossed in the activity. What about it sucked you in? Learn to really analyze the things that give you energy and pull out the consistencies that you can replicate in your day-to-day work, or that you can build a career around.
Creatively solving a problem can often lead to a vocation and the best creativity comes from intrinsic motivation based on your passions. Did you like this article? “Like” it below too! And share it with your friends around 2pm today…it may be a slump-buster for them.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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