Where I work at Leo Burnett Sydney, we have a monthly award for the person in the team who ‘gives something a go’, feels the fear and does it anyway. It’s one of my favourite things about the culture there that we reward that kind of attitude.
It sucks to not be good at something, or expose yourself for not being able to keep up with others. It makes us feel shameful about ourselves. We can all empathise with that feeling too – I never learnt to skip at school, because other kids laughed at me when I tried, so I avoided it more and more and to this day I still get an almighty fear when I am faced with a rope at the gym. I always try and make excuses that I’ll get more benefit of doing something I am good at. My trainer never buys that argument though and actively encourages me to take on the challenge to be uncomfortable.
We all do it. We stay safe. We stay in control. Everything is good and calm here, it minimises stress when we are here.
Whilst that is all very nice however, when you do things that make you fearful, or you enter into something where you have little or no control - that’s when things happen that make life that bit more exciting and worthwhile. The ups and the downs are what make next Wednesday feel different to last Wednesday.
Sure we might get it wrong, fuck up, or heaven forbid we might fail and look stupid to other people and they might not want to know us anymore. But by exposing ourselves we experience new emotions and feelings and that is where new inspiration often happens. You experience something you haven’t felt previously, adrenaline and endorphins flow as we experience the rush of the high. It’s when we form connections with others who go with us on the journey. All of these things that all have the power to make us feel happier.
The more I thought about all of this, the more I started to see the things I had put off, made excuses about and ‘protected’ myself against, protected by immersing myself in other places where I felt comfortable and restricting the time and energy I could put in elsewhere. It was time to take on some of my very own fears and start embracing the vulnerable. Here’s what I did and what I got out of it.
1 – I got my hands dirty
I am not great in the kitchen, but I decided instead of taking the easy option of buying a cake for a Bridal Shower I was attending I would try I baking Scottish Shortbread. Of course, I failed miserably and had to throw it all out and buy replacement goods in the end. But the experience gave me a story to tell my Mum on Skype on Sunday, and it meant she could share her advice with me and the whole experience ended with me having a laugh with her about it all and feeling positive I might give it another try soon with a bit more direction and guidance from the homeland.
2 – I dived in
A girl who has never really pushed herself in the water, happy bobbing about in summer and leisurely breast stroking to no great exertion. I’ve decided to train for the first time to do an ocean swim. Starting with a dive into some fresh water under a fairly chilly, grey October day. Taking a deep breath and feeling that fear that I was about to start doing something I don’t really know how to do yet.
I really struggled, I tried 6 times unsuccessfully to swim a lap freestyle. My heart was thumping and my emotions working overtime. Those little voices in my head telling me “Why are you doing this? You’ll never manage to actually swim a whole ocean swim if you can’t even do one lap.” But I tried and tried, eventually I did manage to swim one and then thinking about what had worked and what hadn’t worked a bit more, I managed to swim two, the second way stronger than the first. Exhausted, I pulled myself out of the pool feeling exhilarated and buzzing share my success with anyone who’d listen.
3 – I admitted I had a problem
I am terrible at saving money. But I sat down and looked honestly at my financial state of affairs for the first time and made a plan. A plan that is very scary for the lifestyle I like to lead, but one that will help me have a more stable and secure future.
I know I am not going to be any good at any of these things any time soon. Which is sad in a way I will probably feel a bit crap about myself for a while, but my efforts in trying I’m hoping will teach me some good lessons including;
- Accepting that people will point out where I need to improve and learn not take it too personally.
- To train myself to have more discipline to keep at things, not just giving in when it gets hard or scary.
- Learn how to fail gracefully.
- To take my learnings and apply them to other elements of my life where I might feel comfortable now and have the confidence to shake them up a bit too.
- To complete something I feel proud of. To start is one thing, to get to a point of completion is a whole other.
- To embrace feeling a bit vulnerable and have the courage to do so.
If you haven’t already seen them watch/read the things that inspired this post.
Poke the Box by Seth Godin
Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness, posing the questions: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?’ (Thank you to Marie Claire Jenkins who helped this fascinating talk cross my path)
Lastly, have a think about what scares you.
Make a plan to tackle 1 fear or if you are feeling ambitious like me, maybe 3 and let me know how you go, it’ll be nice to have some company as I face mine!