In 2012, I chose to leave my career in public relations. I didn’t know what for, so I made the decision to sell my belongings and go on a sabbatical, backpacking through Asia for a few months, feeling life as it comes, experiencing different cultures, places, thoughts. The typical responses I received when sharing my decision with others were: “Oh wow, you’re so courageous!” and “Oh that’s risky!”. I remember thinking at the time that I wasn’t feeling particularly courageous or risk-taking. In fact, the status quo of a profession that wasn’t fulfilling me anymore seemed much riskier.
So why did everyone else think I was being so brave?
Courage is a question of perspective, which is fed by our experiences, beliefs, limitations. In my mind, the decision I was taking was filled with excitement, hope, curiosity and freedom (something a little less easy to come by nowadays with a family in tow!). The feeling that was not part of my decision was fear. And courage cannot exist without fear.
Someone shared this image with me recently which aligns so well with my philosophy and that of The Helmsman Project - to grow our perspective and capacity, we must stretch our limits and get out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, the dark grey zone is pretty small (like when I made that decision nine years ago) but other times, it is so big we don’t want to face it. The road ahead may be too rocky, muddy and unknown. But if that path isn’t travelled, how is one to know what might await on the other side? Who’s to say that the most beautiful panorama isn’t there to be appreciated? So is it best to stay on the sturdy and straight path, or take the (sometimes) courageous decision to leave our comfort zone? And most importantly, how do we get past the ‘fear zone’ and push through the opportunity or experience?
I share here nine steps taken from a combination of my personal journey, The Helmsman Project approach and some readings:
1. Recognise and name the fear - sit with it, seek to understand what is driving the fear and the excuses you’re giving yourself, try to rationalise the fear by looking at the facts
2. Get help - whether that’s a coach or a mentor, an expert in the field or an accountability buddy, get the support you need to give yourself every chance of success
3. Visualise the outcome - see your big dream, your goal; how will it unfold, how will it make you feel?
4. Plan - it’s time to get pen to paper and write down the steps you need to take to make that big dream come true; being prepared and engaging our logic into the planning phase can help reduce the fear
5. Adopt a growth mindset - believe in yourself and your capacity to improve (make sure you watch this TED Talk by Carol Dweck if you haven’t seen it yet)
6. Take the first step and then the next one...
7. Take time out to reflect and learn so you can adapt as you go
8. Accept that you might fail… but learn from failures as they can be the most powerful growth opportunities
9. Celebrate every success!
I came across this fantastic quote by Diane Ackerman about 10 years ago, just before making my ‘big’ decision to quit:
“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
There is much to be discovered and uncovered on the other side of the ‘fear zone’ - but only if we’re open to the adventure!
Time to reflect:
- What single most courageous decision could you be considering right now to help propel your career or life in general?
- What excuses might you be making to avoid discomfort?
- When did you last do something that took courage, and what did you learn from this?