Originally published 2/25/2016
I. Hate. Snakes. Like a lot. I don’t care that they are often more afraid of me than I am of them (doubtful). I just don’t like anything about them, from their scales to their beady eyes to the creepy way they slither along. But this isn’t the fear that keeps me up at night.
My biggest fear in life is dying without making a meaningful contribution to the improvement of this world we live in. I saw a quote years ago that had a profound impact on me (and I’m just now learning apparently it is only a Stella Artois ad): I would rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity. I’ve taken this message to heart and used it as a guide. For years I struggled to articulate my life’s mission, convinced my biggest fear was dying without figuring out why I was here. Now that I feel closer to knowing this vision for my life, I am actually more terrified I won’t get to achieve it. Simply put, I want to eliminate the barriers people face when it comes to pursuing their wildest dreams. These barriers come in many forms (more on this later), and I feel passionate about helping people overcome whichever ones are standing in the way of creating the life they want to live. It’s been shown that fear on its own is neither good nor bad. It is how you let the fear affect you that determines its character. Rather than being debilitated, I strive to use my fear to motivate me to continue making forward progress.
It’s been hard to figure out why, when this mission is so important to me, I don’t use every minute of every day to work toward achieving my goals. I’ve come up with a few reasons. The first I learned from following strength coach and goddess Neghar Fonooni. She helped me realize that “my very best” is not a stationary bar; it fluctuates on a daily basis. Sometimes you are tired, stressed, or you have other priorities in your life, and that is ok. By following her, I’ve learned to listen to my body and mind and give myself permission to lean into whatever I’m feeling on a given day. Each day I try my very best, but some days that means writing and helping others, and other days it means binging on Netflix.
The second reason it can be hard to work toward these big, audacious goals is due to lack of clarity. In Switch, the Heath brothers discuss how to achieve change at personal, organizational, and societal levels, and at every level, you must be specific. It’s not enough to simply think, “Eliminate barriers people face in reaching their potential.” I have to identify those barriers and come up with specific actions to tackle them, much the same way David Allen of Getting Things Done says that every item on a To Do list should be action oriented. In Allen’s example, if you simply add, “Get a tune up on the car” to your list, there may be an obstacle to you achieving it, such as not having the phone number for the garage, that without articulating, invites you to keep putting it off because something isn’t quite right. This tip has been very helpful not only for being productive on a daily basis, but for breaking these big, long-term goals into something I can accomplish in the next 6-12 months.
I learned a third lesson recently while watching Tim Urban‘s recent TED talk at TED2016. Through creative illustrations, he showed us that we all have a monkey steering us around who loves to procrastinate. It’s hard for our rational self to take over and get things done until the Panic Monster sets in close to a deadline. This is why many procrastinate until the last minute. Looking up cat videos on YouTube sounds way more fun than writing the cover sheet for your TPS report, but eventually a looming deadline will scare you into action. However, the big, scary goals many of us set for our lifetimes don’t have a specific deadline. Without the Panic Monster, we don’t feel the anxiety that kicks us into gear. So we can either set deadlines for ourselves (assuming you will still meet them even though they are self-imposed), or just use this realization to spur you into action.
During a recent conversation with a good friend of mine, I was waxing poetic about this fear of mine, and she had a very wise perspective on all of it. She said that while striving to meet these goals is important, it is your personal experience that will ultimately shape the quality of your life. If I focus too much on having an impact, I will miss out on experiences and opportunities that might actually lead to such an accomplishment. Certainly a thought to mull over.