When first asked to write an article for DeW, a flood of thoughts entered my head, and what I call my “Counsel of Inner Critics” popped up. I quickly began playing a mental round of Whack-A-Mole, trying to squash them down. This “Counsel” is my internal stream of negative conscious thoughts, all representing various versions of myself: the one that lacks self-worth, the one who tells me I’m not smart enough, the one who screams at me with doubt and little confidence, the one that tells me I’m not deserving, and the biggest, loudest one… the one who holds the lid on my potential by keeping me small and safe in my comfort zone. But, this request was made in person; and I had to answer quickly, so, I silenced my Inner Critics and responded, “YES!” with no hesitation.
I’ve never written an article, especially not for a magazine that will have a plethora of eyeballs on it, so this is an experience that will put me in a place that requires a lot of vulnerability, exposure and confidence, and a place that pulls me pretty far outside of my safe zone. So, how did I manage all of the noise inside my head at that moment? How did I shift my mind so quickly from fear of a risky unknown to accepting this opportunity with certainty, knowing full well I could be a colossal failure at this?
The simple answer is: I don’t play small anymore. When an opportunity that feels out of my safe zone presents itself, I almost always say, “Yes!” I don’t want this to be confused with saying “yes” to everything someone asks of you. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those opportunities that take you so far outside of your comfort zone, it makes you sweat, or stirs up a level of anxiety that makes your heart palpitate, or makes you question your own level of ability.
Saying “no” to writing this article would be one act of my “playing small.” By passing up this opportunity, I would be staying safely in my comfort zone, scared to test my limits, and paralyzed with the fear of taking a risk because I might fail or look stupid. After all, playing small is comfortable, familiar and feels more predictable, right?
But what does playing small really get us? I’m here to tell you, it gets you nowhere. Fast. No growth ever comes from standing still. I can’t live to my highest potential by staying safe. I know this because “Play it safe” was once a mantra of mine. The reward I got from that was a continual pattern of robbing myself of opportunities and growth, personally and professionally. Every time I chose to play it safe, I was betting against myself: subconsciously telling myself I was incapable, inadequate, or not smart enough… fueling those “Inner Critics.”
We all have a different recipe for how and why we have gotten to this place of playing small. Maybe you’re like me and your life experiences have brought you to a place where you find comfort in staying small, and those experiences have reinforced the intensity of your fears. Maybe it was upbringing. Maybe it was relationships that reinforced those feelings. Maybe it was past or present work experiences with bosses who did it to you. Whatever the recipe, it doesn’t matter. What matters is understanding that the power and ability to change your position and move out of the safe zone is 100% within your control. Untapping your potential, realizing new possibilities, and moving closer to becoming your highest self is merely a process. What would it feel like to bet ON yourself all of the time, rather than against? Who better to bet on you than YOU?
I have found there are three steps I take to realize a new possibility. The way I do it may or may not work for you, but at the very least maybe you’ll gain some insight into how you can modify or expound upon what has worked for me and start moving toward your highest self. And even simpler, maybe this brings you some self-awareness on this topic and you start to recognize patterns that exist in your life.
Know what you’re up against (hint: It’s you!)
First, you MUST know your Inner Critics well and then create an intention around ignoring, taming and existing alongside them. I could share story after story about how my past experiences and the noise of my Inner Critics have tried to make me stay small and safe. What’s more important is that each experience is an opportunity to learn how to recognize them faster and quiet them a little more. It starts with accepting that they will never be gone, learning how to willingly share the space with them, and inviting them into the moment. This process doesn’t allow them to hijack my mindset. When I’m in that moment of fear, anxiety and uncertainty, I can now be intentional about allowing them to exist while looking past them and more easily move to action. Just taking action has become the antidote to their noise.
I gave my example of this at the beginning of the article. I talked about how these Inner Critics showed up and how I quickly tamed them because I know them now. I count on their always being in the bleacher seats, waiting to get rowdy; but I’m ready for them, and saying “yes” to writing this article became the action that moved me past them.
Take action (say “yes!” more often)
Like I stated above, I’ve never written an article before; and while I am writing this for the audience, I’m also writing it for myself. Each time I step out of my safe zone and into this place, I learn something about myself. Maybe this article is complete rubbish, and I totally missed the mark; but just the act of trying presents an opportunity for me to receive feedback, which I can then apply to my next attempt (see Step 3). It also allows me to test my own abilities and learn more about what I’m made of. It paves the path of forward progress. I will never be able to go back and undo it, and what’s exciting about that is I now have this experience to build upon. I’m actively laying the foundation upon which I will continue to grow.
So, start saying “yes” more often when you would normally say “no.” Better yet, don’t wait to be asked to step outside of your comfort zone! Seek out those opportunities for yourself, and put yourself in the arena! You are the owner of your own journey: Take responsibility for it, and don’t expect others to present opportunities to you. (Side note: this is an excellent “hack” for those in dead-end jobs or those with bosses who aren’t equipped or aren’t willing to develop you. Finding opportunities for your own development should start with YOU.) Feel too scared? Then start small, and build confidence in yourself. Don’t dive into the deep end if you don’t know how to swim! Wade into the shallow end first, and gain some confidence.
A perfect example of this in my experience is getting up on stage and speaking in front of a large audience. Yikes. I’m a super shy introvert who hates small talk. However, opportunity presented itself, and I knew that if I wanted to really reach my highest potential and expand my impact on the world, moving away from that safe zone was imperative to my growth. I started small-ish. The very first time I spoke in front of a group, there were about 80 of my peers in the audience… enough to make me not sleep for a couple nights prior and feel incredibly nauseous before I got on stage. I did it, and, not only did I survive, I actually thrived in that moment. Pure euphoria sets in for me in those moments of accomplishment. It becomes the fuel that ignites the next booster. I’ve done more speaking since, in front of larger and larger audiences. Each time I am more and more comfortable and equipped. I’ve set my sights high now and aim to be a keynote speaker in the future, partly because I want to see what I’m made of and partly because I want to continue to spread my impact. I know that no one is going to come asking me to do a keynote. I’m going to have to put myself out there and possibly risk rejection, time and again. But, with each rejection, I’m given the opportunity to see what or how I need to do things differently for the next time.
Reflect & recognize (uncover the opportunities in the experience)
Just taking action isn’t enough if you are looking to realize new opportunities and reach your highest potential. You must reflect back on the accomplishments: how you showed up in those moments, what went right and record them. I have learned this the hard way. In the past, I have forgotten to look backwards at where I came from and what I accomplished. What I ended up with was a continuous feeling of stagnation and angst. As someone who has a vision of moving an industry forward, it’s hard to know where I am on that spectrum if I’m only looking at the future and a target that is always moving. By only looking forward, I have the perception that I am standing still and not making any progress. I’ve driven my team crazy because of this and have learned hard lessons. I’ve also realized that taking the time and energy to step out of my safe zone isn’t worth it if I don’t actually learn from the experience.
Please stop, and also reflect on what didn’t go right. We are masters at warping reality to make ourselves feel better. Avoid that trap, and dig really deep into how things could be done better next time. Every rejection, every rubbish article, every flubbed speech is an opportunity! And one that shouldn’t be wasted. But, without building a process around reflecting and recognizing those opportunities (aka, mistakes), they are easily missed and the growth that could come from moving out of the safe zone is diminished or lost altogether.
I always welcome feedback. I actively ask for it. Sometimes people will give it unsolicited, but not always; and I need it from others. Remember, if I only listen to my own feedback, I’m likely to be wearing rose colored glasses and will bend reality. Asking for feedback is scary and uncomfortable, just like stepping off that cliff into the unknown, but it’s in that discomfort where a new possibility exists.
I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your life. How many opportunities have you passed over because your Inner Critics or your fears have convinced you it was the right thing to do? Or that you weren’t cut out for the job? Maybe you know your Inner Critics but still stay stuck because of inaction.
I challenge you to begin to elevate yourself by creating a process for moving through fear. Start exploring your own possibilities, uncovering your own potential, and move toward a new future for yourself. Afterall, there’s nobody better to bet on you, than YOU!