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The Surprising Decision Factor that Launched a Career, and How You Can Use It Too

Sometimes inspirational speeches hit their mark.

Let me tell you about a time one speech did, and what came of it.

At my last company, we were treated to a talk by a member of the Board, a highly accomplished individual. She was both eloquent and down to earth, and fully relatable even to those of who hadn’t achieved her level of success.

She said:

“When you have a choice between options, do the thing that scares you most.”

I know that statement changed at least one life.

At the time, I was mentoring a colleague who was trying to decide whether to stay and grow in her current discipline or to strike out in a different cross-functional role.  After the Board member talk, she came to me and said,

“I’m going to try the path that scares me – the team leader role.”

Readers, the rest is history.  With support from myself and other she was able to take on a team leader assignment, where she thrived.  Her interest and capabilities were a fantastic fit for this type of role, and she’s still doing it today. 

But why is “the path that scares me” so appealing?  A few ideas: 

  • When people say they are aren’t able to do something, that’s often a signal that they want to.  I can’t climb Mount Everest and don’t talk about it, but I occasionally comment that I couldn’t go on “Survivor” until they provide an espresso machine (hmmm). 
  • Some fear can be a sign of energy and engagement.  If someone is talking about what they are afraid of, notice if their eyes light up.
  • Sometimes fear comes in play because there is a perceived barrier.  More investigation (and coaching) may reveal that the barrier can be overcome.  In general, a person perceives greater barriers for themselves than others will see for them.

As a manager and coach, these insights taught me to listen differently when someone is talking about what they want – to hear the energy,  not only the words describing the challenge.

What can we take away and do right now?

“What’s one thing that really scares you, but you think you’d enjoy?” is the capstone question of my end-of-year Reflection Guide so I encourage you to work through that exercise to make a great start on your personal and professional growth this year.

And for those of you who just want to skip to the end:  Notice when you say you want to do something but it scares you or you think you can’t do it.  It may come up over and over again in your mind or in conversations.

Ask yourself:

-Under what circumstances could the barriers be overcome?

-What’s one step I could take to find out?

-What would I miss out on if I don’t explore this possibility?

Keep in mind, what you are afraid of doing isn’t necessarily the boldest, most ambitious path.  Sometimes it’s about taking time for yourself, asking for something, or making a change in how you work and live.

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