What’s the Worst Thing that Could Happen?

I was always the “new kid” in school. My family moved more than 10 times before I graduated from high school.  We weren’t a military family, running from the law or in the witness protection program. My Dad was moving up the corporate ladder, our family was growing and it just set up a series of moves.

Being the perpetual “new kid” forced me to take risks every time we moved, forming new friendships, adjusting to new schools, dealing with the inconsistencies in the curriculum from school to school, and learning

gail and wagon
Me, taking a stand in the new neighborhood.

new neighborhoods and the local culture.

In my early years, I was not the one who was initiating “change” or deciding to take a risk – my parents were. Nevertheless it made me the person I am.  As a child I was learning that it was OK to take chances and in fact, it was a good thing. But I also knew that we were not a “normal” family and at times I longed for a life that was less transient and more like the families I saw on TV.

I look back at my upbringing and Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanI believe that the greatest gift my parents gave me was to teach me that it was OK to take chances.
And in fact when I was afraid to take a risk, I remember my Dad asking me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” To be honest, I never really thought of anything that was all that bad.
So, is it any wonder that someone like me would opt to go around the world with my daughter, traveling to remote places on six continents, and live out of backpacks for 99 days while creating a movie?

Erin and Gail, Peru
Erin and Gail and children of village along Amazon River, Peru

I was actually going to do this by myself until I received an email from my daughter telling me that she wanted to quit her job and sublet her apartment and go with me.

At first, it surprised me when she said that she wanted to do this with me.  She had only been working for a year after graduating from college and was lucky to have a job. But she was willing leave her life as she knew it, apartment, take a trip around the world for four months and face looking for employment upon her return. Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at all, she too had grown up with the notion that “taking a risk” was normal.

These days, I see young people growing up in a society that has been so over litigated in an attempt to make our lives more risk free that it seems like we are teaching our children NOT to take chances. Losing or failing is looked at as a bad thing and that instead everyone has to be a winner.  It seems that fitting in and becoming part of the status quo is what we should strive for rather than being unique or original.  The problem is, if everyone thinks and acts that way, innovation will die.  No on will dare to be different.
In the last few years, I’ve probably had to face more rejections than I’ve had to over my entire career, or at least it’s seems that the way.  On the other hand, I have had the most incredible experiences and successes of my life.  To be honest, I’m scared to death just about every day but I grew up thinking that was normal and that came with growth. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the courage to spread my wings.

 

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Fear and Innovation

One Fear illustration from Book of Fears
One Fear illustration from Book of Fears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are taught from an early age to conform.  Think about it.  Schools emphasize conformity with rules, regulations and a system built on recitation and memorization. We are told there are two types of answers – “right” and “wrong” ones. I suppose when speaking about math and science, it could be stated that there are only two types of answers or conclusions – it’s either right or wrong.  But is that true?  Are there really only two types of answers?  Or is that merely a mechanism that makes it easier to grade tests and papers?

Is it any wonder that we are programmed from an early age NOT to be innovative or creative with our thinking?  Is it any wonder that we are afraid or fearful to take a leap and question something?  But what are we afraid of? Essentially, we are afraid to be wrong.  We are afraid to fail.  So what do we do?  We let our fear stop us and in doing so we stifle creativity and innovation.

We have been trained to obey rules, comply, sit and stand in an orderly fashion, “don’t rock the boat”, “be a good soldier”, and in the process we stifle innovation and growth.  The problem is that “system” left over from the industrial age doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed.  These days, people are entering a “workforce” that is no longer contained within geographic boundaries with an established set of rules and controls. It’s out of our control. Wow, that’s enough to make anyone afraid.

So, what do most people do when their world is changing and they are scared to death?  Sadly, they tend to desperately hold onto a system that is broken and no longer serves them well.  They spend enormous amounts of energy defending this broken system from the past because it’s all they know.

We can either succumb to change, and merely react to it little by little over time, until there isn’t much left of a life we once knew, or we can face our fears and take responsibility for our lives.  In order to do that, we need to change our outlook and identify what it is we are really afraid of.  Ironically, what most of us fear is failing, so in an effort to protect ourselves from this fear – we ultimately fail because we end up with a life that brings few rewards.

Listen to what Sue Bryce and Seth Godin have to say on this topic.

Dealing with Rejection

Steve Jobs used to quote a saying “If you live each day as if it was your last – some day you’ll be right”.

I’ve pretty much applied this philosophy in my life and in doing so, many (but certainly not most) of my days are full.  Some days are filled with joy and accomplishment and other days it seems like nothing is working out.  Most days are a mixture of both – “hits and misses.”

I’m the type of person who tends to live life passionately, with hopes and dreams that are probably too lofty, and with that comes a lot of rejection.  A lot of successful people are like me in that way.  That’s not to say that I always feel successful, but some people may perceive me that way because every so often I achieve what I set out to do. What they don’t realize are all the times it didn’t work out. I can tell you, that I’ve had my fair share of misses.  So how do I deal with rejection?

  • I remind myself – not to take it personally.  Many times, it’s just that someone else has a different point of view and it’s just not the right fit.  It may be a job that I didn’t get or a party I didn’t get invited to. And more times than not – it’s not about me or my work at all.
  • I try to find out why something was rejected.  I do this because even though it’s hard to hear “why”, I know that if I can take my emotions out of the equation, I can learn and grow from it.
  • I remind myself that something I thought I wanted, maybe just wasn’t meant to be and in fact, many times that rejection ends up being a blessing in disguise.  I look back at some of the pivotal points in my life, where I took a different direction after things didn’t work out.  Almost every time, a low point prompted me to make a shift, it led to something extremely rewarding.
  • I tell myself that “playing it safe” is in fact very risky. If I don’t try, then  it’s a given that I won’t succeed. So, while “playing it safe” may seem like it can eliminate rejection – it can also eliminate feelings of accomplishment and maybe even self-worth.
  • I talk about my rejections, rather than pretend that everything in my life is roses.  In fact I have found in writing this blog over the past few years that the most popular posts have had the word “mistake” in the title.  Why is that?  Because, we humans seem to take comfort in the fact that we aren’t the only ones getting rejected. Misery loves company.  Ask any successful person how many times things didn’t go their way. You’ll find out more times than not.
  • I take comfort in the ones I love and who love me.  They get me through it every time and I’m grateful for those people in my life.

Rejection comes with living a life fully and I tell myself that every time I want to throw in the towel and give up on my dreams.  I want to live every day as if it were my last and if it comes with heartache and rejection, I’ll remind myself that it makes the “hits” that much sweeter.

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Fear of Failure – Fear of Success

Which is it? Which one of these paradigms rules your own behavior? If you are like me, then it’s a little bit of both.

Lately, I think I’ve been leaning more toward fearing success – than failing. I don’t usually contemplate my fears – most times, rushing into the unknown like a young child. I think that’s my inner voice that is calling and I blindly follow. And when I do follow, good things happen. And that’s when I start to get afraid.

Odd isn’t it – being afraid when things are going as I planned, even as I dreamed. I guess for me, fearing success stems from my own lack of self-confidence and questioning myself “Am I deserving of these good things that are happening in my life?

If I stop and think about it – that it was my hard work that led to those “good things” – then I’m OK. But when hard work comes from a place of passion, deep within me, I lose sight that it is work at all. Sure, there are days when things overwhelm me and days when everything I do seems to “fail”, but mostly my work is my joy.

The only thing I really fear is to wake up one day and not feel joy in what I’m doing. I hope that if that happens, I face my fears and change things.

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