Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Living On The Edge

Years ago, I was hiking in the Cascades, adjusting to the altitude in preparation for a summit of Mount Rainier. I found the two sides of the Cascades to be markedly different – one side is lush, almost rainforest-like and the other is dry and desert-like. The difference is created by the mountain peaks that capture the rain and send it rushing out of the clouds on the Western side of the peaks, leaving little moisture to fall on the dry Eastern slopes.

In my non-hiking time, I was exploring the little towns that cropped up on both sides of this ridge and wondered what it was like to have been a settler, coming west from the populated areas of our country into these unsettled parts in the 1800’s and 1900’s. What made people choose the places where they settled, I wondered. I supposed some of it was actually choice, as in they found reasonably flat land with adequate water, temperate climate and sufficient resources to homestead.

In other instances, perhaps the horse pulling their wagon died and they had no way to continue further on, so they made the best of what they found where they were stranded. In many ways, each of these families or groups of explorers reached their own edge.

I tried to imagine what kind of frontiersman I would have made. Would I have easily left behind the comforts of a town or city to strike out and claim my piece of the great American dream in uncharted lands? Would it have seemed like the greatest adventure of my life or would I have wanted clear descriptions and certain guarantees of what I would find before I would leave the safety of “civilization”? What would I have taken with me or left behind? What sacrifices would I have been willing to make to seize this sense of freedom and create my own destiny? And, how would I have dealt with the unexpected challenges along the way … would I have left my meager possessions on the side of the trail (if there even was a trail) and continued on by foot the rest of the way or would I have settled where the horse died? With what kind of attitude or regrets for not going further on or wishing I could turn back?

I am quite sure that for each person who started such a journey, there were many more who contemplated it but were unwilling to give up the “comforts of home” or who were dissuaded by the scary naysayers warning of unspeakable dangers and taunting the would-be frontiersmen with tags that they were “fools” or worse.

Several years later, I read Down The Great Unknown, the story of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 journey of discovery and tragedy through the Grand Canyon. He was a Civil War veteran with one arm who led a ragtag group of nine trappers and ex-soldiers through the unmapped rapids of the Green River in Wyoming, into the Colorado River and ultimately through the Grand Canyon. Since it was previously uncharted, they had no idea what to expect and, in many instances, were woefully unprepared. Unlike modern rafters who sail through those rapids in inflatable rafts with experienced guides, Powell’s crew used wooden rowboats and often went through those rapids rowing backwards, never knowing if they would survive the plunges. Surprisingly, despite grumbling that sometimes reached mutinous levels, Powell brought all his men through safely, except the three who abandoned the party to turn back and were never found.

Recently, when I was guiding a client through a particularly murky part of his transition to a new career, I took a break to hike in a high desert forest to gather my thoughts about how to bring the best perspective I could to his challenge. As I stopped for lunch, I noticed that the pine trees around me had what looked like little lanterns of fresh green at their tips and that the desert sage, dry and crumbly as it is in the center of the bush, had tiny flowers all along the edges. It reminded me that growth doesn’t happen close to the middle, it happens at the edges. The frontiers are where discoveries are made. It happens in those places that haven’t yet been fully charted. The edge is where things blossom.

It’s interesting to me that, historically, those with novel ideas were frequently marginalized, referred to as freaks, sometimes persecuted or considered to be outcasts who were “on the fringe” and yet, all innovation, all development, all creativity happens on that very edge. In the uncharted waters, in what hasn’t been fully explored and mapped, in fragile buds and from tiny buried seeds and nuts. The very willingness to leave behind the comfortable safety of approval and familiarity is what has driven exploration and is so much the touchstone of our nation’s foundation – pioneers, explorers, daring frontiersmen and innovators, avant-garde scouts.

It hasn’t really changed. Is there some secret longing you have that you aren’t following because it seems too risky or you’re scared of what others will think of you if you give up all this security to follow some “crazy dream”? An entrepreneur is one who takes risks to do something new or something old in a new way. That entrepreneurial spirit is snuffed out when we stop blazing trails and instead seek the familiar well-trod path of a follower, doing things the way everyone else does. How many of us have abandoned our dreams when faced with the taunts that what we long to do is foolish or too risky, only to become tethered to a post like an old horse or chained to routine in the hopes that one day, someday, we will break free and follow our dream.

Guess what? I checked the calendar:

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

See – there is no Someday!

We can’t afford that kind of bondage any more, that dampening of enthusiasm, waiting for someone to give us permission to fulfill our dreams before they turn to dust. The world is measurably poorer without the contributions we each can make.

Are you willing to join me on the edge, making a difference and changing the world we live in and that which we are creating for our children? I am invested in helping you do what you came here for whether anyone else calls you a freak or a fool. I have another name for you – I call you a frontiersman, an innovator, a leader, an entrepreneur, a visionary.

I have set aside several complementary sessions each week to work with people who want to change what they’re doing and seize their dreams, but don’t know where to begin. I am committed to this path of helping to open the door for you to do what you came here for. If you are interested in this journey with me, please click here.

After all, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space, and frankly we can’t afford it anymore, it’s too crowded in the middle. Join me here on the edge where you can see forever.

Building Your Courage Muscles

I was talking to the massage therapist the other night about my upcoming workshop on Courageous Choices and what a thrill I get every time I am able to help someone let go of the familiar to try something new. Whether it’s a new job with a different company, asserting new boundaries within an important relationship or a significant transition like choosing a new career – each step toward change requires moving beyond a well trod comfort zone and that takes courage.

For most of us, the path from the Land of Wishing to the Land of Having requires us to step through the Gate of Doing. Typically, we step through that gate only when a) the pain of staying where we are is too great to stay put or b) the desire for that for which we have been wishing becomes strong enough to overcome the inertia of resisting. I’ve seen that pain come from any of a thousand different avenues for the people I work with – getting fired, not being able to raise the next fund, learning your spouse is preparing to leave you, a serious medical issue, death of a loved one, the empty nest or a gnawing restlessness that you just can’t put your finger on but you know you can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing any longer.

For nearly everyone, “wanting” something to be different may be the starting point, but as the old saying goes “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Change requires action, plain and simple – no avoiding it. It is often fear that keeps us from taking the action we most need to see the changes we desire. Fear is not the enemy, inertia is. Fear challenges you to build your courage muscles and when you make friends with fear by stepping outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone expands. Too often we hold ourselves back from taking the steps that will improve our lives and fulfill us, hoping that our fear will go away. The fear that you might not make enough money or that you won’t be as successful in a new career or that someone is going to be upset about your decision can keep you stuck where you are, hoping that “some day” you’ll wake up and feel the courage to try something new. Believe me, courage is not going to find you, you’re going to have to tackle that fear and step into the courage whether you want to get a new job, give a speech or leave a relationship that just clearly isn’t working anymore.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the pioneering psychiatrist in the work of grief surrounding the dying found that the most oft-cited fear was the fear of death, even though we all know that it is inevitable and unavoidable. Her research showed that those who felt they understood and acted on their purpose in life or found special meaning in what they had been able to do faced significantly less fear and despair in the final weeks of their lives than those who had not.

Identifying the work we are meant to do and the strength of character to do something that frightens us and then deploying the physical or mental or emotional willingness to do it is empowering and exhilarating. It requires reflection, introspection, a willingness to look at things in a new way, and the courage to actually step out of one’s comfort zone and do something different and unfamiliar and yes, sometimes, frightening.

Often I hear “What will other people think or say if I (fill in the blank)?” A fellow I’m working with has become clear about the specific step that he needs to take to have the life of his dream, one he’s been dreaming of for as long as he can remember, admitted that he was worried about what his family and friends would say if he took this step. He wasn’t sure he could stand up to their criticism of his decision, even though he knew that if he didn’t act soon his dream would really be beyond his reach. I shared with him a favorite quote: The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. – Rollo May

Courage is the willingness to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism or disapproval of others. Many people stay in jobs they detest and go to events they despise and behave in certain ways that violate their integrity just to please other people, all the while draining their life force into the pit of conformity for the poison pill of approval. To me, it is a sad waste of a life. After all, I often joke that if your friends think less of you for chasing your dream, you need some better friends! And, families often use the tool of guilt to manipulate their loved ones into conformity because of their own fears and wants. While it’s easy to confuse courage and bravery, I think courage is not the absence of fear, but the resistance to fear and mastery of that which you have not yet achieved.

Here are some questions I use to regain my courage:

1. What do I really (in my deepest heart) want? (Be precise)
2. What do I need to do to have that? (List every action)
3. What am I afraid of? (List every fear, no matter how silly it looks in writing)
4. What does avoiding this fear cost me?
5. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? (List every action)
6. At the end of my life, will I regret not having done this?
7. How will my life benefit from facing this fear?
8. What else might I be able to do if I faced this fear?
9. What specific actions must I take in spite of this fear so I may have what I want?
10. What one action am I willing to take today and who can I ask to support me?

Dear friends, I want for you the life of your dreams. You deserve it, you’re worth it and as Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”  If you need me to be your Christopher Robin, I’m here.