It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you”. In this age of super human heroes in movies, fearless warriors in computer games along with the facade and bravado that people often display in every day life to show that they are fit and strong enough to compete for the greatest successes in their personal and professional lives, the idea of doing something that scares me is overwhelming. It feels like I have to be this perfect ideal that shows no fear and never makes mistakes and that I have to up the ante each time.
Who can compete with that? I certainly can’t!
The idea of doing things daily that seem to require super human heroism on my part often means that I don’t do anything, which over time has a negative impact on my self- worth and self- esteem. When someone introduced me to the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone just enough so that it was a challenge and not so much that it felt like over whelm, I began to use Mrs Roosevelt’s saying in a way that enhanced my life.
Let me share, if you will, a personal example with you. I have always had a strong aversion to public speaking. What is interesting in that for years I have felt that I should do it- I have written lectures TED style, courses to be delivered to classes over 6- 12 weeks, video scripts and never been able to deliver. On a recent CPD course it occurred to me that perhaps I was setting my sights too high in the first instance. Perhaps the talks on video and in front of classes would come, even a TED talk- for now though I felt like I needed to take a small step to prove to myself that it was possible. So I did- and although there was a sense of fear and anxiety there was also a sense of feeling alive, on the edge, challenged and at the same time manageable. The feeling of success was elation and then what followed was a calmness and serenity that had eluded me for years.
I had avoided the stress of public speaking and other such things that made me feel anxious and it was always accompanied by this gnawing feeling that I should be doing something more. Now I had taken that step, mustered the courage and it felt great to have taken myself to the edge of my comfort zone and survived. A little melodramatic granted but that is how it felt.
In Taoism, the Chinese speak of Yin and Yang. These are the polar opposites of right and left, up and down, masculine and feminine, light and dark. Taoists and ancient Chinese understood that these concepts work in balance and in cycles. In fact, there cannot be one without the other. Just as darkness gives way to light, so challenge and the accompanying pressure to perform give way to a sense of calmness and serenity. This is exactly what I felt. It is strange to me to think that in order to feel serene I have to earn it in a way by stepping out of my comfort zone. It is by this law of nature, as the Taoists would say, that things move forward and grow. Humans are no different. We are still subject to this natural and universal law.
Then, the serenity gives way to the gnawing feeling again and I know that I must move on and challenge myself again. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us, this cycle lasts about a day- it stops us becoming complacent, stagnant and bored and encourages us to be ever vigilant and searching, moving forward and engaged with the act of living and growing, in pursuit of achieving our full potential.
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