About a month ago I presented on this topic to a room full of smart, beautiful women attorneys at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference in Los Angeles, CA. I thought it might be interesting to start a series of blogs on this topic as we covered some real issues that we all face from time to time. For this first blog post, I’d like to focus on what I believe is a crucial element to getting ready or simply being ready at all times for such an opportunity to come calling. It is easy to jump to the practical considerations of being prepared and I will get to those in my next post. But first, let’s focus on being emotionally prepared to handle this opportunity.
First and foremost, let’s not overlook this acknowledgment of you! Whether it’s a new job opportunity or the opportunity to work on a big project or to lead an organization in your spare time, the fact that someone called you about it is indeed a recognition of you, your skills and abilities and the person that you are. Someone thinks you would be ideal for it, or they would not have asked you to consider it. So, pat yourself on the back, smile, and be grateful that you impressed someone.
The second part of being emotionally prepared – and perhaps the tougher part for some of us – is conquering the fear that might come along with your being presented with this opportunity. I like to call these the “what ifs.” What if I’m not ready? What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t handle it? What if I don’t get it? What if I think I’m ready but I’m really not? What if I don’t do a good job? What if I get it and I don’t do well? What if I get it and then I’m not happy with it, or they are not happy with me? Did I capture your “what if” in that lengthy list?
We all have doubts and concerns about new opportunities that arise. I am the President-Elect of a local bar association and getting ready to become the President in the fall of 2015. When I was first approached about it, my initial reaction was – no, I’m not ready and I can’t handle this right now. There were a lot of “what ifs” swimming in my head at that time! In the end, I decided to place my focus elsewhere that year and decline the offer. But it wasn’t a decision based in fear. Rather, after thinking hard about it and processing those “what ifs,” I decided that it wasn’t the right time in my life for it. I had other plans in mind and I knew that I wanted to have the right mindset and the time to take on the opportunity and do it well. About a year later the opportunity arose again and I decided to go for it. It was a much easier decision at that point because I had overcome the qualms I had about how I would balance my family, my work as an attorney, and my coaching career along with the bar association work.
These “what ifs” exhibit a fear that we must all confront at some point. So how do we deal with this fear? I have a few suggestions:
- Dig in to this fear. Instead of running from it or ignoring it, why not spend some time with it? What is really behind this fear? What is really true when you hunker down in the basement (or cave or black hole – take your pick of a scary place) with this fear and go to the mat with it? It might be helpful to spend some time journaling about this fear. What comes up for you when you think about this fear? What happens physically? What happens emotionally? What would happen if you let it all out? You won’t stay in this place of fear forever, especially once you get some insight into it. It may be that you will conclude that the fear you had is not reasonable, can be overcome, and is no longer a factor. That fear may be just your default that you have to keep telling yourself is not the real you. In fact, it may be your saboteur voice talking to you and telling you that you can’t do something. But you will never know unless you dig into it.
- Don’t let fear be the obstacle to your growth. You will never know what is beyond that fear until you face it head-on and deal with it. It is alright to feel fear. It is not alright to let fear stand as an obstacle to what God has in store for you. As the great author/poet T.S. Eliot once said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” I keep this quote on my desk as a reminder each day to step out of my comfort zone, to try new things, to grow and develop beyond where I am. It can be little steps that lead you to that growth, so remembering to take risks every day is important. Practice makes perfect, right? The more you do it, the easier it gets. Most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means you won’t really be comfortable at first.
- Channel that fear energy into something else. If you are still struggling with this fear after digging into it and determining the fear is rational and it’s not your saboteur, try something different (again, growing beyond your comfort zone). What would happen if you channeled that fear into action? Think back to a situation in your life where you were fearful about something but you decided to take the plunge and dive in anyway. What was it that made you go beyond the fear? Can you recreate that feeling today? What would it be like to take that fear, visualize it as a big rock that you’re carrying around, take it to a nearby cliff and throw it off the cliff? Envision it falling, falling, falling and then crashing into whatever is below. Or you could throw it into a lake, the ocean, wherever, and watch it drift away. I bet I would see your shoulders start to straighten up, you would be standing taller without that weight. And then you would have the energy you were using to support that fear free and ready for use elsewhere.
Dealing with this fear now will help you to be in a state of perpetual preparedness. Stay tuned for my next post on the practical considerations of being prepared for opportunities when they come calling!