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How Leaning Into Our Deepest Fears Frees Us From the Curse of Mediocrity


When it comes to hitting goals - like reducing our risk for Alzheimer's - perseverance is key! While it would be lovely for everything to fall right into place right away, that's usually not the way things go. If you are anything like me, reaching goals is usually preceded by fits and starts, unexpected obstacles, shifting strategies, and revamped timelines. The journey starts out so well-mapped and the path seems straight and clear...then bang! Out of nowhere, it gets complicated. It gets uncomfortable. It gets hard.

I call this the sticky place. It's the hole we find ourselves in again and again where old habits rear their ugly head and new habits go to die. It's where we come face to face with ourselves and don't like what we see. It's the pit of relapse and regret, of failure, of self-recrimination, doubt, and - most of all - fear. Fear that we're not good enough, that we will never be successful, that we might as well give up our goals, lay down our dreams, and settle for something less than the best.

Personally, I am super familiar with the sticky place. I visited it two times just this week!

The first started with a string of text messages I got from a friend/business collaborator who was apparently (and surprisingly!) very angry with me. Right away, my body kicked into fight-or-flight mode (elevated heart rate, fast breathing, trembling hands) as I started tapping out my responses to what I considered wildly inaccurate statements and harsh accusations. I typed and erased, typed and erased, and finally put my phone down because this conversation wasn't heading anyplace positive. A couple of hours later, I replied. Not to defend myself, not to argue against her perspective, but to simply ask if we could discuss this on the phone.

Now, I don't know about you but that is definitely not my comfort zone. While I am a peace-maker by nature, it's more of a passive, ignore-it-until-it-goes-away approach. I hate conflict. I shy away from difficult conversations, preferring instead to bury my head in the sand and keep it there until the conflict goes away...but this relationship is important to me. I really care about this woman and deeply value both our friendship and our professional relationship. I wasn't willing to just let it die. I want her in my life. And you know what happened? She said yes. We talked on the phone and worked it out. I persevered in resisting my habitual, knee-jerk reactions and leaned in deeper to that sticky, uncomfortable, fear-filled place...and it paid off.

The second visit to the sticky place happened when I got some news that I didn't like. I had been denied access to something important to my work, to my brand, to my career, for reasons that were totally out of my control. And I have been working so hard towards this for months and months! My constant companion (what I call that critical little voice in my head) started whispering all kinds of nasty things in my ear about how I'm not good enough and about how unfair the whole situation was. Basically, I threw myself a pity party and placed a Tamara-shaped pinata in the center of the room, and started bashing it with every unkind sentiment I could conjure. That's another habitual response, in case you were wondering.

But instead of staying there moping about how I should just give up on my dreams, I pushed back. I dug in. I challenged the response I had received and guess what? The door opened back up - just a little - but enough to let some hope back in. I don't want to jinx it, but what looked hopeless one day totally shifted into a possibility by the very next day. Again, I resisted my habitual, knee-jerk reactions and leaned in deeper to that sticky, uncomfortable, fear-filled place...and it paid off.

You see, habits aren't limited to things like food and exercise. We habitually and unconsciously run dozens - if not hundreds - of default programs every single day that controls how we respond to things like conflict, disappointment, and fear. In other words, we have ample opportunities to give up. To fail. To accept the status quo. That, my friend, is where perseverance comes in.

As the Buddhists say, shit happens. Everything changes. Don't take it personally. It's going to get complicated, uncomfortable, and difficult...and that's a good thing. Because the truth is, nothing great comes easy. The tough stuff is the good stuff. It's only when we are facing our greatest fears do we discover how strong, how wise, and how bursting with potential we really are!

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