Which of these two statements best describes you:
- I seek comfort and security. I like when things are stable. I like to take on projects that are similar to other work that I have done.
- I routinely push myself out of my comfort zone to grow as a professional. I like to live on the edge and I get excited about big challenges.
Here is the interesting thing: I tell myself that I want the second yet I live my life as if I want the first. Let me explain.
I tend to get bored with easy projects. I find it hard to be motivated on projects that don’t challenge me and I have to push myself to just do my job as a project manager and to make progress. I tell myself it is because I like big challenges and I eschew comfort. This may very well be true.
In fact, I used to tell mentees that if you are comfortable in your job, you have probably stopped growing. I used to tell them something like this:
When you first start a new job, you learn a lot in the first few weeks and months. And you are the most scared at that time as well. Over time, you tend to learn less and less. So you will need to get used to being scared. In fact, in order to maximize your growth as a professional, you need to change jobs frequently. If you are comfortable, you are not growing. Seek discomfort and fear, not comfort.
That’s what I tell people. It is like what my mentor Rich says, “you need to make friends with fear”.
But when I land a new challenge, I usually forget all that business about seeking discomfort and getting chummy with fear. I get terrified. Instead of feeling excited, I start to think about how I am not up to the challenge, how I will likely fail, and how embarrassed I will be when everyone realizes that I am a fraud. My mind wanders to all the downside risks. At that very moment when I should feel excited, I am feeling scared because I just don’t feel up to the challenge. My excitement becomes fear.
And there is one other thing, or one other reason for this excitement/fear mix-up. When I look back to my childhood, there was a pattern to how my Dad treated me when I got excited. He had a way of bringing me down when I was excited; of taking the wind out of my sails. I don’t know if my excitement scared him or made him jealous but I know that at an early age I learned to hide my excitement from him or he would use it against me. The thing I was most excited about was the very thing he would take from me or threaten to take from me. For example, he made me quit the 8th grade track team as a punishment for some offense I don’t remember. The track team was something I was excited about.
Perhaps this is why I now get emotionally confused; I get scared when something excites me. When I start living big and taking on big challenges, I wind up getting scared. And not just scared, I get terrified.
My pattern goes something like this (I know because I just went through this when I took on a new consulting assignment two weeks ago):
Live Big -> Go for it -> Get Opportunity -> Get Excited -> Get Scared -> Get Terrified
So what do I do to overcome this pattern? The first thing to do is recognize the pattern. This is the essence of emotional self-awareness. That goes a long way to changing the behavior. Once I know that I will get scared when I should be excited, I can anticipate that feeling and choose to make a shift (emotional self-management). In the moment when I get terrified, I can choose to do it different. I can see the fear for what it is and then remind myself of all the reasons I should be excited. I am not surprised and I don’t beat myself up for it, I just make the shift and move on.
I am not suggesting that I am perfect but I have gotten better over the years. I have empowered myself to behave in a more effective manner. I still go through the excitement to fear cycle but now I move through it quicker and get back on my feet more rapidly.
So are are you going for it and living big? Are you getting scared in the process? What helps you to push through the fear? I’d like to hear about your experience.