Personal Growth or Unmitigated Disaster?

photo credit: photofarmer

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know I launched a thing last week and made other site tweaks to make it clearer that this blog is part of a larger business model dedicated to helping nonprofits be heard.

There were definitely parts of this process where “crawling into a hole” seemed like a viable career move, but in the end, I’m happy with where I am.

This is especially gratifying for me because “selling” has not always been such a positive experience.

In the past, it went more like this:  After spending a semester hanging out with the Campus Crusade for Christ people in college, they encouraged me to start actively witnessing to people.  I resisted for awhile but, eventually, I ignored the giant knot in the pit of my stomach. Believing the “don’t do it” feeling in my gut was fear, or weakness, or something else that needed to be overcome, I went upstairs to my best friend’s dorm room and made my first (and last) attempt at cold calling for Christ.

In other words, it did not go well.  I would like to avoid that kind of embarrassment from happening again.

Here’s the dilemma.  It’s really hard to tell at the beginning if you are headed for “successful launch” or “dorm room drama.”  While it’s character building to experience a few crash-and-burn moments in our lives,  most of us don’t have the stamina to do all of our learning by picking ourselves up off the ground.  On the other hand, if you back off every time your stomach gets a little queasy, growth will be impossible.

You Need a Compass

The main difference between “growth opportunities” and “disasters waiting to happen” is disasters usually involve doing what you think you are supposed to do instead of achieving your goals in a way that honors your personal values*.  Luckily, when you find yourself headed toward disaster, it’s often possible to change course.

The key is to notice where you are headed as early as possible.  To that end, use your emotional response to the “newness” of what you are doing as a reminder “to take time to reflect.” I highly recommend journaling as part of this process, but you know what works best for you.  I use this series of questions to help ensure I’m headed in the right direction.

What’s going on?

This is just a “brain and heart” dump of the situation.  Write down all of the the emotions you are experiencing and to what you attribute them.  Capture your initial reactions to those emotions and allow space to write out everything you are afraid of.  You know you are nearly done with this step when you get to the “and then I’ll have to live in a van down by the river” part.

What are my fears trying to tell me?

Havi Brooks literally wrote the (coloring) book on this one, but even if your fears don’t manifest themselves as mythical creatures, they do have something to tell you.  This is the part where you look for the seed of truth inside the giant dramatic production your mind and heart have concocted to keep you safe.

Is there a way to honor my fears without letting them take over?

Ignoring fears does not make them go away.  They may seem to go away for a little while, but really they just pop back up in increasingly unhelpful ways.  Instead, try working through the fear.  Look for solutions that acknowledge the core of it while still giving you room to move toward your goal.  This does not mean you should cave to your fears.  They may have something important to say, but they don’t have all the info.  If you cave to their demands you won’t be able to grow.

Is there a small first step I can take to test the waters?

This is really important.  When you look at a new/scary situation as one giant thing, you are likely to either freeze in your tracks or barrel in head first, swinging your arms and hopping for the best.  In either case, you don’t give yourself the chance to evaluate your success as you work through the issue.  Try this instead.  Take in the whole situation and then find a discrete piece to tackle first.  When you are done with that, stop and reflect.  Did you get the expected results?  Did anything happen that you weren’t expecting?  How can you incorporate what you learned on the next step?

Lather, rinse, repeat until your scary project is the newest part of your repertoire.

Share your stories

Personal Growth and “Crash and Burn” stories are both fair game.   If you have a method for tipping your personal scale toward growth, please share that in the comments as well!

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*I’m not talking about moral values or family values here–I’m talking about the ideas, philosophies, and beliefs you have chosen for yourself that help define who you are.  For more a more nuanced exploration of core values, start with Julia Fabris McBride, Ronnie Brooks and Judy S. Brown.

6 thoughts on “Personal Growth or Unmitigated Disaster?

  1. Great post Maureen! I’ve found the two points you made about honouring the fear without being overwhelmed by it, and breaking the BIG thing down into chunks to both be extremely helpful every time.

    The thing that always makes the line between opportunity and disaster blurry for me is when I stuff down a fear and force myself to “positive think” my way past it and miss some really great clues about how to avert the potential disaster in the making.

    I’ve found that I have to make a bit of space for reflection time at the very moment when my aversion to the fear won’t let me stop and listen. It’s counter-intuitive to pause when I’m the most frantic, but it does work.

    • Thanks Susan for bringing up the point about the need to be still in the midst of being most frantic. When I notice myself headed down that path now, I can stop and remind myself I will get more done, in less time, with fewer mistakes, if I take a moment to breathe. That was not always the case. I used to get myself so emotionally wrapped up in the overwhelm I would hyperventilate. Not fun for anyone.

  2. Every time I try to talk myself out of being wary, I regret it. Every single time.

    A co-worker who seemed like a gossip hound and manipulator. I told myself I was being judgemental. Guess what happened?

    A job that wasn’t quite right. I told myself to stop being a princess. That worked out *so* well.

    I’ve come to call those instincts Vampire Alarms. It’s fear, I suppose, but it comes straight from the gut. One ignores those feeling at one’s peril.

    When I’m truly not sure, I listen, until either an alarm goes off, or something else happens.

    I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure that one out Sometimes I still miss a flag. But the disasters are fewer and farther between.

    • Stacey–no one turns a phrase like you–Vampire Alarms creates just the right image.

      You also bring up a good point–talking yourself out of a fear is very different than working through a fear. If part of your process involves some kind of self-blame for uncomfortable feelings, it’s a good bet you are ignoring an alarm.

  3. A mantra I have learned says: Take the first step and the next will be revealed. Perhaps this is where we will find our compass. The mistakes many fall through is that they rush things over without taking time to evaluate, as you have eloquently stated here. They say the pursuit of success entails difficulties, but I do believe that we can overcome these difficulties if we let our awareness on guard. Without being mindful of what and where we are going, our chances of learning and succeeding will be slim. 🙂

    • I love your mantra Walter! It can be hard to start a journey without a completely clear picture of where we are going, but sometimes it’s the only way to get started.

      Besides, when we are “sure” we know what success looks like, we are often wrong anyway 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

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