You know the drill: you get started on a new project and for a while it goes well. You’re excited and inspired by what you are doing; the ideas are flowing; and you are a bundle of seemingly endless energy.
And then it starts to suck. It gets really hard. You wonder whether you’ll ever figure it out. The assumptions that held true at the beginning of the project no longer apply. And you feel well and truly stuck.
This is an important point in your project, and you have two choices on how to proceed:
- You can throw in the towel and wallow in despair.
- Or you can keep going, even when it feels as if you are wading through treacle.
The first option is where people often go. They decide that nothing more can be done, so they slap together whatever they’ve got and label it their final product. Or they give up entirely and start another project, one that looks more promising.
What you will discover if you choose the more difficult option – the one where you keep going at it against what seem like insurmountable odds – is that at some point you will reach a breakthrough.
At that breakthrough point the things that previously made no sense will come together like the pieces of a puzzle. You will feel a burst of energy and a renewed strength you didn’t realise you had.
I’ve been in that place many times, both with projects that lit up my heart as well as those that just needed to be done. In both cases that breakthrough state was exhilarating. And each time I’ve got to the end of the project, sat back and smiled at my handiwork and thought: I can’t believe I pulled that off!
You can create breakthrough moments in the projects you’re working on:
- Realise that inspiration at the beginning is great, but it won’t last. Like a new romance, the thrill will fade in time, and then you will be left with real work on your hands.
- The value of working on projects that inspire you is that they get you started on a high, and the end goal you’re after can serve as motivation to keep going. If you are doing work you don’t love, you’ll have to expend a lot of energy to generate enthusiasm throughout the life of the project. It’s exhausting!
- The tough part is inevitable. It is simply the natural cycle of any project, so don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean the project is hopeless; that you’ll never get it figured out; or that you are not good enough to succeed. Knowing that it’s not about you will help to prepare you for that tough stretch.
- Keep going, and you will create a breakthrough. And once you do, you’ll wonder what you were stressing about all along. Ride the wave, enjoy the renewed burst of energy, and use it to produce the best work you can.
A lot of people talk about “living the dream” and here’s what I think they mean: “Someday” they will make it. The business will fly; the house will get bought and the car upgraded. There will be first class flights to exotic destinations where they will sip cocktails on the beach while sunning their sculpted bodies.
If you are waiting to live your dream someday, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you – that day is a long way off and it may never come. For as long as your dream is anchored somewhere in a distant future – a future none of us can be certain of – then you are likely to spend the foreseeable future chasing a wish.
Living your dream starts NOW, in every moment. Think about it as stepping into your dream instead of waiting years for it to come true.
Before you protest “but I’m still driving a 10-year-old car and I’m barely covering my monthly expenses”, let me explain.
What’s your dream really about? Is it really about the money and the foreign travel? I doubt it. Of course the material success is an important part of it, but the real motivation is far deeper than that, and it has very little to do with material possessions.
When I was a little girl I knew I wanted to “be somebody”. I wanted my life to matter; to make a difference; to achieve great things.
That’s my real motivation for doing what I do and wanting the things I want: to fulfill my potential as a human being and to use all the gifts I’ve been given and skills I’ve acquired to do what I am here to do. I want to learn and grow ongoingly; to love and be loved; to feel as if my existence on this planet makes a difference.
Think about it for yourself. Why do you really want what you want? Is it that you want to feel that you’ve achieved something and fulfilled your potential? Is there not a desire within you to live life to the fullest, to “suck the marrow out of life” as Thoreau put it.
All of these motivations go beyond the material. They are thoughts, feelings and ways of being. And because of that they can be experienced right now, without having to wait for “someday”.
What would it be like to spend today living your dream? It doesn’t take much – other than your imagination and the courage to dare – to spend today thinking, feeling and behaving in ways that reflect success and fulfillment.
Live your dream now, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your life adjusts to accommodate you.
The other day I had to deliver a talk at a major event. On the morning of the event I woke up feeling terrified. Public speaking still scares me, despite the fact that I do it so often! I do it because I know how valuable it is as a platform for sharing my message and making a difference.
That morning the fear was particularly potent! As I lay in bed I was acutely aware of my heart pounding and the thousand knots in my stomach.
Then I remembered to breathe. Or more to the point, I remembered how to use breathing to shift how I was feeling. So I got to work.
Slowly I started paying attention to my breath. I took slow, deep breaths, ensuring that the duration of the in-breath was the same as the out-breath. I accompanied the breathing with a body scan – moving my attention slowly from one part of my body to the next, starting from the top of my head and ending at the soles of my feet.
The whole exercise took around 20 minutes and by the end of it I felt not only relaxed, I also felt energised. The knots in my stomach were gone and I felt an expansiveness in my chest.
In this state I started doing a mental rehearsal of my talk, and when it was all done I felt confident that it would go off without a hitch later that day. The energised state continued into the actual event; the talk did indeed go well. Some members of the audience even remarked afterwards on how relaxed I looked!
We weren’t taught any of this stuff at medical school. Instead we were taught that the human body is merely a collection of organs encased in a bony skeleton, which malfunctions from time to time and is repaired through medication or surgery.
I’ve since come to realise that our bodies have an inherent capacity to heal and they have an in-built intelligence which can guide our day-to-day actions and decisions. Our bodies can be powerful allies in our personal development, provided we are willing to work with them instead of constantly trying to “fix” them.
Your breath is a great way to get to know the power of your body. So do yourself a favour: read up on Pranayama, Coherent Breathing, Bellows Breathing and other breathing techniques, and start tapping into the power of your breath!
Do you want to transform your life? Here’s a challenge for you:
For the next week, take a cold shower first thing each morning.
If you’re anything like me, the very thought of a cold shower will make you flinch with dread. In fact, the idea for this challenge came from a book I read a number of years ago titled The Flinch, by Julien Smith. The book is about stepping into those situations that evoke fear in us and doing them anyway. Smith calls it “flinching forward”.
I took the cold shower challenge at the time, and here’s what I learned:
- It’s just cold water, not hydrochloric acid!
- The discomfort doesn’t last; my body adjusted quite quickly.
- I’d decided that taking a cold shower would be dreadful, without ever having tried it. How many other experiences have I made this decision about?
- When I got out of the shower, I felt on top of the world, not only for having gone ahead and done it, but from the invigoration of the ice-cold water on my body.
How many times do you hold yourself back by flinching from the things that scare you? Whether it’s taking a cold shower, striking up conversations with strangers, learning a new language, starting a business, writing a book … whatever. For as long as you allow that instinct that wants to protect you from failure, disappointment or heartbreak to win, nothing will change in your life.
- What scary thing can you do every day that pushes you beyond your comfort zone?
- How would doing it help to move you closer to your dreams?
- What’s the worst that could happen? (It probably won’t.)
- What’s the best that could happen? (This is where you want to focus your attention.)
I challenge you to do it! Start with a cold shower – it will motivate you to do the really scary stuff.
Transformation is an ideal many of us aspire to, but few actually achieve. Here are 20 lessons I’ve learned along my own journey:
- Be honest with yourself about what needs to change.
- Take full responsibility for bringing about the change you want to see.
- Devote time each day to imagining your desired reality.
- Let go of what no longer serves you.
- Expand your comfort zone. Do one thing every day that scares you.
- Watch your words, especially those you say to yourself.
- Establish and nurture empowering habits.
- Read the life stories of people you admire and learn from them.
- Learn to make decisions. You will either succeed, or you will learn.
- Understand that transformation is necessarily tough. If it was easy everyone would do it.
- Hold yourself to the highest standards. Don’t settle!
- Integrity works. Be your word and keep your promises.
- Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes.
- Forgive others. Otherwise the energy of resentment will weigh you down.
- Build your “bounce back” muscle. When life knocks you down, pick yourself up and try again.
- Be willing to fail and fail again. Each time ask yourself – “what can I learn from this?”
- Believe in your dreams, even when other people don’t.
- Never stop learning. Transformation is a journey, not a destination.
- Practice self-care.
- Be grateful for everything that shows up in your life.
For two weeks I’ve had the privilege of facilitating a leadership development programme for emerging leaders from six countries on the African continent.
We’ve brought in expert speakers in public life to address the emerging leaders, ranging from international thought leaders on the topic of African development in the post-colonial period, to high-ranking politicians, activists and members of the judiciary.
The expert inputs have been informative and the discussions in the room have been robust and engaging. Each of our speakers has offered valuable content on how Africa’s future leaders need to think about the development challenges on the continent and to devise innovative solutions to address them.
But knowing economic data and understanding geopolitics doesn’t make a leader. While it’s essential to have a thorough grasp of the issues you are grappling with, what distinguishes a leader is much closer to home: the inner make-up of the leader and how that shapes the manner in which she makes decisions, interacts with people at all levels, and responds to challenges and setbacks.
A true leaders demonstrates:
- Humility. A leader doesn’t set out to lead; she is called to lead. Leadership is a natural consequence of the way in which she conducts herself and her ability to rally others around a common vision.
- Non-attachment. Leadership often comes with status, position and even wealth. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these external manifestations of leadership, a leader risks derailment when she associates these with her identity. Positions change; wealth can be lost; powerful associates come and go. A good leader remains unattached to the external trappings and defines herself from an inner center.
- An inner seat of power. Leaders are busy; multiple demands are placed on their lives. It is essential that a leader learns to connect with their inner center and to come back to that place often for grounding and replenishment.
- Respect for others. A leader recognises that she has something to learn from everyone she meets, and she respects others as her equals.
- Resilience. A leader demonstrates the willingness to face failure and opposition, and she has the ability to draw on her inner resources to move through the difficulty.
Leadership is complex and it is becoming more so in a world grappling with multiple challenges. Now more than ever it is essential that leaders cultivate a robust inner core which can withstand the many demands and temptations placed on them.
We all do it. We observe what other people are doing and we ask whether we are doing enough. We measure our success relative to our friends, competitors or neighbours and we attach labels to ourselves such as “better than” or “less than”.
Comparing yourself to other people is a natural human instinct. The danger comes when the comparison leads to paralysis and an inability for you to get on and do what it takes to achieve your dreams.
You will know when you are engaging in toxic comparison when:
- You constantly see yourself as falling short of what other people are doing or achieving.
- You base your goals on what other people are doing, or you adapt your dreams so that you can be like someone you admire.
- You are concerned with being impressive, and you look to other people for validation and approval.
- You feel resentful towards people you consider to be more successful than you.
- You spend more energy and resources cultivating an image, and less on strengthening the content and value of what you do.
It’s difficult to avoid comparisons altogether, but what other people are up to needn’t stop you from pursuing the dreams that are meaningful to you:
Stick to your lane. Oprah Winfrey credits much of her success to this: “I know where my lane is, and I know how to stay in my lane.” Comparison steers you off your lane; who knows where you’ll end up!
Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside. You have no idea what challenges they are dealing with, or what it takes to maintain what you see.
Be grateful for where you are. Comparison robs you of the opportunity to be grateful for what’s working and the lessons you are learning along the way.
Comparison isn’t all bad. Used constructively it can help to inspire and motivate you; allow you to learn from the people you admire; and it can spur you on to up your game so that you become the one that others look up to.
When it comes to your dreams, clarity is power. Unless you are one hundred percent clear on what you want to achieve and how this will impact your life, you run the risk of holding yourself back from doing what it takes, or sabotaging yourself when it looks like things are working out.
A great way to gain clarity is to ask yourself:
“What will I do the day after my dream has been achieved?”
This question is valuable for two reasons:
Firstly, it forces you to identify what your “dream achieved” means. What is the measure of success you are after? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to have a clear “prize” you are working towards. Otherwise you will be working in a haze, where you are constantly striving and never arriving.
The second reason for asking what you’ll do the day after your dream has been achieved is that it provides you the opportunity to unpack what your “new life” will look like. In many ways this is a rehearsal, and it serves two important purposes:
- Being able to imagine your life once your dream is realised acts as a great motivator to keep going.
- Sometimes, however, we wish for stuff without truly appreciating the consequences of those dreams. Sure, you want to run a hugely successful corporation, but are you willing to take on the added responsibility? What about being accountable to shareholders? Or extensive travel and time spent away from home.
Being clear about what a “typical day in my dream life” looks like helps you to try your dream on for size. It will either be so juicy that it drives you to work even harder to achieve it, or it will highlight what you don’t want and will enable you to modify your dream or choose another one altogether.
We are all free to choose our dreams. However, if there are elements in your dream life that you aren’t entirely comfortable about, you will resist doing what it takes, or you will find ways to sabotage your efforts.
Give yourself the best chance of achieving your dream by getting clear on what your dream life looks like so that there is nothing within you that is likely to hold you back from achieving it.
Last week I was invited to speak at a women’s networking breakfast. The brief was to share my story about the challenges I have faced through my career transformation from doctor to award-winning author and speaker. Specifically I was asked to speak about strategies I’ve used to face my fears and keep moving forward.
I thoroughly enjoyed the speaking engagement. Public speaking has never been a favourite activity of mine, but in recent years I’ve learned to enjoy sharing my story with audiences, so I felt confident as I stood at the front of the room.
A short while after my talk began I noticed one of the venue staff who was busy refreshing the tea and coffee table at the back of the room. She was quietly getting on with her work while I spoke, but every now and then she would glance back at me. It was clear she was trying to not make it too obvious that she was listening.
Eventually she stopped pretending. She put down the cups she was holding, turned to face me, and for the remainder of my talk she stood at the back and listened.
Later in the morning when I was preparing to leave she came up to me to thank me for my talk. Her eyes were bulging with tears; it seems my talk came at exactly the right time for her and resonated deeply with the challenges she’s facing in her own life.
When I walked away from that talk I realised that I made a huge difference in that woman’s life; my talk may have even changed it in some way.
It’s easy to think that it takes the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to change the world, but I’ve come to realise that we all have it in us to make a difference.
From the many emails I get from people who’ve read my book; to the comments people leave on my TEDx talk; to the emails that land in my inbox… I’m clear that my story makes a difference. It changes lives.
I also realise that making a real difference is not about my work changing the lives of millions of people. What matters is the profound difference it makes in one person’s life.
I bet your story matters too. Share it powerfully. Show up authentically, warts and all.
The lessons you’ve learned from all you’ve experienced in life may just be what changes someone else’s life.
As children we were all told stories about monsters who gobble up humans and witches who steal children and keep them as slaves. When we grow up we stop believing those stories, yet we continue to hold onto myths about fear that turn out to be just as paralysing as the childhood monsters we feared under our beds.
People believe all sorts of things about fear and they use those beliefs as a reason to themselves hold back. Here are 5 common myths that may be keeping you feeling stuck:
Myth #1: Fear Keeps You Safe
Fear is programmed into our DNA. Back in the days when humans lived in caves and hunted down their meals, fear was a useful mechanism for staying alive. Nowadays we live cushioned lives, yet we still behave as if we are in constant danger. Sure, there’s real danger out there, but most of what human beings fear has nothing to do with physical survival – public speaking; failure; bills. Using fear as armour doesn’t serve you at all.
Fear won’t keep you safe; it simply keeps you fearful.
Myth #2: Fear Must Be Overcome
It can’t. That’s like saying your basic physiology must be overcome.
Recognise when fear is running your show – when you doubt your abilities; when you worry what others will think; when you wait for the perfect time, the right circumstances, the ideal environment. Name that fear, and then go ahead and do it anyway.
Myth #3: Successful People Have No Fear
Not so! Successful people have simply learned to recognise fear for what it is – a physiological response programmed into us for our survival. What’s more, successful people are interested in more than just surviving and they recognise that, in order to thrive, they need to face their fears head-on and keep moving forward.
Myth #4: Fear is a “Sign”
It’s easy to misinterpret fear as an indication that you shouldn’t go for it, you’re bound to fail or “it’s not meant to be”. Fear is simply an emotion; it doesn’t mean anything, except what you make it mean.
Myth #5: Fear is Personal
Fear is as universal as taking a breath. Feeling fear doesn’t make you weak or bad; it simply confirms that you are human. Don’t take it personally; we all feel fear at some point.
We might have stopped believing that the bogeyman will come and get us if we don’t finish our vegetables, but as adults we’ve allowed myths about fear to dictate how we live our lives. Take a good look at the fears that are robbing you of your vitality and you’ll soon realise that many of them are based on myths. Will you stop believing them?