Most of us feel that way when we are constantly thinking in our mind that we are such a failure and how our lives suck, and how we are stuck in our lousy jobs and always frustrated with life … No big deal. You’re not alone on this roller coaster ride of your life. We’re all only human. Are you still wondering how you could have (woulda, shoulda) handled your situation?
The answer lies in building courage to take the first step to move ahead, thrive under uncertainty and act despite of your fears. Just like the lion in the Wizard of Oz, you probably have more courage than you think. While you may find it difficult to ask a stranger to stop talking during a movie, you are more likely to rise to the occasion if a wicked witch threatened you and your family. Most of us confuse courage with confidence. Confidence is an outcome that comes as a result of taking action whereas courage is all about taking that first step towards action. The first step is always the hardest. Courage allows you to take that step. As I was completing my undergraduate degree in Engineering, my dream for the next 3-5 years was pretty clear – to get the best job offer from my college placement program, work for 2-3 years and then enroll for a full-time MBA program. This was way back in 2001, and I had bagged 2 job offers from the best-of-the-best employers of that time. I was completely on track with this dream. Something unforeseen happened then. The year 2001 noticed one of the world’s worst economic crisis, first due to the dot-com crash and later by the 9/11 World Trade Center catastrophe. This threw the entire world into a double-dip recession causing both my job offers to be instantly called-off. At the age of 21, this was the last thing I would have expected to happen to me. “Why me?” was the first thought that came to my mind. There were no jobs in the market and I had no plan B. I was totally without direction at that time. The only logical thing that appeared was to invest in further education. Not an MBA program, because I was clear that I wouldn’t get a MBA degree without formal work experience. The other option was to pursue a Master’s education in the United States. Now, growing up into a 21-year old lad, I was always living with my family, in our family house. A decision to do a Master’s degree in an entirely different country would mean taking a quantum leap out of my comfort zone and that would require more courage than a honey badger, who is considered to be the most fearless animal in the world. This decision also involved substantial career and financial challenges. I had no plan whatsoever when it came to pursuing my Master’s education. Which state would I go? Which universities would I apply to? What courses would I take? Who would I live with? I didn’t know how I would survive in a different country and how I could possibly feed myself over the next couple of years. But, I knew I had to do something rather than just sit on my backside and wishfully wait for the business cycle to turn tides. I knew I needed courage – to take a risk and to take a step towards what I wanted. And, I found that courage within me. At around 11:25 PM on the 4th of August 2002, I found myself standing at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri, a city that was unheard of to me till then, enrolled in a full-time Masters program and with an out-of-state tuition waiver. I was at the airport with 2 oversized black bags, one of which was broken from the transit, waiting for someone from the University to come pick me up. I was totally clueless about what was in store for me in the days to come, yet I had a broad smile on my face knowing that I had taken the first step. I was indeed courageous.
In real life, you could wait for a crisis that will bring out the lion (from the Wizard of Oz) in you or you can start now to practice habits that will build up your courage. Let me share 3 of my habits that build courage so that you could apply them to a goal that you’ve been putting off or to something that just needs a little leap of faith and start moving towards the lifestyle you really want.
Re-frame Your Fears
The words you choose to describe a situation or an event can have a profound effect on how you feel about it. Fear is a part of our neural system and manifests itself in one of the three ways fight, flight, or freeze. It is an essential part of our survival system, provided only if the situation poses a physical threat. All other fears are irrational and “false,” and appear mainly because of our emotional response mechanism that results in intense feelings of anxiety, worry, negative self-talk and other limiting beliefs. This type of fear is a generative cycle that easily spirals up into fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of judgement, etc… if not re-framed appropriately and keeps us from branching out to explore what’s outside the comfort zone. Feel that fear run through you and re-frame it as enthusiasm and excitement. View challenges as opportunities. Channel your fear of whatever it is into an excitement for what’s in store. When the fear isn’t there, you automatically tap into the motivation and excitement part of your brain, which coincidentally resides in the exact same region of the brain. Remember the time when your dad or mom bought you your first bike. Were you excited to ride it, or were you in the fear of falling down and getting bruised? If you could unconsciously re-frame your fear back then as a kid, what’s stopping you now?
Stop Listening to Other People
You cannot stop other people from talking. They will always be there to tell you that you can’t do this or that. They will impose their version of what’s possible and what’s not possible onto you. When I say people, I also mainly talk of a larger sphere of external influence of relative truths that are conditioned by our upbringing, our peers, our family, our society and our culture. This conditioning imposes a very narrow and middle-of-the-road view of how we should be living our lives. When you stop listening to all of this, stop trying to seek external validation and start saying Yes to yourself, you automatically start being courageous and go after what you want. And, once you start on that journey, you will notice that you start noticing the talents you once thought you never had, start learning the skills that are needed, and start having support from people you didn’t know would support you. So, start saying “Yes” to yourself more enough.
Know that Everything Happens as per Your Time, Don’t Compare Yourself to a Subjective Timeline
We all grow up conditioned to a specific system of validation and progress, and are continuously measured against societal milestones. We are supposed to complete our education and start our careers by the age of 21, get married between age 25 and 28, become parents by 30, buy a house by 35, be at the peak of our careers by 40 and so on. That is how our society calibrates our progress and decides whether we are successful or not. But, consider this, J.K. Rowling was 32 and was rejected 12 times by different publishers before she finally published Harry Potter. At a young age of 16, Amancio Ortega realized that to earn good money one should give customers what they want and went on to launch Zara when he was 39. Morgan Freeman got his big career break at the age of 49 in 1987. Richard Branson, who has dyslexia and had poor academic performance, formed Virgin Atlantic Airways at the age of 34. Imagine if all of these people would have felt “stuck” in their lives with no direction and completely out of sync with these societal markers. Imagine if the “introverted” J.K. Rowling did not muster up the courage to ask her co-passenger for a pen when the idea of Harry Potter hit her on a train and her own pen stopped working. Most of the time when we feel stuck, it is only because we feel pressured. You may look at your friends, cousins and other relatives and think that they are ahead of you. Trust that everyone has a different life clock and everything happens as per your time. Have faith in a higher power – God, destiny, universe, whatever you may choose to call it. Having this faith fosters courage and doesn’t let anyone to rush you with their timelines. And be optimistic that it will all work out well in the end.