“It wasn’t that I was able to persevere. I was unable to stop! I just couldn’t give it up. It was just too important. It never entered the realm of possibility. But, I never was sure, really sure, that it was going to work and I would ever really be an astronomer.” – Vera Rubin, Astronomer (emphasis mine)
Is that an awesome quote, or what? Talk about putting yourself out there. Vera Rubin wanted to be an astronomer during a time when it just wasn’t acceptable for women to have those kinds of ambitions. She tried to enroll in Princeton’s graduate astronomy program, but wasn’t allowed. She found another school that would take her (Cornell) and studied under some of the greatest minds in physics. She’s currently 81 years of age and still teaching, having authored 114 peer-reviewed research papers (and counting).
Why is it that some people, like Dr. Rubin, are willing to do just about anything to accomplish their goals, and others are willing to let adversity (or worse, apathy) push them off their course?
“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” is a question that counselors and motivational speaker-types often ask. I like what my Twitter friend, life coach Tim Brownson, asks his clients, though: “What would you do, if you knew you would definitely succeed?”. Turns things on it’s head, doesn’t it? It assumes certain success, rather than just avoiding failure (because, as we all know, you can avoid failing without really succeeding).
So, what’s preventing you from doing what you want to do? Is it fear? Uncertainty of how to begin? Plain old laziness? I’ve experienced all of these, and trust me, they’re no excuse for a truly motivated individual. When you get to the point where, as Dr. Rubin said, “[giving up] never entered the realm of possibility”, you’ve moved past any chance of failing. It’s only a matter of time.
1. “I’m scared.”
This is nothing to be sneezed at, folks. For all the admonitions floating around about affirmation statements, there is evidence that for those who are the most in need of it, positive self-talk can be hurtful. While this is just one study, and doesn’t conclusively prove anything, it demonstrates that the situation isn’t black and white. The fear of “what will other people think when I fall on my face?” is very real and paralyzing. That fear can’t always be overcome with a couple “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” statements in the mirror.
So, how do you get over your fear? By moving through it. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” is what Ambrose Redmoon said. There’s no magic statement or shortcut to get past the fear. It’s going to be with you forever. All these silly platitudes like “the first step is the hardest” may be overused, but they’re actually true. And, while you may not believe it, you can do whatever it is you want to do. It might not happen fast, it most certainly won’t be easy, and you might reinforce your fears more than you struggle past them, especially at first. You just have to be willing to find that courage somewhere inside of you.
2. “I don’t know where to start!”
This is another tough one. Until you’ve done something, you’ve never done it (obvious, right?). So, while people spout off platitudes about “Just Do It!” and “Begin With The End In Mind”, those of us who can tend toward the overly-analytical end of the spectrum think, “Yeah, but how?”
So what can be done? How do you overcome it? My guess (and this comes from a lot of personal experience, a little talking to other people, and no actual scientific research) is that many people aren’t willing to get started because their goal is just too big. A massive goal like building a business (for instance) involves so many interconnected but different steps that many people just throw up their hands in frustration and go back to the couch. This is not the way to overcome the problem!
Don’t think of it as one huge goal; think of the incremental steps. Rather than saying to yourself, “Today is the day I begin building my business!”, say “Today is the day that I’m going to sit down for an hour and mind map my interests and skills. I’m going to find out what I’m really good at and interested in!”. So much less intimidating, yet still a crucial step.
I think of it like following a path through a lava field. Most people, I think, wouldn’t stare at the end of the field as they’re walking; they’d stare at their feet and make sure the next step is placed somewhere they won’t get burned. Look at the next step, not the finish line, and the task won’t seem so daunting.
3. “Eh, whatever. It’s not so bad right now.”
I don’t really know what to tell you about this one. Sure, I could contradict what I just wrote and say “Just Do It!”, but that seems a little trite and disingenuous, doesn’t it?
I’m sure we’ve all heard the statement, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, right? It’s the same with laziness. It all boils down to comfort zones. A person will refuse to get moving until their fear of failing where they’re at becomes so acute that they’re no longer scared to move on to something else.
The thing is, you’re in charge of how you respond to your emotions. You can’t help feeling lazy (at least, I’ve never figured out how to), but you can help acting lazy. I still feel lazy all the time when I’m supposed to write, or mow the lawn, or do something “grown up”. I’d rather go watch TV with my wife or play video games. The only difference between now and a year ago is that now I don’t let my feelings tell me what to do.
So, that’s it. The three best statements you can make to ensure your failure. Recognize any of them? I don’t know about you, but I recognize all three of them in my life multiple times per day. What they all have in common is that they’re products of circumstance. If you allow your circumstances to control your responses, then you’ll never overcome. However, if you refuse to be a victim of circumstance, and get to the point where failure is no longer an option, then circumstances will just be a passing issue. So, give your circumstances a beat-down. Master your emotions, don’t let them master you.