Courage takes vulnerability, so it seems we have a chicken or egg question here, don’t we.
Let’s go with the definition that courage means doing something even though it scares the shit out of us. We’re scared because there’s risk. We could fail. We could be judged. We might end up worse off than we were before. At the very least, we simply don’t know what’s going to happen. So we’re leaping into the unknown, and that requires….BINGO, vulnerability! We have to open ourselves up to all the negative possibilities in order to benefit from all the positive (and often more likely) possibilities.
I experienced this when I left corporate to become a professional speaker.
I had the job I had worked towards for a long time. Big fat income, office in Manhattan, corporate credit card, and an executive seat with the third largest gym chain in the United States. It’s what we all work for! Friends were envious, asked how I got there. People were impressed with my business card, and the rest of the team at that company listened to me because I had the title.
And I was miserable.
Morning after morning, I dreaded getting out of bed. I would hit the snooze button over and over, dreading going to work. I was blowing off my responsibilities because I was miserable facing them. Fortunately I had a fantastic team of directors who were working their butts off to keep the boat afloat. They made me look good.
One morning as I stared at the Hudson River out the huge window of my awesome West Village apartment, I thought, “Something has to change.”
Then poured out all of the arguments. But you worked so hard to get this job. You’re a big deal. You make 6 figures. You’ve got security. You’re in a great position. Other people would kill for this job. Your family is so proud. This company is solid. You have a great team. This looks great on your resume. This is great for your future. You have a fabulous boss. You should love this. You should be proud. You should be grateful. You should should should should should should…
I turned off the alarm and put my pillow over my face. “is this it? Is this how “made it” feels? Is this all I have to look forward to in life? Maybe I’ve lived out my joy. Maybe this is the price of success. This dread. Maybe this is your life from now on.”
Then the self talk got ugly. (as if that wasn’t ugly enough.) “Do I really want this life? Is life worth living any more?”
To say I was suicidal is a little dramatic, but I was questioning whether it was worth continuing to live. I have been SUPER lucky to have a FABULOUS life full of adventure, success, love, connection, safety and awesomeness. I’ve had more than my share. Maybe I should just be grateful for what I have had, and end it all right here.”
This was my morning routine for 2 months.
Then, I saw an ad on Facebook for The John Maxwell Team. It was a training program with leading leadership guru, John Maxwell. I could become a JMT Certified speaker, leadership trainer and life coach, and learn the business building tactics to make it a company, and make it come to life. I was intrigued. The internal dialogue shifted. “I’ve always been a performer, and have done a lot of presenting for all of the companies I’ve worked for. Add the leadership training and coaching as my “bread and butter” to make money while I build a speaking career. Hmmmm….” I talked to no one about it. I just called to find out the cost. It was a big number.
The next day, the CFO of our company walked into my office, shut the door and, for my hard work and success with my department handed me a bonus of exactly the amount of the JMT program.
Sometimes the universe lays out a red carpet for you, then it lines it with flashing lights, and shines a spotlight down the path. I was there, standing on the edge of the red carpet, seeing more and more of the path lit up, trying to decide whether to take that first step.
The self-talk continued. “If you do this, if you pursue a career as a professional speaker, you’re leaving security behind. You’ll have to pay for your own insurance and your own retirement. There’s no security. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. No sick leave, no vacation time. In 2002 when you started your corporate career, you did it for all these things. Why the hell would you leave that?”
The only answer, “I hate this life.”
“It doesn’t make sense. What will your family say?”
“I hate this life. They would want me to be happy and not hate my life.”
“What the hell do you know about running a business or being a speaker. Who the hell are you to think you can do this.”
“I hate my life. People have figure it out. I can probably figure it out.”
“Ok, now you’re just being immature.”
I picked up the phone, called the John Maxwell Team and gave them my credit card. The original plan changed about a bazillion times. It evolved as I learned, but suddenly I had a direction that I liked. I had a purpose. I started hopping out of bed in the morning. The job was now a means to a better end, not the end itself. Initially, I hadn’t planned to leave the corporate gig for a long time, but develop my own business slowly and gradually. As the spotlight down the path became brighter and the way became clearer, that timeline shortened, and within 6 months I had moved from New York City to Traverse City. I had kissed all the knowns goodbye, and leapt.
I put my furniture and my ego in storage and moved in with my parents. Honestly, I had a lovely safety net if I needed it. If things didn’t go well, I wouldn’t be completely lost, but I sure didn’t want to use it. I worked in a restaurant to make ends meet while I built my business. I dressed male mannequins at Men’s Warehouse. I did free speaking engagements and leadership training to get my name out and get experience. Every once in a while I’d say “You used to make 6 figures. You used to be “important”. Now you’re asking “Soup or Salad?”. What the hell?? But I quickly countered with “you hated that life Anne. You’re finding a new better one. You’re not there yet, but keep plugging.”
I joke that I still, 4 years into this journey, vascillate on a daily basis between terror and elation. Hourly even. This is some scary shit. No security (yet). No safety net (yet). Constant unknowns. Constant vulnerability. Constant risk. I’ve run out of money (and credit) twice, and sat down at the computer to look for a “real job” and both times said “Nope. I have to figure this out.” And always have.
I’m still FAR from secure and safe, but I keep rebounding and learning and growing and trying and pushing and learning and growing and learning some more! I have failed a bunch. I’m messing things up left and right. Doing them in the wrong order. Realizing too late that something isn’t working, or something was a bad investment.
But I’m still standing. It’s working. I don’t live with my parents any more. I’m not eating ramen noodles for dinner (that much) any more. I’m currently booked through the next 7 months. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m learning how to get there, and I just keep doing. I keep being vulnerable and open to the lessons, and reframing my judgement of that failure, my definition of success, and how I want to live my life.
Like a researcher. Each failure helps me learn one more thing that doesn’t work, and makes me think about what could.
I’m not secure. I’m not stable. It’s scary as hell.
And I’m happy.
I’m charging hard towards safety and security. I’m charging hard towards my new definition of success. The red carpet has shifted no fewer than 10 thousand times, and I keep going. I keep taking action, and it keeps working. Somehow.
Michael Jordan holds the most records in the NBA, second only to Wilt Chamberlain. I tried to research all his records, but there were so many, (and I don’t know squat about basketball) so let’s just say this. He was amazing and really really good and better than most everyone ever on the planet at basketball. With all that success, he is quoted as saying, “I’ve missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times. I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over in my life and that is why I succeed.”
You’ve got to pay to play. Success ain’t easy. Shit, figuring out what the hell success means to you in the first place isn’t easy. Then going after it and making it happen is hard step 2, but it’s so worth it! Knowing you’re moving towards your better life is hard. It’s scary and requires 14 cubic tons of vulnerability, but man….it sure feels good when you look back and say “I climbed that mountain. I’m still climbing, and that’s all the encouragement I need. I survived to climb another day.”
CLIMB ON my friends. Be vulnerable. Ask for help. Take the risk (after thinking about it of course. I made a powerpoint presentation when I presented the idea of leaving corporate to my parents!). Leap. You won’t be ready, and you certainly won’t be fearless. Calculate, be ready to bust your ass, and GO! You’ll be amazed what you can do.