I avoided a lot of things in my youth. I avoided calling up people I didn’t know. I avoided telling my teachers I didn’t understand. I avoided telling my friends I was upset by something they’d said or done. I avoided asking for feedback. I avoided any kind of speaking in public. Later I avoided putting myself forward for certain projects. I avoided having certain conversations with colleagues.
If I’m truthful, I avoided all these things out of fear. Fear of being embarrassed, fear of looking stupid, fear of criticism, fear of destroying the relationship.
Thankfully there were other things I didn’t avoid. The first time I went abroad completely on my own was aged 17 when I found myself a job as an au pair in Germany. It was before the days of mobile phones and the internet and I felt very alone getting on the boat-train at Victoria station, many hours later arriving in Munich where a family I’d never met were waiting for me. In actual fact I was terrified.
I was also terrified many years later when I was asked to deliver a training programme in French, but I did it. I was terrified when I went paragliding for the first time, but I did it. I was terrified the first time I gave a conference presentation, but I did it. Somehow over the years I’ve come to realise that the more I avoid things, the more I limit myself.
Author Robin Sharma said “the fears we don’t face become our limits”. There are still some things that I avoid and find very clever excuses not to do. But the most satisfaction comes from facing up to my fears and doing the very thing that scares me. In almost every instance (except perhaps paragliding!) it’s never as scary as I thought, and the result is almost always positive.
My coaching clients work with me because they don’t want to limit themselves. They want to find ways to face their fears. Sometimes it’s a simple question of developing a new skillset. Sometimes it’s supporting them to find the belief and courage to have a tough conversation. They come to understand, like I have, that when we avoid things out of fear, the very thing we’re fearful about often comes about. For instance, by avoiding a difficult conversation out of fear of destroying the relationship, we end up undermining the relationship more. By avoiding asking for feedback out of fear of being criticised, we end up being criticised because we’ve had no feedback to learn from.
So next time you find yourself giving an elaborate excuse, ask yourself whether you truly can’t do it or whether it’s really the fear talking?