Become a better leader with these two practices
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“Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” — Elizabeth Harrison
Has this ever happened to you? You find yourself inspired, yet are wholly unmotivated to actually put such inspiration into action? This is one of life’s great tragedies. People are endowed with passions—the intersection of their natural talents and burning interests—and are called to share those unique gifts with he world; yet, for many, those passions go unused.
As far as I can tell there are two primary stumbling stones that can hold anyone back: Being discouraged by others, and being discouraged by past disappointment. Some of the most dangerous people in our lives are those well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) loved ones who discourage us from doing what we really need to do, and instead settle for average and less than we were born for. In a similar way, putting ourselves out there and getting burned can also be a painful source of discouragement, keeping us from pursing real and lasting happiness.
Are You A Viewer, Or A Participant?
For the past eighteen years I’ve served as a youth leadership counselor for the Massachusetts American Legion and Auxiliary Boy’s and Girls’ State Programs. One of the many roles I’ve served with this organization included that of choir director (they’ve never heard me sing so they didn’t know any better!) During the 2017 season I was leading the choir during their final performance at the big gala celebration. As they walked off the stage I gave them a big thumbs up saying, “Great job!” Just as a said this, one student looked me in the eyes saying, “Don’t lie!”
I don’t think this student was trying to be humble; rather, I think she was perhaps looking at the situation with different eyes (or ears). Admittedly, their performance wasn’t their best work. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t their best work. So no, theirperformance wasn’t great, but that wasn’t what I was encouraging them about. You see, there were over 600 students at the program that week, and out of those participants less than 20 stepped up to join the choir. Less than 20 had the guts to raise their hands and volunteer to stand in front of over 600 of their peers to sing their heart out.
Perhaps what I most appreciated about the choir that week was that most of them didn’t have any formal music training, yet they decided to get the most out of their experience with the program by trying something new, and that’s what I was congratulating them on and that’s why I was encouraging them. Meanwhile, there were several students who didn’t have the courage to step up who actually did have musical training, but they chose instead to take life sitting down.
Show Up To The Arena
Think about this: Olympic Gold Medals don’t go to the best athletes in the world; rather, they go to the best athletes that actually show up to the arena. The world doesn’t need passive viewers of life who seek the illusion of happiness through security and the status quo; the world doesn’t people avoiding scrapped knees, humbled pride, and bruised egos. Rather, what the world needs are people who become truly alive, who seek true and solid happiness by becoming active participants with life; what the world needs are people who aren’t afraid of scrapping their knees, humbling their pride, and bruising their ego every now and again.
Many are inspired to live an engaged life, yet few are motivated to actually follow through. Whether discouraged by others or by past disappointment, one of the greatest tragedies of life is when people fail to pursue their passions.
Practices To Stay Encouraged
In my book Are You P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E.?: Rethinking Positive Thinking, I share an eight-step process for developing and fostering positivity to enjoy and excel in life at work, home, and beyond. For the purposes of this article, here are a couple quick practices that you can implement starting today to stay encouraged:
1. When encountering someone trying to discourage you, ask these questions:
• What is this person’s authority on the subject?
Does this person have personal experience with what you’re trying to do? Or did they just hear about an experience from someone else? What were the circumstances like? Everyone is different—and so is every situation—so just because someone had a negative experience that doesn’t mean that you will too. In a similar way, just because someone has a positive experience that doesn’t mean that you will have that same experience.
Some people fail because they didn’t really want it to work out—maybe they were doing it out of obligation or trying to make someone else happy. Some people fail because they didn’t try hard enough—perhaps out of lack of knowledge, skills, or desire. Yet others fail because of circumstances completely outside of their control—and so no matter how hard they would have tried it just would never have worked out. Notice, though, that none of this has anything to do with you.
• What do they stand to lose if you succeed?
Discouragers often try to hold others back because they believe they stand to lose if others win. This can either be a real or imagined worry for them. Perhaps they want to succeed in that area, and so you’re seen as a threat. Or perhaps they feel inadequate to succeed, and to see others grow in life is viewed as a threat to their ego. In either case, their concerns have nothing to do with you.
• What do they stand to gain if you lose?
This is another way of asking the last question, but puts the emphasis in the other direction. If someone sees you as a threat to their own success or as a threat to their ego, if you lose, what benefit will it be to them? Either way, it has nothing to do with you.
2. When you find yourself in a situation where you’re discouraged by past disappointment, consider these questions:
• Why do you want to do what you’re considering?
Knowing the real reason for why you want to do something can be very empowering. Oftentimes we go through life with vague ideas, simply accepting what life gives us; yet by taking a step back and getting clear on our values and priorities we become empowered. And when we have a compelling enough reason for trying something, we become much more inclined to pursue it, regardless of the risk.
• What do you stand to gain if you succeed?
This question supports the last question. When what you stand to gain by stepping up is greater than the cost of staying down, you become compelled into action.
• What do you stand to lose if you don’t try?
This is another support question to understanding your “why.” When what you stand to lose by not taking action is of greater consequence than the cost of trying and possibly failing, you become encouraged to jump into action.
• How is your past situation similar or dissimilar to your current situation?
No two situations are alike, because everything flows and nothing remains still. Recognizing this is what lead the Greek philosopher Heraclitus to conclude: “You could not step twice into the same river.” Just because you may have had a negative experience that doesn’t mean that you will continue to always have negative experiences. In a similar way, just because you may have had a positive experience that doesn’t mean that you will continue to have those same experiences. Like the ocean tides, everything is in flow. Remembering this will provide encouragement to stand back up from pain. I’m reminded of something a friend of mine often says: “I’m never down. I’m either up or getting up.”
Everything Is In Flow
I can speak with authenticity on the subject of being discouraged by past disappointment. I’ve been engaged twice, and married once. Between experiencing the death of my first fiancée and the divorce from the second, I can say with authority that the pain of lost love can be highly discouraging (to say the least). Yet I also recognize that these experiences are just that: experiences. And when we move forward from them we understand that experiences are ever changing. Everything is in flow. Nothing remains the same. The questions I ask myself in such situations include: Do I want to avoid loving relationships because we can’t control the actions of others, so why bother putting my trust in them? Do I want to avoid loving relationships because the promise of human life is death, so why bother putting my trust in someone who’s just going to eventually die? Or do I choose instead to recognize that everything is in flow, and that the next potential partner has nothing to do with the people from my past?
Many are inspired, yet few are motivated. I see this as a call for encouragement because what the world needs is for people to become truly alive by sharing their passions with the world. If the bug of inspiration has ever bitten you, then you know how wonderful it can be. My question for you is what are doing about it? What first steps have you taken? What skills or knowledge do you need to pick up along the way to go the distance? Whatever your ambition, if it’s something that will make your heart sing and bring more enjoyment to the world, then I encourage you to move forward with it. Also, I love hearing about the challenges, goals, and obstacles that others are facing, so be sure to reach out and share your story along the way!
Jonas Cain facilitates positive change initiatives for emerging leaders and their influencers.