Spring Forward…By Facing Your Fears and Kickstarting Your Confidence


Is the calendar trying to tell us something?

As I wrote last week in my post, “It’s Leap Year…So Why Not Take That Leap!” sometimes we just need something like a Leap Day to give us that extra nudge.

Last Friday’s March 4th date hinted that, despite the barriers and obstacles that may stand in our way, we need to continue to “march forth” towards our vision and our goals – even in the face of adversity.

And despite the fact that we have been forewarned to “Beware the Ides of March” (Julius Caesar, Act I scene ii), this Saturday as we set our clocks ahead by one hour, what better time is there to – both literally and metaphorically – “spring forward”!

After a long winter of hibernation, spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, regeneration, and rejuvenation. A time to re-evaluate priorities and start fresh. And all those New Year’s resolutions you made just a couple of months ago? If you haven’t started doing so already, with the weather starting to turn a little warmer and sunnier and with baseball’s Spring Training season in full gear, now is the perfect time to get serious about turning those ideas into actions.

But what often stands in the way of these good intentions and best laid plans is not necessarily external forces, but our own internal self-confidence. Einstein famously said that “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And yet fear of the new and the unknown, doubts and insecurities, and the thought of pushing ourselves beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone is a scary thought that makes us rather “bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of” (Hamlet, Act III scene i). And those “ills” could range from a bad relationship or undesirable apartment to an unsatisfying job situation, a horrible boss, or simply the fear of getting out there and going on a job interview.

So what keeps us trapped in a prison of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and living a life of quiet desperation? It could be a variety of factors, but one of the biggest and most common is: a lack of confidence.

From my own personal experience, I’ve found, over the course of my career, that confidence is the single biggest differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. All things being equal, whether in business, sports, school, or life, the more confident person is often going to come out ahead more times than the one who isn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

We’re talking about the person who has the confidence to raise their hand. The confidence to put themselves out there. The confidence to take risks and give it a try. The confidence to question authority. The confidence to ignore those who mock you. The confidence to get back up after getting knocked down. And the confidence to (as in the classic Apple “Think Different” commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”) think they can change the world.

Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I went to watch a live taping of “Seinfeld” – which, as a huge fan of the show, was an amazing and unforgettable experience. But what made it most unforgettable – and regrettable all these years later – was something that didn’t happen that night:

During a break in the taping, the host whose job it was to keep the audience entertained in between scenes said, “It’s time for some Seinfeld trivia! If you can tell me the middle name of Elaine Benes, you win this Seinfeld t-shirt!” Having watched and pretty much memorized every single episode, I knew for certain that the answer was “Marie.” But while other audience members randomly shouted out one wrong guess after another, I sat there in anxious silence…while busting to call out the correct answer and claim my prize. But too shy to speak up, doubting myself, and afraid of the possibility of being wrong and embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers who didn’t know me and who I would never see again, that window of opportunity quickly closed. So what kept me from winning that Seinfeld t-shirt that I wanted so badly? Absolutely nothing but a lack of confidence in myself, the fear of being wrong, and, simply, the fear of speaking up and speaking out.

I wish I had kept in mind that night the classic quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said that, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself,” as well as these motivational thoughts from his wife, First Lady and prolific author and world-changing social activist (despite all her many self-confessed fears and insecurities), Eleanor Roosevelt:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if you realized how seldom they do.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out, eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”

And, my favorite, and probably the most well-known (from her inspirational book, “You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For A More Fulfilling Life”):

“Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face… The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

The word “confidence” comes from the Latin for “with trust or faith” (and is related to such other words as confide, confident, confidant, fidelity, fiduciary, etc.). So the key to keep in mind regarding this definition is that in order to instill confidence in others, it is so important to first trust and have faith in oneself.

Here’s the bad news: You are always going to struggle with your confidence. Why? Because EVERYONE does, at one time or another! Fear of the unknown is an absolutely normal, human emotional reaction. And, the future is always unknown!

The only way, really, to make yourself completely confident all of the time would be to just do the same old thing, the same old way every single day of your entire life. But that would be predictable and boring…and will lead us nowhere. The only way to grow is to try, to take risks, to fail, and to learn, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones…into the zone of the unknown.

Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I learned 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Wayne Gretzky said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Michael Jordan famously said: "I've missed over 9,000 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 again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

And Dale Carnegie advised: Imagine the worst that can happen. Now imagine the likelihood of the worst happening, and be prepared in case it does. But realize that worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Think back on how many times in the past you’ve worried about something bad happening, how infrequently (if ever) it did, and how much time and energy you wasted worrying about it. Now use that time, that you would have spent worrying, more productively.

So, with spring almost upon us and opening day of the baseball season just around the corner, to paraphrase the famous words of Babe Ruth:

Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging for the fences!

For more on building your confidence, please see my blog post, “How to Regain Your Confidence and Recapture Your Mojo After a Layoff.”

It's Leap Year...So Why Not Take That Leap!

 

There’s a classic riddle that I use in my leadership workshops that goes like this:

There are 5 frogs on a log.
One decides to jump into the pond.
How many are left on the log?
The answer: Still 5.
Why?

Because he DECIDED to jump in…but he didn’t actually DO it!

And it’s the DOING that counts.

When I was ten year’s old my family went to a local town pool club that had a high diving board. All the other kids were having so much fun scampering up that tall ladder and jumping into the water that, after much deliberation, I hesitantly decided to give it a try too, even though I had a debilitating fear of heights...and of other kids.

So I gingerly climbed the ladder and inched my way out to the edge of the diving board. But then I looked down…and it was even more terrifying than I was expecting it to be!

So I quickly changed my mind and turned around with the intent of going back down the ladder…only to find that about five other kids had already climbed up the ladder impatiently waiting their turn.

“COME ON…GO ALREADY!!!” they were all screaming at me. So, completely embarrassed, and with, really, no other choice, I turned back around again, ran the length of the board, and dove in – head first!

What do you think I did the rest of that summer afternoon? Yup. I kept on climbing that ladder and diving back in again and again and again until the sun went down and it was time to go home.

Writing this, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite Seth Godin posts, and probably his shortest. It simply said: “You don’t need more time. You just need to decide.”

And after deciding, we actually need to act.

So often we are racked with indecision and/or paralyzed by fear that we put off making any decision, until the window of opportunity closes, and the decision is made for us.

In fact, if you think about it, NOT making a decision is a decision you've made.

And how many potentially positive, life-enhancing decisions might we have missed out on simply due to our own procrastination? We come up with excuse after excuse about why something can’t be done, but as futurist Joel Barker reminds us -- and as I experienced on that high diving board many years ago -- “Those who say ‘it can’t be done’ need to get out of the way of those who are doing it.”

The bottom line is that no one wants to Hear excuses; they only want to See results.

The psychologist William James famously wrote that “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

So on this Leap Day, think about what big decisions you need to make, make them…and proactively take the leap. My bet is that, in the long run, you’ll look back and be glad you did.

Or you can simply decide to just wait until next Leap Day. 

After all, it's just four more years away. 

That’s a Novel Idea! How Reading Literature (and Other Non-Business Books) Can Benefit You at Work and in Life

 

As an entrepreneur who runs a management consulting firm and teaches a graduate course in “Leadership & Team Building” at NYU, most people assume that I have a degree in business.

But I don’t.

I was an English literature major.

And while I LOVE reading business books (and average one a week), the truth is that today’s businessperson cannot – and should not – live by business books alone.

With the word “novel” having the same Latin root, “nov” (meaning “new”) as the word “innovation,” it follows that reading more non-business writing may be not only an engaging and enjoyable escape, but a catalyst for new business ideas.

When my students ask me, “How can I become a better writer?” my response is always: Become a better reader.

And when I am in need of inspiration, I often find myself going back to my English major roots to revisit the classics. As the French novelist Marcel Proust famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” So every time I go to my bookshelf to grab some Shakespeare or poetry, or a play or a novel – even those (especially those) I have read before – I tend to find that these great works not only hold up over time, but take on new meaning, foster innovation, and provide fresh insights into the human condition. Insights that can be directly applied to the everyday world of business. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that one “cannot set foot in the same river twice,” for both the river and the person are, forever, in flux. So it is with reading and re-reading the classics: Each time, a new adventure. Each time, a new voyage of discovery.

A few examples:

SHAKESPEARE: The story of “Julius Caesar” is as current, meaningful and impactful as in the time it was written (1599), as well as when it actually happened (44 BC). It explores the world of individuals, organizations, and teams -- as well as the themes of politics, public speaking, persuasion, and power. To see parallels to today, all one needs to do is open up the newspaper or turn on the tv. And how many times has your workplace turned into “A Comedy of Errors” in which you needed people to do things “As You Like It” so that “All’s Well That Ends Well”…only to find yourself working for a boss who always makes “Much Ado About Nothing,” and is as indecisive as Hamlet, as weak as Macbeth, as over-emotional as Othello, and/or as mad as King Lear. Turning everything into a “Tempest”…when what you really want and need is the inspirational leadership of Henry V.

PLAYS: Arthur Miller’s classic dramas “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons” each explore numerous, timeless business-related themes, from core values (e.g., truth and integrity) and work/life balance, to relationships, communication, motivation, influence, and human nature in general. In the devastating drama, “All My Sons,” factory owner Joe Keller must make a choice between shipping a batch of cracked airplane parts (hoping nothing will happen) or admitting the truth and taking responsibility, thereby risking the loss of his government contract. You can probably guess which option he chooses and what the tragic outcome is. While this was a work of fiction, the fact is we can see this type of tragic scandal play out in the business section of the newspaper everyday – from faulty airbags (Takata) and ignition switches (GM), to tainted food, and toxic water supplies (Flint, MI).

FICTION: In this age of crowdsourcing, mob mentalities, and social media flaming, might there be a cautionary tale for us to heed hidden within Shirley Jackson’s still-shocking, horrifying, and controversial 1948 short story, “The Lottery”? And who hasn’t wanted to say to his or her boss at one point or another, when asked to do something, “I would prefer not to,” as the title character famously does in Herman Melville’s classic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" (1853)? And having recently re-read five of my all-time favorite novels – 1984, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and To Kill a Mockingbird – though times have changed, I found the themes and messages contained therein to be as relevant, thought-provoking, universal, and impactful as ever. And there is a powerful reason, from a leadership perspective, why Atticus Finch (the original To Kill a Mockingbird version, not the recently-published, unauthorized Go Set a Watchman version) is often held up as one of the greatest fictional heroes, role models, and real-life influences in the history of American literature (and film).

POETRY: Reading poetry by the likes of Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Cummings, Yeats, Eliot, and so many others reminds us of the importance of language when attempting to effectively communicate with others. Poetry demonstrates the power of visual imagery, alliteration and allusion, rhyme and rhythm, meter and metaphor, and more. For example, one of the hot topics out there in the business world right now is “mindfulness.” What better example of that is there than Wordsworth’s 1804 poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (aka “The Daffodils”) in which he illustrates the concept of “emotion recollected in tranquility”! And when it comes to the subject of decision-making, is there a more well-known, thought-provoking, and impactful metaphor than Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”? And while we set off on the rat race each morning, striving to climb the corporate ladder (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), it’s important to keep in mind our core values, maintain a sense of perspective, strive for work/life balance, and seek happiness, taking heed of the cautionary tale of E. A. Robinson’s “Richard Cory.”

Beyond entertainment, enjoyment, and escape, great literature transports us to another place and time, allowing us to experience the world through the eyes of others. It often brings us back to the basics, and reminds us of the universality of the human condition, making us more informed and literate, more educated and enlightened, more aware and self-aware, more empathetic, more humane, and more human. And, all together, this will (hopefully) make us both better business leaders and better people.

And while the focus of this post is on the business value of fiction, the same can be said of non-business, non-fiction books. Whether you enjoy reading about the arts, sports, science, politics, history, biography, travel, self-help, etc., if you are open to “seeing with new eyes,” you are guaranteed to discover valuable business and life lessons hidden in plain sight within anything you read. So if you are thinking about switching careers, looking for leadership lessons, or seeking out fresh new ideas and approaches, one of the best ways to stimulate innovation and open up the world of possibilities is to look outside of, and beyond, your usual field of vision.

And, in addition to books, business and life lessons of all kinds can, of course, be gleaned every day, both online and offline, from such diverse media as newspapers, magazines, e-newletters, blog posts, or even the back of a cereal box. There is so much out there to read and so little time; so much to learn, wherever we turn...if we are proactively looking for it and open to seeing it. As Simon & Garfunkel once sang, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…and tenement halls.”

If “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience Meet,” then when we enhance our knowledge through reading, and combine that with the real-world experiences of our everyday lives, we eventually attain the wisdom that only time can teach.  

So if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to start reading more – and even if your high school English lit days seem like a distant memory – it’s never too late to dig up and dust off one of your old novels or anthologies and read or re-read those timeless classics. It’s a great habit to get into, and one that you can continue to enjoy and benefit from for the rest of your life. Though we are all growing older with each passing day, it’s never too late to hit the pause button, turn back the clock, and rediscover the classics. 

As the Fool put it to King Lear: “Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.”

The War For Talent: How Small Businesses Can Compete With the Big Boys

 

 *This piece appeared on the CBS Small Business Pulse website:

How To Keep The Competitive Hiring Culture In Your Favor

December 28, 2015

Click here for online version of article with accompanying video:

http://cbspulse.com/2015/12/28/how-competitive-hiring-culture-favor/

Todd Cherches is the CEO and co-founder of BigBlueGumball, a NYC-based training consulting firm that helps companies discover and develop the hidden talents within their organizations. He offers the following insights on a major issue that small businesses are currently facing.

There are numerous issues commonly faced by my small business clients, but one of the biggest issues right now is the war for talent as small businesses compete with bigger companies, and with each other, around talent acquisition, engagement, and retention.

With the job market picking up, employees have more opportunities available to them than they have had in years to decide where they want to take their talents. So companies need to work harder than ever to get people to stay…while also getting them to put their heart and soul into what they do. As one of the top reasons people quit their jobs is due to poor management and/or no leadership, leadership development and management training are more crucial than ever.

What do small businesses need to do to compete in this war for talent?

Just as a speedboat is more nimble than a battleship, small businesses can compete with larger organizations by leveraging their competitive advantages. While small businesses may not have the size, resources, and visibility of the big boys, they can and must be more creative and flexible in attracting, engaging and retaining talented people.

There are numerous ways of doing so including, but not limited to:

  • Offering employees greater access to information and increased involvement in things that interest them
  • Flexibility in terms of when, where and how they go about their work
  • Being creative in implementing non-financial, low-cost reward and recognition programs
  • Offering training and development, and personalized coaching and mentoring opportunities

This war is a battle amongst organizations of all types to acquire, engage, and retain the best people from a limited pool of top talent. The way we help in this regard -- through our consulting, training and coaching work -- is by encouraging and enabling our clients to create an environment that gets potential hires to want to work there, to motivate these employees to perform and to produce while they are there, and to support and develop them so that they want to stay there.

In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Dan Pink states that people are motivated by three key non-financial incentives — Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If small businesses empower their people to do their jobs in their own way [autonomy], in an environment that allows them to develop and grow [mastery], while doing work that truly matters [purpose], they will be taking positive steps towards setting their people, and their organizations, up for success.
 
As told to Robin D. Everson of Examiner.com for CBS Small Business Pulse.

How to Wrap Up 2015...and Get the New Year Off to a Flying Start!

The last couple of weeks of December is the perfect time to take stock – not only of whether you’ve been naughty or nice over the past year – but of what you’ve accomplished, and where you need to focus your time, attention, and energy to set yourself up for success in 2016.

To help you do that, it might be useful to conduct the following seven productivity “inventories”:

• Goals inventory
• Personal inventory
• Environmental inventory
• Relationship inventory
• Financial inventory
• Time inventory
• Self-development inventory

For more details on each one, please click here to read my complete post on The Hired Guns website!

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