As I sat on the short wall outside of the post office, I noticed the stone; this was no New Hampshire granite or concrete blocks. The wall was made of sea shells, coral, perhaps even some driftwood mixed with concrete (yes, I was someplace warm). I wondered, “did they use this because it’s beautiful or because it’s the most abundant and, therefore, the cheapest?” My answer, of course, was all of the above and the similarity to our own personal resources was striking. Let me explain.
Our natural abilities, those attributes we were born with and that come most naturally, are also those abilities that are the easiest for us. For example, the ability to “see” in three-dimension comes easily to graphic artists, surgeons, carpenters, and massage therapists, if they’ve chosen a career in line with their natural abilities. Veterinarians have the natural ability to connect the dots when all the dots aren’t even there (creatures covered in fur who can’t talk, anyone?). Think of those things you can do without thinking about, that others remark on, making those things, well – remarkable. People wonder how you speak easily in front of a crowd, how you create what you create, how you remember so many details, how you assemble a puzzle when there are so many pieces still missing. These are your natural abilities; you can’t help but do them, you didn’t learn them, you’ve just always been able to do them and they come easily. In resource terms, the abilities are “cheap” – they require little energy on your part and they are abundant. Just like the coral and sea shells in the stone wall, your natural abilities are readily available and always accessible.
At first glance, you might not have called the sea shells and coral wall “beautiful” – at least not in a conventional way. What made the wall beautiful was its uniqueness, the combination of materials to make something new and never seen before (at least by me). The similarity to our natural abilities once again struck me; many of us would not consider our unique and natural abilities as beautiful, and they may actually annoy us at times. I used to wish that I could turn off my ideas sometimes, that I didn’t always see problems or how something would fail, until I learned what amazing abilities they are and how to use them. Recognizing the “beauty” in our natural abilities allows us to celebrate and leverage them and when we use them in our life’s work to help others, well – that is a beautiful thing.
What are your personal sea shells and coral? Look within and find those natural abilities that are abundant and beautiful, a never-ending resource to share in your work.
“Let it be what it is.”
This was the response I received when I explained to a friend why I had not made further progress on a article I was working on. I’d missed several deadlines, postponed key dates and meetings, because I had not made progress. Instead of making progress, I was making excuses.
Let it be what it is? His suggestion, although simple, reminded me of a song I would hear on Sesame Street as a child. I didn’t see the relevance, and told him so.
He suggested that if the draft that I was working on needed work, so be it. “If it’s bad, let it be bad,” he said. “That’s why there are backspace keys, erasers, and white out. It can only get better once you get it on paper.”
I didn’t see it that way. In my head – I was busy. I created needless lists, asked for the opinions of people that were completely unrelated to the task, and mulled over my ideas. In other words, I had created useless work that wasn’t moving me forward. He explained that I wasn’t moving forward because I was afraid of the possibility that my work might be bad, that my client wouldn’t like it, and that ultimately, I would fail. None of this had occurred, however, because I hadn’t even reached a point where I, or anyone for that matter, could critique my work.
Fear of the “what-ifs” had me paralyzed, and instead of moving forward, I kept adding one more thing, one more reason, why I couldn’t do my project. My fear of failure had me stalled.
Download the Intention to Action worksheet.
What’s the problem?
Instead of taking decisive steps forward, I was creating needless obstacles and projects. I thought I was productive, but I was really just busy. I was masquerading as being “thorough”, “cautious” or “detailed”. In reality, I was postponing a task that I found difficult and made me uncertain.
The real problem: I was afraid. My fear of failure had me driven to add completely unnecessary steps and tasks to my writing project, even though they weren’t required or useful. While I was technically working, I wasn’t seeing the progress that I should. When it was finally time for me to share my progress with my colleagues and supervisors, I would have to make up excuses, or if there was something to share, it would be so rushed that I knew it was not my best work.
In other words, I was living a self-fulfilling prophecy: because I didn’t move forward on my writing project and take the necessary steps to meet deadlines and make progress, my final products were not up to par. I was afraid of doing poor quality work, and because I didn’t set goals and work toward them consistently, that’s exactly what happened. This same fear prevented me from being present in the moment. I found myself constantly thinking about what could go wrong, and what I needed to do in the future, that I wasn’t taking action today.
I had to draw a line in the sand. I had to remind myself to live with intention, set daily and weekly goals, and then ACT on them. Then repeat. If you have appointments to make, show up early. If you have project deadlines, work with the intention of meeting them. Sure, your work and projects will go through many drafts and revisions. That’s the beauty of it. You shouldn’t avoid it because it’s not perfect.
Let it be what it is.
This does not mean that it will be easy. But when you get out of your own way, and live with purpose and focus, the end is easier to see. Your days are busy, and you have a lot to do – we all do. If you are living a life that you love, embrace it. If you are not, make a change. What you shouldn’t do is make excuses.