Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” ~ Brené Brown
I could tell the minute I got into the pool that the 6am swimmers were an entirely different breed from the 7am swimmers. These folks were not messing around. Focused and fierce. Each lane contained a proficient swimmer, powering through the water like goggles-wearing dolphins.
Watching that level of athleticism is a thing of inspirational beauty.
A fellow in the center lane motioned me over to share his lane. “You don’t have to wait for an open lane. Come on in my lane, I’ll be finishing up in about ten minutes. You can have this side.”
Delighted by his generosity, I joined his lane and started swimming. A moment or two later, he powered by my side, cutting through the water like a hot knife in a stick of butter. It was one thing to have seen him swim from a distance, it was quite another to be in the lane right next to him.
“Wow,” I said softly through exhaled bubbles. “Michael Phelps, Jr.”
A couple weeks later, I saw him again. We took a moment to chat at the deep end of the pool while we were catching our breath. He mentioned that when he first started swimming a few years prior, he could barely get halfway across the pool.
“The first few times I did it, I started choking and gagging,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I was gonna die.”
I stared at him and shook my head while treading water. “That can’t be. I mean, you are one of the best swimmers I have ever seen.”
“Yep, nearly drowned my first few times.”
He is competing in a triathlon world-championship in Maui this fall.
As many times as I have learned the lesson, this time the lesson truly landed. The reality is is that typically, we are not born with a golden skill set—most often, we fail and flail our way to greatness.
The champions in life, business, and creative expression are simply the ones who started out with a willingness to get it all wrong. Look like a complete idiot. Mess it up. Have a readiness for ridicule. Join in and not care if they are picked last.
So, take just a minute now and think of the thing you really want to do. Your biggest, most wild and improbable dream. Don’t censor yourself; let the vision you have been carrying and burying for months/years rise up in your conscious mind.
See it clearly.
We tend to have flashes of visions of our pursuing the things that call our heart that are then quickly followed by Dooms Day images generated by our inner critic. One minute we see ourselves living out the dreamy images in our minds; the next, we are watching a reel of our spectacular failures, embarrassing attempts, and hideously uncomfortable and very public flame-outs.
Maybe, we reason, we are not ready. Maybe, we console ourselves, it is best to stick with what we know. Maybe, we say while floating in a sea of denial, we don’t really want to do that thing, after all.
Here’s my theory: the happiest, most creatively expressed, most fulfilled, and most successful people are simply those who are willing to drive their metaphorical cars right into a ditch.
What’s fascinating is that once you let yourself stand on the edge of the nest, flap your wings with determination, and still hit the ground, you find the humor in it all. We develop an ability to be the observer of ourselves with just enough distance to not take ourselves so seriously.
The trying—the doing—seems to release a chemical in our brains that bolsters our sense of self, our courage reserves.
We then approach the next scary thing more readily. The time spent pacing back and forth on the diving board, mustering up the bravery to jump, becomes less and less.
What can you do today that has a bit of thorny reputational risk to it (even if that reputational risk is your own opinion of yourself)? You can (and will) figure it out. Make it a game.
Confidence follows willingness—not the other way around.
Be willing to take a wrong turn. Put the car in the ditch. Burn the sauce. Paint something hideous. Launch a dud of a marketing campaign. Fart at yoga. Get it all wrong. Break your own heart.
Free yourself from yourself.