Look out for your Telephone Poles

It’s the same result and it’s been happening since we first started driving.

The poles are roughly 8” in diameter and spaced anywhere from 125 to 300 feet apart.

In other words there is several hundred feet of relatively open space on either side of an 8” wide object and yet we hit it the object. Dead center.

The driver focuses on the very thing they are most afraid of and that focus leads them right into disaster.

It happens in business all the time. We concentrate more on what we hope to avoid than we do what we would like to achieve.

I did a little work with a professional baseball pitcher recently. His career is going the wrong way right now because he’s walking a lot more batters than he’s striking out.

He says his manager often reminds him not to walk anybody. Thanks a lot coach, for telling me not to hit that telephone pole staring me in the face.

We do this to ourselves and we do it to others.

Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can be liberating. Like so many of our emotions we need to admit it and understand it in order to do something about it.

People are fearful about a lot of things: presentations, budgets, sales targets, product rollouts, the list goes on and on.

Fear can paralyze us. It can cause us to restrict, not expand, our thinking.

It can cause us to stay in the office instead of getting out there talking to employees and customers.

It can stop us from looking in the mirror and acknowledging what we need to change in ourselves.

It can cause us to kid ourselves about markets, or people, or products because admitting the facts requires us to face our fears of what we have to do to respond. Sometimes those things aren’t pleasant.

There is a healthy component to some of this.

Fear can be what drives us to do whatever it takes to avoid failure. It causes tension but when properly managed it is a creative tension that leads to breakthroughs in performance, both individually and organizationally.

Fear of failure can also be what keeps us from fully committing to a goal. If we really, truly want to achieve the big goal then we have to commit to it with everything we have. It means all out, 100 mph, full commitment, full stress, full time. But that means if we fail we are going to feel absolutely awful.

Yes, it’s true. Committing to the big goal guarantees that if we fail we will feel terrible. And committing to the big goal doesn’t guarantee we’ll get it. But not committing to the big goal guarantees we won’t get there.

You want a stress free life? No problem. Just don’t aspire to something more or different than you are now. Just be happy with what you have. Let me know how that works out for you. And don’t come complaining when you see others pass you by.

Look, it’s ok to be afraid but it’s not ok to stay afraid. In the business world if you think there’s nothing to be afraid of you’re probably missing something. So let’s deal with it.

Step one is identify what you’re afraid of and face up to it.

Step two is figure out how much of that fear is real and how much imagined.

Step three is identify concrete steps you can take to minimize the risk and thus lessen your fears. In other words start doing something specific to deal with the issue, don’t just sit around and fret.

Step four, and most importantly, clearly identify the place you want to be and keep that picture uppermost in your mind. This is the space between the telephone poles, the clearing you want to drive through.

My first skydiving effort was when I was in the Navy many years ago. We jumped out of Huey helicopters, I was the third man on the right hand side. It was so exciting. A beautiful sunny day over Kaneohe Bay near Honolulu, chutes on, load up, off we go.

Then it started to dawn on me that I had to actually jump. Holy cow. First guy went. Second guy went. My turn. It was safe and comfortable right where I was.  But to be called a skydiver you have to jump. And then there’s this thing called a landing that you have to execute. And I did it, exactly the way I was trained.

Maybe this is you right now. You feel that fear inside you. Identify the goal. Aim for the clearing. Jump.

I can’t guarantee you’ll stick the landing but I can guarantee you won’t know till you leave the chopper.

Ken Smithmier is a Senior Consultant with Ryan Search & Consulting.  His work focuses on helping others learn how to best find their fit within a given organization.