“Sometimes when we dare to walk into the arena, the greatest critic we face is ourselves.”
~Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly
When you finally decide to venture into the arena, you walk a very fine line between courage and panic. Here I am, an almost-leader, thinking I have enough experience about leadership to write about it–and actually hit publish. In the weeks leading up to the start of this journey, the critic inside my head was relentless.
I tried to silence the critic by reminding myself why I am here. I thought about the many hidden leaders in education. I wanted to give them a voice. I was excited by the idea that we could call others to leadership by writing about it as something that absolutely can, and always will be, imperfect. Still, the doubt, fear, and excuses flooded in. It felt easier not to hit publish at all.
It turns out that I was not alone in my self-doubt. When I listened carefully to the dedicated educators around me, I heard things like this:
“There are so many better candidates for that position. I don’t think I’m going to apply.”
“I just don’t feel like what I’m doing is making a difference.”
“I’m not strong enough/smart enough/tall enough to be a leader.”
(Actually, “tall enough” came from me. I’m 4’11 and I used to think this all the time.)
And then a mentor of mine who works outside of the teaching profession shared a confession with me: She said she has always wanted to start her own business, but it was on her “I want to, but I’m too chicken” list. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. How many of us have a list like this? How long are these lists? Why do they even exist?
So many of us feel insecure, inexperienced…and imperfect. Maybe this is the reason so many leaders remain hidden in the first place. There were endless reasons to avoid starting this blog. Here are the three that whisper in my ear the loudest and why I (all of us) should stop listening:
- Nobody will read it/approve/support your work/care.
This might be true. However, I like to think of that well-known phrase that was adapted from the movie Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” Except my own personal adaptation goes like this:
If you build it, they might come, and even if they don’t, at least you’ve built something.
Success is about getting started, not about lack of failure. This reminds me of my painfully slow 5K when I first started running. I jogged into the finish line while the race organizers were cleaning up the refreshment table. I was deeply embarrassed by this until a friend noticed my shame. She asked, “Do you know how many people are still sleeping?”
Get started. That’s all that matters.
Shorten your chicken list: Reframe how you look at criticism. Instead of letting it define you, celebrate the fact that you pushed your limits. You will not get criticized or rejected when you stay inside your comfort zone.
2. Your ideas will not inspire others.
Drew Dudley, founder of Everyday Leadership, has a very down-to-earth perspective on what it means to be a leader. His TED talk on Everyday Leadership explains how simple it really is to make a difference. We may be overlooking and devaluing the impact we have on others. He said, “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it.”
Of those 6 or so billion, you only need to change one. If you can inspire one student to feel like an author, one colleague to try teaching for another year, one administrator to stick with a vision even when it gets difficult, then according to Dudley, “You’ve changed the whole thing.”
Shorten your chicken list: Pull out your “feel good” folder, and if you don’t have one, start one now. Keep every letter of thanks, student card, principal compliment, or parent email that celebrates your everyday leadership. Reread them anytime you need a reminder that inspiring others is not something that is beyond you.
3. You might fail.
I used to have this misconception that leaders had all the answers. You have to know what you are talking about. All the time. What does it even mean to know enough, to be good enough? Nobel prize winner physicist, Niels Bohr, defines an expert as “…someone who has made all possible mistakes in one field and there are no more to make.”
I don’t think I’ve heard a more appealing invitation to fail over and over again. If we look at mistakes as the necessary training for expert status, we might stop trying so hard to avoid them.
Shorten your chicken list: Before you take action, predict three potential ways you can fail. Say them out loud, and then ask yourself, “If I make these mistakes, what is the worst that could happen?” The answer to this question might surprise you.
If you wait until you are fully ready for something, you will never get started. This isn’t about creating a blog, being a writer, or even leadership. It’s about starting. Imperfection is guaranteed. Take one thing from your “I really want to but I’m just too chicken” list and do it anyway.
Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do—but haven’t yet? Tell us about it! Your first step starts right now.
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