How do you know when you have achieved a courageous goal? You get very scared indeed. For it is sometimes not the struggle to achieve a goal that requires courage but the coming to terms with its realisation. As Marianne Williamson wisely observed the achievement of courageous goals messes with your sense of identity. ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?’ she famously proclaimed in her book ‘A Return to Love’. The achievement of courageous goals requires you to redefine who you are and this can trigger a deep-seated panic, it can trigger our deepest fear.
Recently, I experienced a double-barreled portion of such panic within the space of 48 stomach-churning hours. First, I was told by the publisher Kogan Page that they had approved my proposal to write a new book and, second, I was invited to present ‘Challenging Coaching’ to 280 senior executives in the US. Jeepers, creepers! Regular readers of this blog will know that both of these events represent achievements of courageous goals that I had set and shared in 2013 and 2014. It was like waiting for the No.11 bus – you don’t see one for hours and then two come round the corner in the same minute. And the impact of this apparently fantastic news was to send me into blind panic.
‘Who am I to write a book on my own aimed squarely at a senior leadership audience?’ ’Who am I to travel to the US and talk about challenging coaching in the land of the free?’ My internal dialogue went into overdrive with a whole legion of gremlin voices marching onto the battlefield to wage war with my sense of identity. ‘What will you write?’, ’When will you write it?’, ‘How will you write a book on your own without Ian?’, ’What if you get up in front of 280 executives in America, you open your mouth and nothing comes out…nothing at all?’. And then the loudest voice of all booming above the rabble and silencing the din with three exact and indelible words – ‘HOW DARE YOU?’.
And there it was in its full spoken glory – ‘How dare you be who you are?’, ’How dare you be your own unique self?’, ’How dare you have a voice?’. ‘How dare you shine your light?’. Here I was face to face with our deepest fear. And I can tell you it is a sweaty place to be. It is like hiding under your bed as a cyclone hits your home. Everything starts to spin around you. You hear a sickening crunch as an old tree is uprooted in the garden. You see a cherished family heirloom fly past and smash against the wall. You grip the leg of the bed so tightly that your knuckles go white and then the bed itself gets flung into the air. It is a terrifying spectacle when you dare to become that which you are.
Thankfully, as we quote from the tao te ching at the beginning of chapter 7 of ‘Challenging Coaching’ – ‘A raging wind cannot blow all morning nor a sudden rainstorm last all day’. Eventually, the storm subsides. Eventually, you wake up from the nightmare of the past and you arrive in the present moment. It was just a childish dream. And the best thing about the past is that it is over. You can breathe again. It’s over. You brush yourself down, you rearrange the furniture. You clear your throat and you start to speak. You pick up your pen and you start to write. You pack your bags and you get on that plane. Watch out America – here I come!