What does it feel like to gain your dream job then lose it again all in the space of 12 months? A client of mine has recently gone through this experience and I have gone through it with them. It has been a journey of highs and lows; a rollercoaster that lurched this way and that and then shuddered to a halt. Now we can step off the ride and try to make sense of it all.
On reflecting upon the experience, two pieces of inspiration have come my way; one from Brene Brown’s book ‘Daring Greatly’ and the other, more surprisingly, from the local dentist! The title of Brene Brown’s book comes from this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:-
These words remind us that it is not success or failure that define our worth, but our willingness to commit, and keep committing, to the pursuit of courageous goals. Both success and failure can tempt us to give up. With failure, we give up because we are tired and disillusioned. Similarly, with success we give up because we are tired and disillusioned. In both situations, we have lost perspective and we are taking the experience too personally. When we over-identify with success and failure we forget that the role and the task never defined who we were; they just created a temporary distraction from the reality of our personal insignificance. When we come back to our senses, we see there was always a bigger picture. Or, putting it another way, we’re all much less important than we think we are!
The second piece of inspiration came when I walked into the local dental practice. Chalked on a board next to the reception desk were the words, ‘Sometimes you don’t realise the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release’. A friend of mine suggested this might be a devious way of justifying how much lighter your wallet would be after dental treatment, but more seriously the quote reminded me that, in pursuing our courageous goals, we must be careful that we do not create nightmares out of our own dreams. How does this happen? It happens one day at a time as, slowly but surely, we disconnect from the joy of the original vision and we focus instead on the frustration of not knowing how the vision will be achieved. This shift transmits itself to all those we lead and starts to suffocate their motivation. When we come back to our senses, we realise that the frustration had become a monkey on our back; a much bigger monkey than we realised at the time.
In summary, the paradox of pursuing courageous goals is that we must simultaneously care enough about those goals to commit to action, but not care too much about them that they start to mess with our sense of identity or create a weight of frustration on our backs. If we can walk that tightrope with wisdom and with joy then we will create a safety net that protects us, and those around us, from both success and failure. As a result, we will not give up, we will re-commit and we will keep re-committing in pursuit of the dream.
[Check out John’s session at the Coaching at Work annual conference on July 1st]