I loved this picture when I saw it, and definitely wanted to use it for this blog post. It is the perfect illustration of the self-imposed limitations we put on ourselves. Oh no, don’t think it’s just you…we all do it. But some of us learn to break free of this, and that is a learned skill that everyone would benefit from.
I think the quote that “All of your dreams and life’s beauty live just on the other side of fear” applies to everyone. I am not sure who exactly to attribute that quote to, as I have seen several very similar versions of it from a bunch of people. Nonetheless, it is spot on, and they are words to live by. In a recent blog I wrote about leaving a toxic relationship or starting a business, and how this required the courage to proverbially “jump”. Let’s dig a little deeper into some of the psychology behind the chair in the picture above, and how almost all of the self imposed limitations that we create for ourselves are the real hurdles to clear.
As with almost everything I write about, I can share personal experiences on this topic too. I have been a weird combination of fearlessness about certain things, and yet being very “conservative” about other things. For example, I am jonesing to be on stage in front of a large crowd of people again. For many people, this is their ultimate nightmare, but I love it. The energy, being the center of attention, and sharing information that others find helpful is a huge thrill for me. I like the prep work for these events, I like doing the research and putting together slide decks and mapping out how it flows from one point to another. And then the day of the event, I get nervous and excited about it. Ten minutes from the start I am starting to calm down and settle into my zone of performance. I miss that head space, it is a beautiful thing to be able to focus your mind on one thing and one thing only for an extended period of time. I love every part of the process. As a former athlete, its the thing I miss most about competition.
To me, I would rather do a talk for ten thousand people than I would to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute on my back. If the plane is going down due to the pilots both passing out, I would rather try to land the plane myself (with help from ground control) than jump out of the plane. And no, I do not have a pilot’s license or anything like that. This may sound crazy to you, but I am that afraid of skydiving. I have flown a lot in my life, and never once did the thought of “wouldn’t it be cool too jump from here” cross my mind. I know this contradicts what I said above regarding ignoring the fear so that the beauty of floating to Earth and all there is to see, would be something I could experience. But I don’t see myself conjuring the courage to jump out of the plane, even with an instructor strapped to me and doing everything needed to help ensure a safe landing. I know lots of people do it, but that doesn’t compute in my head that I make myself take that leap. I envision me sticking my arms out and the instructor breaking my elbow as he shoves us out the door of the plane. Now, not only am I scared out of my mind plummeting towards the ground, but I have a broken arm on top of it…
But, as I said earlier, there are other things that I am much braver about, so I don’t beat myself up about the skydiving thing. I don’t want to skydive, or base jump or bungee jump, or any of the other typical adrenaline junkie activities that some live for. I know two people who were lucky not to have bounced while skydiving, and that is reason enough for me to avoid the option of skydiving. I guess, gun to my head, I could jump out of a plane, but it literally would take that amount of “incentive” to do it. But there are lots of other things in life that require you to take a proverbial leap of faith. For some of us, something like asking someone out is the equivalent of strapping on a parachute and walking to the door of the plane. Much of that probably is formed in our childhood years.
I was a hyper sensitive child, and I was painfully afraid of looking stupid in front of other people. I would get so embarrassed if I didn’t know the answer to something, drop a pass while playing football, or other run-of-the-mill things that happen all the time. I was petrified of what people would think of me, like I had “less value” because of my imperfections. NEWSFLASH>>> no one is perfect. Despite my best efforts, I could not be perfect all day long in every situation. I tried, but it was exhausting. I am not sure if there was one exact moment with I dropped this bag of bricks I was lugging around and walked away. If I had to take a guess as to at least one influential moment, I would point to this when I was about sixteen. I was sitting in the locker room at a racquetball tournament, and the number 1 player in the world was also in there. He had just lost in the first round of the tournament, and I watched the match. He was so far off that day; he made a ton of errors, and pretty much beat himself versus the other guy doing a lot to win. I mustered the courage to ask him “What happened out there today?” He looked up at me and smiled, and said “Some days I just don’t have it.” That was it…he wasn’t pissed off, beating himself up, or making excuses. He made that statement in a matter of fact manner, and I truly believed he meant it.
This was a moment of clarity for me. He didn’t make excuses, and he clearly didn’t think this was his downfall from the number 1 spot. As Kobe Bryant made a famous saying…”It is what it is.” This momentary dip in performance was not a reflection of his self worth or social standing. It was a loss in a sport. No one goes through life or sports without some losses, both within their control to avoid, and also with things completely out of control. Once I got this through my head, life became a lot easier. My anxiety levels dropped noticeably. I quit worrying so much about what others thought, and focused on myself. My efforts, my level of preparedness and other things within my control, were my responsibility. Executing to the best of my ability is within my control, NOT THE OUTCOME. I have played some of my best racquetball matches ever, only to loss the match In one particular case, I lost 12-10 in all three games in a best 3 out of 5 match. It was one of my best performances, against the number 9 player in the world, at high altitude.
I look back on that match in Denver as one of the highlights of my career on the court, even though I lost three straight. I took the leap of faith to be a Pro Racquetball Player before I was really ready, and I learned as I went. Eventually I was able to compete at the highest level the game has to offer. At the time, I was guilty of being angry with the fact that there were seventeen people in line ahead of me.
It wasn’t until I retired that I turned around and saw the whole planet lined up behind me.
All I saw was the guys in front of me, and I did struggle with that. But after a few months into retirement I finally realized just what I had accomplished. I broke through a bunch of fear and self-limiting thoughts to even start down that road, let alone to start competing on the Pro Tour. There were plenty of doubts, fears, and concerns. But I did it anyway, and that is the real key. I happened to have a good experience in my first Pro event, and I am sure that helped. But I do believe that regardless of how that first event went, I would have continued down that path. One of the reasons I say that my Pro Tour experience was so important to me personally is because of the constant practice of breaking through my own self imposed roadblocks. I had to let go, ignore, and break through these things all the time. But with enough practice, I got better and better at it. While I still may not be ready to jump out of a plane just yet, I am certainly progressing in the right direction.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to realize that in the picture above, you are the horse tried to that little plastic chair. It is not holding the horse back at all, if the horse chooses to believe this. It is the horse that is allowing the chair to keep him tied in place, not the chair itself. He could drag that chair with him anywhere he wants to go, but he has been conditioned to believe that if he is tied to anything, he has to stay put. Clearly that is not the case; but that is only obvious to outside observers. The horse thinks he is stuck, and if you think you are stuck, you will be. It is as simple as that.
It is all in your head. Act accordingly.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.