My eldest daughter Libby has been watching the TV Series Lucifer over the past few weeks. On each episode the devil, working alongside a detective to solve a crime stares into the suspects eyes and (with a bit of comedy) asks them ‘What is it you truly desire?’ If I was there I’d make it a little less catchy by asking –What is getting in your way of going after what it is that you truly desire? Let me explain using a well-worn example….
Steve Jobs was born on February 4th, 1955 to a Syrian father and German-American mother. He showed an early interest in electronics and by the age 20 had started Apple in his parents’ garage with his friend Steve Wozniak. Over the next 10 years Apple grew into a $2 billion company. Then, just as he was at the height of his success – Jobs got fired from the very company that he started. Just like that – the focus of his entire adult life was gone.
Jobs described the experience as leaving him utterly devastated, humiliated and like ‘a very public failure’. He had hit that horrendous low point where it feels like there that there’s no point, no hope of things getting better. Most of us have been there at some stage in life. But when Jobs later recalls this event he says
“Something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did…I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so, I decided to start over.”
In the space of 5 years Jobs started Pixar and a company called NeXT, which ended up being bought by Apple, bringing Jobs back to the very organisation he’d started. He returned with new ways of thinking and with the energy, insight and innovative outlook which enabled Apple’s renaissance.
In a speech Jobs gave about his life he said “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired….I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. If you haven’t found it yet…. keep looking until you find it.”
It’s often knowing what we desire or love and having a sense of purpose that makes pushing through failure and difficulties most possible, it enables us to weather the storm.
But the problem is we tend to forget or never even discover what it is we truly desire. And when we don’t know what we love, coping with failure is even harder. In fact, failure is one of the biggest barriers. We’re not set up to work with failure, we’re brought up in a way that often allows it to derail us and prevent us from living out our dreams.
Why does fear of failure get in the way of what we truly desire?
Fixed brain and fixed brain beliefs
Until recently it was believed that our brain was fixed in both form and function once we’d reached adulthood. But, over the past couple of decades our understanding has shifted – we now know that the brain’s “circuits” are constantly changing in response to our interaction with the world throughout life. As we think, perceive, form memories or learn new skills, the connections between brain cells change and strengthen. How incredible – just think of the possibilities for growth. The problem is the reality doesn’t align with what most of us were brought up to believe – that if our brain can’t grow and learn then it’s best to avoid any form of failure.
Knowing how to deal with negative emotions
Most of us have not been taught how to handle the bad feelings that come along with ‘failure’. Despite studying psychology for many years I’m only just learning how to experience my more difficult emotions in a way that’s helpful. Sure, sometimes I pushed myself harder when things went wrong and got through it, but other times I’ve avoided situations that may have brought up those ‘icky’ feelings. In other words, it was potluck how I responded, sometimes with the courage to take the leap, sometimes hiding, sometimes trying, sometimes not. It would have been so much more efficient for me to have known the right strategies early on in life, but this stuff isn’t taught in school.
Staying in our comfort zone
Something which in part comes in part from the previous two points is a desire to stay in our comfort zone. If you risk failing and cannot grow from that failure and if you risk experiencing those pesky negative emotions it’s better to stay put. When you’re in your comfort zone you don’t have to take any risks, you know what to expect, and you have a sense of safety and security. It literally feels comfortable.
BUT to learn and grow as a person – to go after what you truly desire, you have to step beyond your comfort zone and into your stretch zone – pursuing situations that create a degree of discomfort.
So, what should you do knowing that you may face failure?
- Learn more about why your brain is not fixed
See Carol Dweck’s book for more on this. Another great source of information is Norman Doidge’s work.
- Learn how to deal with the discomfort of difficult emotions.
A good way to start with this is to begin collecting a ‘living log’ of the evidence-based strategies that help you live with discomfort (Russ Harris’s work is helpful for this).
Sounds like hard work, right? Well think of the hard work that goes into those negative emotions if you’re not dealing with them e.g. the nights lying awake worrying, the angst and negative cycles of thinking. This is far more fun!
- Monitor where you are at in spite of discomfort.
Using the comfort zone model below keep an eye on where you are. Are you staying in your comfort zone when you could be moving into your stretch zone? At times this takes a bit of courage.
If we compare it to physical growth, an athlete cannot improve their performance by staying in the comfort zone, they need to train hard, to keep pushing themselves to their limits to enable growth and progress. They mustn’t spend too long in the panic zone, sometimes known as the injury zone because it will cause more harm than good, but neither do they want to stay in their comfort zone (for more on this see Ch 7 Defining You).
But doing all of this without knowing what it is you truly desire is even harder. So if you can spend some reconnect with what you love. I’ll write more about this because it’s a big topic. But if you want to do a bit of personal reflection on the beach this summer, maybe defining what it is you truly desire, then it could be worth taking my book Defining You as your companion.
Meanwhile look out for upcoming podcasts episodes about continuing in spite of difficulty including one with Dermot Turing who talks about his Uncle Alan Turing. I find his story so inspiring.
Thank you to Regent’s University who recently invited me to talk on the topic of this blog post.
Norman Doidge – The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
Carol Dweck – Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
Russ Harris: The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living
Fiona Murden – Defining You: Build Your Unique Personal Profile and Unlock Your True Potential
There are also a couple of episodes with Russ Harris as a guest on the Dot to Dot podcast.
Image from Pixabay