LEAN IN

Next week I present at a conference in Anaheim and I’m thrilled. Seriously. It’s new material about leadership – whereas many of my presentations have been subject-matter specific about writing and communication – so this feels like a big deal.

Truth be told, it doesn’t just feel like a big deal, but it is a big deal because I’m talking to a bunch of strangers about something I value with my whole heart. Public speaking is a cakewalk if there’s nothing at stake: If you’re not invested, you’ve got nothing to lose. This time, I am invested, and it feels jangly in the best way.

But flash back to last week. I wasn’t yet thinking about the presentation. Life felt more like a slog. I was wrangling a few deadlines and in the weeds with tough projects, and I couldn’t see past the horizon of the next day.

Then, offhandedly, a friend said that our goals should be thrilling and not even realistic

I think I responded with, “Uuuh, what?” 

Have you been there? It happens to me in the middle of projects. I lose the momentum of the beginning, when everything’s fresh and shiny and new. I can channel the discipline to make my way through the harder work, but I don’t feel the excitement anymore.

What is thrilling to you? Is there something thrilling, even unrealistic, in your future?

In addition to speaking, hitting “publish” on my blog each week is thrilling in a similar, smaller way. I have a sense of freedom and accomplishment on Sunday afternoons like nothing else. What both speaking and writing have in common is that I’m using my voice.

Saying the brave thing, the bold thing, the true thing, or expressing what’s in my heart, well, that thrills me every time. It requires risk but also demands hard-earned mastery. (Not complete, total, I-have-nothing-more-to-learn mastery, but confidence that I have put in the work to be able to express myself with skill.)

 It has taken me a looooooong time to get here, let me tell you. It hasn’t been easy to determine how to use my voice with responsibility and love. 

The journey required a layover at a place called “Learn to Keep Your Mouth Shut.” Picture an airport gate with tons of bedraggled and defeated people sitting on their hands and pursing their lips together, practicing minding their own business, while the rest of the world goes about their ordinary lives. 

Some of us have short layovers at this gate, and some of us are required to stay here for a tad more time . . . like 10 years. In fact, I lived at Learn to Keep Your Mouth Shut for so long that I’d almost forgotten I was waiting for a plane to whisk me to a new destination. 

But there were important lessons I needed to absorb. I didn’t understand the difference between using my voice to further my own agenda and controlling someone else’s. I couldn’t differentiate between when it was my turn to speak, and when it was my job to listen.

But eventually, in this layover home, I developed new skills that I cherish today. For example, I can create safety and community for others. I can be patient. I can listen with empathy and understanding when you tell me your life’s story. I can be a champion of where you want to go. And I can let you make your own mistakes and figure out how to fix them all by yourself. 

I’m not perfect at the skills above, but I’m much, much better at them, and I love this about myself. And yet, at some point, I got really comfy at this gate, like it was my final destination and permanent home. I wasn’t on the line for much, if anything, and that can be an alluring lifestyle. I was quiet and playing it safe. Eventually, it was time to gather my belongings and move on.

Listen. Here’s the deal. You must do what thrills you. That is what you must do. And you must learn how to do it with mastery so that you do not act impulsively and ruin your life, or someone else’s, while seeking thrills you’ll later regret.

This past week, I asked people what was thrilling to them because I was curious about others’ experiences in contrast to my own. Answers included running a 200-mile ultra-marathon, competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, going back to school, launching a new career, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at how things work, like companies or new technologies.

Telling someone how you feel – that you love them or where to get off (hey, we’re only human) – was also a big theme.

What the ideas seem to share is a sense of pushing, or stretching, into new spaces, whether physically, intellectually, creatively, or emotionally. My other realization was this: When you are doing what you’re supposed to do, fulfilling your deepest desires in life, you can channel a sense of thrill even on the less exciting days.

But what about the times when life is just too much? When “thrill” has tipped into “overwhelm”? You’re exhausted and hurt. You feel like your brain and heart are permanently broken. You’re frustrated, irritated, and just need a break. I know more than several people experiencing this right now.

Take one. Take a break. This is also what you are supposed to do. You won’t be in this place forever: It’s your layover home.

When you’re ready, when it’s time, the question of what thrills you will be waiting. You will own your new wisdom and experience. And you will get on the stage, or into the canoe, or over the mountain, ready to conquer the next adventure.

NEXT EPISODE: Read about the girl who sat in the back seat but insisted that she tell every driver where to go. Oh yeah, that girl.