Recently I attended a workshop with a small group of business leaders. We were seated in a circle, each asked to share an example of a risk we took that paid off. For some reason, I was caught completely off guard by this request. After the first person shared her experience of winning a Caldecott Award, followed by another who founded a company later acquired by Microsoft, I could no longer pay attention as I began racking my brain for my own impressive story.
I told myself the answer had to be career-related, which is when, to my surprise, I began to get clammy. It occurred to me in that inconvenient moment that I am a serial entrepreneur. And since reading those words in Fast Company or Entrepreneur sound so cool and impressive, I believed my own story could never measure up.
Who was I to give such a heady title to my paltry schmattering of experience? I’ve taken some hard knocks in my entrepreneurial ventures. True, I’ve had some moderate successes too. Yet with no big wins like you read about in the trade pubs. So in that context, the one I was comparing myself with, I didn’t make the cut.
But then I thought; is that really true? Am I a failed entrepreneur? Just a wanna-be, pretending to know what I’m doing while clumsily mucking about? Perhaps that’s one way to look at it.
But fortunately, for every failure-focused interpretation of the past we tout around, there is another, equally true version. The version we choose to accept will shape both how others see us, and how we see ourselves.
I realized that while I haven’t written a best-seller, I have written and published a book which received positive reviews and sold a surprising number of copies. No, I haven’t hit it big in business, but I’ve developed a repeatable and highly effective coaching process that has helped hundreds of people reach their goals.
An ardent environmental activist, I organized a successful Race Against Global Warming that generated sizable donations while raising awareness for this important cause. Did I make any magazine covers? No. But then again, that wasn’t my goal.
Like many of the people I work with, I haven’t followed a linear career path. My clients as well have had their share of twists and turns. They too worry that their story will be perceived negatively, as a lack of coherence. Which is why it’s our job, as authors, to highlight the compelling, related aspects of what may be a broad range of experience in a way makes sense to our listeners.
No one gives us permission to follow the road less traveled. At the same time, no one rewards us for arriving quietly. If we don’t do these things for ourselves, our contributions will be overshadowed. Because at the end of the day, we are more than the sum of our accomplishments, we’re the unique manifestation of the values we stand for and live by.
My point here is, there is no hand-written invitation to step into your potential. You need to find the courage to do this for yourself because you know you can. And there is no guarantee of success even then. So the only certainty of being rewarded for your efforts is to follow the path that aligns with your values. Then success is its own reward.
But back to my workshop; how did I respond when it was my turn to share something about myself? I took a different path. “I’m a public speaker, and it surprises people to know I’m also an introvert” I responded. “overcoming that obstacle for myself so I could help others to overcome theirs was not only the most challenging, but also the rewarding risk I’ve ever taken.
After listening to an impressive list of awards and accomplishments previously shared, this first caught the group’s attention, and raised eyebrows made way for nods and smiles. “Yes”, they agreed. “Good answer!”