Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest post: Speakers, Are You Afraid of…Success?

(Editor's note: Selena Rezvani writes the NextGen Women's blog: Leadership and a Latte and her focus is women and the workplace. I follow Rezvani on Twitter (she's @nextgenwomen), so I know her goal is "to help women thrive at work, and be inspired to take the professional risks necessary to lead." And when I read this post, Are You Afraid of Success? I knew it would accomplish both for you speakers and presenters. Rezvani graciously agreed to let me repost it here for you, so share your comments after this good read.)

Many of us live in fear of screwing up. The possible consequences are all too familiar: embarrassment, a damaged reputation, and of course, what “they” will think of us.

But what happens when we’re afraid of succeeding? How strange it is to think that at times, each of us is uncomfortable with our own potential. Consider the experience of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Harper Lee. After releasing To Kill a Mockingbird to great fanfare, Lee confessed, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Our adult fear of being great makes us particularly interesting creatures. As kids, we don’t have any compunction about excelling at something. In fact, we do more of it, enjoy the applause, and move on. Success becomes much more personal as we age however. Many of us start to see success or failure as the building blocks of our identity and as a result, we begin to insulate ourselves from risk.

And yet, if you really consider who around you is most successful, you’ll see they have one thing in common. They allow themselves to be vulnerable. To be great, they are open to screwing it all up and going down in flames, in the name of pursuing their dream or actualizing their goal. They understand what Brene Brown and Voltaire told us; that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” and that banking on flawlessness can leave you squandering your ideas and talent.

As you think about who you have yet to grow into, don’t let your own potential frighten you. You have this power now, and you’ll have more of it in the future.

You might see yourself as an improve actor. Improvisation troupes understand the beauty that can emerge from taking risks and being vulnerable. Just like they create an architecture for succeeding, complete with rules (i.e. You don’t have to be funny and Make your partner look good), so too should you. Your own guard rails could be, “Let me take on this challenge and uncover a new strength of mine – however small or seemingly insignificant” or “I don’t have to do this perfectly.”

If you’re going to ratchet your way to your most outlandish goals, thicken that skin, get out there, and make it happen.

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