This Might Not Work

photo credit: Joshua Earle

photo credit: Joshua Earle

Don’t Read This!

…says that voice in your head,
warning you of potential danger.

The voice in my head belongs to a stern Vice Principal. He warns me, “young man, this is going to be on your PERMANENT record.”

According to him, I need to take everything VERY seriously, to consider the consequences of my actions, and to avoid looking like a fool.

I get it. That voice is a part of me. The Vice Principal is in my head for a very good reason…

…to protect me from embarrassment.

But I’m well past the point of getting embarrassed by what I write and implement. I used to jump up and comply with that voice. Now I shrug and show it that I’m listening but then I move forward anyway.

For instance, I write today without a plan. No outline, no vision for where this will fit with the blog posts I have written before or the ideas I have in mind.

Thinking, “this might not work” is an approach to taking risk that I learned in Seth Godin’s altMBA program. That program suggested that we don’t have to always choose between fight or flight. With practice, when I get triggered by negative emotions….

I can choose to DANCE with my fear.

photo credit: Dalton Touchberry

photo credit: Dalton Touchberry

Over the last six years, each step I took outside of my comfort zone felt like trying to cross a room with no light to guide me. Whether it was my first blog post, walking into my first improv class, or signing a lease for my own office, each step felt like inching out into the darkness.

Without the security of seeing which direction to go or what I was about to trip over, I was forced to rely on my other senses. I inch forward with caution, waiting to bang my head against something I can’t anticipate.

Here are a few lessons I learned:

Five years ago, when I first learned how to write stories about my life, I waited to bang my head against things like ‘people are going to judge me’ and ‘they’ll use my personal details against me.’

To calm my nerves, I searched for guidance. I found the EXACT advice that I needed to dance with that fear. Penelope Trunk taught me: no one is reading to learn your secrets. We read about other people’s lives to learn about ourselves, to see ourselves reflected in the experiences the writer shares. H/T (hat tip) to Penelope’s course, “How to Write About Your Life.”

Three years ago, I set a goal to get more comfortable in front of a camera. I anticipated banging my head on bigger things like hearing criticism over how I looked, how my voice sounded, and coming off like an idiot. (To reach that plateau, I first had to dance with another fear that I didn’t even anticipate: how I resist asking for, and receiving feedback.)

Again, I searched for guidance. And, again, I received the EXACT advice that I needed. My altMBA classmate Mindi Rosser told me: it only gets better the more you do it. You have to make videos regularly to get more comfortable in front of the camera.

Here’s the best part: learning how to dance with that fear, I was able to pitch the video series I launched with Nicole Merritt. Our project, the ‘I Am The Worst Parent Ever’ podcast, has been so rewarding and one of the most fun things I have done. I got more comfortable with each new episode we recorded (and posted!). Learning that Mindi’s advice was so on the nose, I started to take regular action in other arenas, too.


Last year, I gave my first TEDx talk, combining my fears of sharing my own story in public and talking in front of a camera (this time live with an audience!). Delivering my TEDx talk was truly climbing to new scary heights!

What did I fear in preparing for the talk? The list is too long. It would be better to ask: what DIDN’T I anticipate banging my head on? Let’s start with just freezing on stage and forgetting my place!

But I didn’t. I’m proud to say that my first TEDx went really well. This was my ‘first’ TEDx talk because I plan to dance with some more with my fear of getting on stage.

How can you apply this to your life?

You may be thinking, “Not everyone is made to give a TEDx talk!”

When I embraced my superpower of creativity about six years ago, a cool thing started to happen: I adopted a mindset that ‘this is all an experiment.’

I gave myself permission to prototype new ideas (like this blog or my program to support everyday superheroes) with the goal to learn and iterate, not to avoid failure.

How can you learn to dance with your fear?

Your ‘dance’ might not be with a public talk. That was my fear, not yours. Your path doesn’t need to look like mine …with one exception: they all start the same, with a first step.

If you dare to take your first step in the direction that scares you… and you persist… you might be surprised what you can do.

How do you start? You can make it complicated or you can keep it simple:

The complicated version: brainstorm what you want to achieve and set a long-term goal and short-term habits that will get you there.

The simple version: sit for a minute or two, maybe with a journal or talking to a friend who gets you, and just start. Listen to your gut for the one thing that scares you the most. Then try that.

Admit to that Vice Principal in your head, “this might not work.” Treat it like an experiment. It’s OK to be scared. Try it anyway.

The most challenging thing I did so far today? I sat for 20 minutes to meditate. Feeling pulled away by the whirlwind of a million thoughts and feelings, I kept my butt IN THE CHAIR. I wanted to cut it short a dozen times. But I didn’t.

Was it my best meditation ever? Not even close. But I did it. That’s what matters.

Make a commitment and take consistent action.

Chip away.

If you want to more ideas like these, you can subscribe here.

Robert Zeitlin