Updated: Jun 23, 2020
A number of years ago, the opportunity came for me to enter my first karate tournament.
I wanted to do it. I REALLY wanted to do it. But I didn't. The following week in class, a fellow karateka asked why I hadn't entered the tournament. This was my reply, "I'm not ready."
Loosely translated, what I really meant was, "Why the bejesus am I doing this to myself? It's going to be terrifying; standing in front of all those people and having to fight. I can't do that. I'll be too nervous. Jeez, I feel sick just thinking about it." The truth of the matter is that I held myself back because I was scared. I wasn't afraid of being hurt, I was afraid of the discomfort I'd feel when I stepped onto the mat. I was afraid of letting myself, my Sensei, and my family down. Going for it meant putting everything on the line. And, most importantly, it meant surrendering every excuse I had stored inside my brain to explain why I hadn't succeeded at something I'd set out to do. It had nothing to do with skill or 'being ready'. It had everything to do with my losing a grip on the excuses I used to hold back.
I'm human; and this is what humans do. We get in our own way, trip ourselves up, and hold ourselves back when we could be building a life we've always dreamed of.
In the fairly recent past, I've used every excuse you can imagine to explain why I was holding back: I was too busy, too tired, I was traveling, it was too hot, it was too cold, I had toothache, I had a late night, my knee hurt. They're excuses - I believe I called them 'reasons' - used to explain away the reason I wasn't going for something I wanted. I knew that going for it - I mean really go for it - would invalidate my excuses and leave me 'out there', exposed, with nothing to fall back on.
Now, if you think about this for a second, it's absolutely nuts.
Holding back was guaranteed to end in my falling short of where I wanted to be. Holding back is not synonymous with success. I knew that when I poured my heart and soul into something, I always succeeded. Yet still I held back.
Can you relate to this? Has there been a time in your life when you really wanted something but knew the ride was going to be a hard slog, uncomfortable, and a bit too uncertain, so you made an excuse or two as to why you didn't go for it?
If you have, you're human. And allow me to let you into a not-so-secret secret.
I have yet to meet someone who has thrown themselves into the abyss of their passions and failed. Truly, I can't think of a time when that has ever happened. Because it doesn't happen. People who find their genius and unleash it on the world succeed. When they throw caution to the wind, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and put in the work, they always succeed. Now, does the success always look exactly what they had planned inside their minds? No. Did mine? No. And that's to be expected. When you launch yourself into the abyss, you learn. You expose yourself to opportunities that, perhaps, you weren't previously aware of. The journey may take many turns, but each turn takes you closer to where you want to be.
When I was leading big teams of people in Fortune 500s, I'd always tell them, "Here's the goal. Providing it's legal and you do good along the way, how you get there is up to you."
Basically, I told them that I trusted them to succeed; I knew they could do it. How each of them achieved the same goal would look very different. They each had unique strengths and abilities, all of which they were acutely aware of. And they each used them to their advantage.
That same message applies to you. Your ability to achieve success - however you define it - is within your reach. You absolutely can do it. Your journey applies to you and only you, and that's perfectly okay.
So ask yourself this: How are you holding back? What stories do you tell yourself - and others - about why you're holding back? What messages do you console yourself with?
Becoming aware of your stories is a big step. Once they're exposed, you can morph them into something more helpful and inspirational.
Your potential is extraordinary; when you let it out.
Oh, for the record, I kicked myself up the jacksy and entered the next karate tournament, just a week after getting my first-degree black belt: I was competing against third degree black belts. I got the silver medal. Did I want gold? Of course I did! Was I happy with silver? Absolutely. I got a place on the podium. That's how success starts. You go for it with your whole heart and you learn. Then you go for it again. And you win.