Given a choice, I could spend a lot of time focusing on my own growth. Since I rate spiritual growth as my top personal value, it’s easy for me to devote lots of time to psycho-analysing myself, processing my issues and healing my pains. Admittedly, it can get close to the level of self-indulgence if I don’t watch myself! From time to time, I’m jolted to awareness of how self-centered I have been, to be focusing on my own inadequacies when I could be looking at how to help more people. I then get redirected internally to make it less about me and more about others.
This, of course, tends to happen when I’m in a period of having more free time than usual. I think it’s healthy to focus on our own wellbeing first and foremost, but it’s also easy to cross the line of being excessive and self-indulgent.
I see this in many others too. Usually, it happens during a period of growth – perhaps following a disastrous event when you’re well into the recovery stages of picking up your pieces, and you’ve connected to a project that inspires you. By your reckoning, this project will launch you into the world again, as your new, improved self. It will mark your rebirth, of having survived and grown through an exceptionally tough time.
The thing is, more often than not, people don’t end up launching themselves this way. They get scared and stuck in this stage of feeling they’re not ready yet – there’s always more to work on, more to heal, more to improve about themselves, more skills to acquire, more this or that.
As the years go by, they continue to wallow in how they’re still unpolished, imperfect, undeserving. The groundwork gets worked on, edited, tweaked, improved, updated, upgraded, added on, simplified, expanded. Meanwhile, they are still talking about some day being actually out there doing their thing.
Their project has become more of a fantasy, a source of motivation that keeps their hopes alive via the promises it holds. As long as it hasn’t been tested out there, it will remain a powerful potential, and God knows we hate to have our fantasies destroyed.
But the price for this is the guilt you suffer from knowing you have procrastinated yet again. Since there’s a part of you that truly wants to step out there and actualise your vision, whenever you stop yourself from doing so, you suffer the discomfort of knowing you have not been true to yourself.
Every time we make an excuse not to step out, we add more guilt to our emotional baggage. Every time we judge themselves as being not good enough yet, we die a little more inside. The self-berating that accompanies such judgements can be very damaging to our self-esteem.
It can be many years before someone actually takes the first step of stepping out into the arena, and sadly, many never make it to this stage. Do you have a project you can’t seem to get off the ground because you’ve been stuck in a stage where you know you need to step out but feel you aren’t quite ready? The good news is, no matter how long you’ve been sitting on your project, the point of power is now. You can make empowered choices now to step out into the world and live in the glory of being you.
1. Shift Your Focus Onto Other People
Sometimes, focusing on our own inadequacies, or how we’re still not good enough, is actually the easy way out. As much as I admire someone who is committed and dedicated to her own growth, I admire even more someone who stretches herself to have the courage to get out there and do her thing – whether it’s to facilitate that workshop, teach a yoga class, write that book, start dating again or start that business. Sometimes, we need to stop working on ourselves internally and take our growth out there. If you’re serious about growing, then demonstrate this to yourself by stepping out there. There is where you’ll be stretched to grow optimally and achieve the most self-improvement.
Shifting your focus onto others will bring you two benefits. One, focusing on others can make your own problems seem less serious. When you focus excessively on your own problems, your perception of your world will shrink until it seems as though there’s just you and your problems, within a constricted world. When you take your focus away from yourself and to other people, it changes your perspective. It allows you to see that there are others who are struggling with problems and to sympathise with their plight. Knowing that you’re not alone in your suffering can be very healing. Your empathy may even help alleviate their plight, and knowing you have contributed positively to another can connect you to your personal power which opens up a whole new world for you.
Two, focusing on others will enable you to sharpen your vision and shape your role. Make it less about you and more about others. Focus on what you can do to help, support and benefit others. Start to take notice of what the world around you needs and how you can contribute to make a difference.
Stepping out of the place in which you’ve been struggling to find a solution may be just the thing you need to get unstuck.
2. Turn On Your Excuse Buster!
Decide to bust all your excuses from now on. Everytime you catch yourself giving an excuse about how it’s not time yet to step out, expose your dishonesty. Be ruthless and brutal in shredding all the excuses you give yourself to stay safe.
Is it really true that you’re not good enough to step out yet? Could you be looking for an excuse to not be good enough? Are you sabotaging the realisation of your project by using your excuses to channel your resources elsewhere rather than to your project?
You might not be totally aware of how you’re sabotaging yourself with your excuses. By exposing your dishonesty, you elevate your behaviours to a conscious level so that you can be more in control of the choices you make.
What’s left in the absence of your excuses? I want you to stay with the discomfort of thinking you’re going to step out there. The fear you feel is different from the gut-level fear that protects you from real danger – it’s a mixture of fear and excitement. Stay with the discomfort until it expands into feelings of excitement.
Most of the time, we react as soon as we feel uncomfortable. By staying with the feeling long enough for it to evolve, you change your reference of the idea of being out there doing your thing.
3. Step Out As Your Imperfect Self
You may be holding back because you feel you need to be perfect before you share yourself with others. Understandably, you want to present the best version of yourself to the world. But the best way to improve yourself is by stepping out as your imperfect self.
That place you want to be? You’ll never get there unless you step out now. When you’re chasing perfection, you’re pursuing something that doesn’t exist. It’s a fact that as humans we never stop growing and having opportunities to work on ourselves. If you’re invested in the idea of being perfect someday and holding yourself back before that day comes, you’ll never reach your dreams.
Most of the time, our fears get blown out of proportion. We magnify our flaws, imagining others will do the same. Yet others would probably give it 1% of the attention we give it.
Furthermore, your flaws make you more human in the eyes of others. They make you seem more reachable, relatable, and they give you more depth, colour and character. You can improve and grow in front of an audience. The energy with which you invest to hide your flaws can translate to a sense of tightness around you and emotional unavailability. Letting go of wanting to be perfect can make you seem more authentic and sincere, allowing you to form more genuine relations with those you interact with.
4. Play Big, Don’t Stay Small
Another reason you may be holding back is the fear of being judged as not good enough. It comes from believing that what you have to give isn’t good enough. Whilst striving for high standards is an admirable quality, it can also stop us from taking the emotional risk to step forward into the playing field. Sometimes, we reconcile this by playing it safe: we stay small instead of playing full-on, hoping we won’t attract any untoward attention that would crush our dreams.
If you’re true to your dream, it cannot be destroyed. This means continuing to believe in your dream and not allowing yourself to be defeated or give up too soon, even when you’re getting negative feedback. It means having the maturity to understand that rejection is part and parcel of taking the risk to present yourself to the world; instead of being discouraged by rejections, you use them to point you to where you need to grow. You become interested in the response you generate, instead of dreading the outcome. Accept that there will likely be negative as well as positive response – if you insist on not getting any negative response at all, you may never take the step to actualise your dream.
As the saying goes, good enough is good enough. It pays to put in lots of time and energy to work on creating and honing your idea before you launch yourself, but after a certain point, you just got to get it out there.
And when you do step out, step out fully. Not in the sense of giving a first-time performance to a thousand people or nothing at all. If you’re an aspiring singer, you could start as small as inviting five of your friends to a free performance at a house. Stepping out fully is about being committed to what you’re doing. Sing your heart out in front of your five friends. Give your best. When you step out, you’re either in or you’re out.
It’s better to be there 100 percent for a small crowd than to be ‘kind of’ there for a thousand people. But playing big does involve increasing the scale of what you do when you’ve mastered the level you started at. To stay at this level is to resist stretching beyond your comfort zone and stop growing.
5. Use the Power Of Comparison
As scary as it may seem, stepping out is probably not the scariest thing for you to do. The trouble is, we tend to compare it with what’s less scary to us – e.g. it’s less scary to not have to step out because we imagine the vulnerability we would feel if we did. Of course, we’re bound to choose the less scary option. But suppose you compared it with what’s scarier to you.
Think of something that absolutely horrifies you if you were in that situation – something that is scarier than stepping out. It could be something totally unrelated, such as a phobia. Now notice how by comparison the idea of stepping out is significantly less scary.
What this does is it puts your fear into perspective and gets you to think of it rationally. It short-circuits your automatic response that is based on irrational fear and puts a different kind of energy around it.
6. Let Go of Regret
No matter how long you’ve procrastinated on your project, decide to let go of all regrets about not having done it earlier. If you have a habit of keeping score of how much time you’ve wasted and generating guilty feelings, it becomes a block to taking action now. We mistakenly believe that by beating ourselves up, we can redeem ourselves and feel less badly about ourselves. But all it does is add to the guilt we already feel.
The most nourishing thing you can do is to cleanse yourself of all the negativity you hold around it. Imagine releasing this toxic energy into the earth as the force of gravity draws it away from your body. Release the critical, self-limiting thoughts you have and replace them with ideas about strength, hope and beauty. Let go of your grip on guilt, hurt and regret – give them up to gravity. Feel your entire system cleansed of all the should’s and shouldn’t’s. From now on, you’re erased of the past, the history of how you’ve let yourself down. Only the present matters.
Stepping out and doing our thing is such a deep, personal thing that it’s bound to come with a lot of resistance on our part. But the greatest reward that comes from it is so sweet: the fulfilment that comes from giving of yourself. You can be proud of the fact that you’ve stretched yourself to step out even when you felt you weren’t ready yet. It’s like the advice parents often give to aspiring parents: “You’re never ready.”
But you do it anyway.