Stepping into the Unknown
With the Olympic Games upon us, we are witnessing athletes from all over the world pushing themselves to their mental, physical and emotional limits in the pursuit of Olympic Glory. Seeing the O’Donovan Brothers and Annalise Murphy win their brilliant silver medals, it’s not hard to be filled with pride and genuine admiration for these athletes, their coaches and their families.
However, virtually all of Ireland’s Olympic representatives have done something I think is even more powerful (and very relevant to the rest of us). They have, over the course of their respective Olympic Journey’s, taken step after step into the unknown. They have pursued their Olympic dream in the absence of certainty in so many areas. Are they really good enough to make it? Will they be lucky with avoiding injuries? How will they fund their day-to-day living? Will they make the qualifying standards? What will they do if they don’t get funding next season? What will they do after their competitive career comes to an end? They have not just stepped into the unknown; they are living in the unknown surrounded by much uncertainty.
Stepping into the unknown requires a huge amount of courage. Being brave enough to follow a dream, an instinct, an idea, a business opportunity and do all you can to give it the best chance of coming to fruition. This is something I personally admire when I see our Athletes doing all they can to realise their dreams.
Our ability to manage our emotions is one of the key influencers when it comes to stepping into the unknown. I know this from personal experience, my own client work, as well as accessing many decades of global research in this area. The state of our emotional well-being can be either an obstacle or a stepping stone to embracing the unknown. Our emotions impact how we feel and how we feel directly determines our thoughts. Our thoughts in turn impact our every day behaviours and thus the results we get in work and indeed in life.
A few years ago before embarking on a 3 month rowing expedition across the Atlantic Ocean, a friend of mine observed that I seemed quite relaxed and asked me if I was afraid. When I told him that I felt more excited than afraid, he shared something with me that I will never forget. He said, “Paul, being brave or courageous has nothing to do with not being afraid but everything to do with how you face your fear”. As it turned out, the bit of fear that I did have was actually a very useful emotion to embrace. It kept me on edge and very careful while out on the open ocean, It ensured I always maintained a healthy respect for the power of mother nature and what she could do to me at any given moment. It was simply an emotional reminder that I cared about what I was doing.
We can often see the end results and rightly admire great feats that people accomplish. The silver medals won by the O’Donovan Brothers and Annalise Murphy. The successful business owner who started out with nothing. The actor or musician who creates great work and receives many accolades. But what we don’t see, and in many cases cannot see, are those first few brave steps into the unknown. This is where the great seeds of success are sown.
Our attitudes to the unknown, or being out of our comfort zone, are as revealing about who we are and where we are in our lives, as they are about what we might be facing. Whether it’s a personal, professional or business challenge you are faced with that requires a shift and some steps into the unknown, consider this simple question – what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Take some time to consider how the answer to this question feels and also what first steps you can take to make this happen.
Life is short and none of us know how long we have on this earth. There will never be a perfect time to take that first step into the unknown. We can of course come up with all sorts of reasons about why now is not the right time. We don’t need to make rash decisions and of course some smart planning will be needed around making that shift or change of direction. But a moment will arrive when all the planning or reasoning in the world is irrelevant and a leap into the unknown must be taken. I’ve taken many of these in my life so far and one thing I have learned is that they’re never as scary as they first seem.
I think Christopher Columbus put it best – “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to loose sight of the shore”. Whatever “ocean” it is that you are contemplating crossing, your ability to manage your emotions will have a huge impact on losing sight of the shore, sustaining high performance and also enjoying the journey.
Building daily practices to better manage emotional energy and resilience levels do not need to be complicated or require huge resources. They are simple things done regularly that over time lead to great outcomes and experiences.