By Aine O’Neill, Toastmasters International
Do you have times when you feel frustrated and regret not taking up an opportunity that came your way?
If so, it’s good to remind yourself of the song sung so memorably by Whitney Houston:
Give me one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me
And then remember a time when you have grasped an opportunity. A time when you have used your talents and showed the inner potential that you have – perhaps surprising yourself as well as others.
For myself, I have a few examples that spring to mind. During rehearsals for a school play, a key cast member pulled out unexpectedly and I was asked to take her place. It was the day before the first performance in front of the entire school, so I had very little time to learn my lines and practice the solo I would be singing. I took on the challenge. You can imagine how I felt when it all went well and that despite the pressure, I managed to enjoy the experience.
The teachers were astounded that someone whom they perceived to be quiet and timid could do anything of the sort. It happened again, several years later, when I landed smoothly on solid ground following a paraglide in the Austrian Alps. And yet again, when against the odds I won a karaoke competition at work.
Different people said exactly the same thing to me after each of these events;
I had no idea you had it in you!
Being brave enough to reveal our talents
What struck me is that I did know I had it in me. The challenge I had been presented with had reached inside and pulled my ability out for everyone to see. The surprise that was expressed got me thinking that so many of us could tragically go through life without showing our inner talents simply because they either haven’t had the chance to shine through or weren’t brave enough to reveal them to the world.
Why is this? The issue is that when judging others, we ask ourselves if they fit our version of normality, do they speak, act, dress, and behave as we think they should? We make a split-second decision and categorize them accordingly. This judgment is mirrored onto our peers and consequently, our version of ourselves is made up of a mix of who we think we are and who others think we are. This can lead to us limiting what we put out to the world.
To have any chance at changing this perception and tapping into our inner potential we need two things: opportunity and bravery.
The first, opportunity, comes from an external source. By their very nature opportunities present themselves unexpectantly. We may, therefore, be caught on the hop or feel unprepared to take them on. The window to seize the opportunity could pass us leaving us with feelings of regret and frustration that we didn’t have the gumption to take the plunge.
The big obstacle most people face when deciding to take up an opportunity is self-doubt. So how can you overcome this and allow your true potential to come to the fore? The solution lies in garnering inner strength so that you do take action and go for it. This is the second ingredient in the equation.
An emotional pattern
To this end, it is worth remembering that our feelings can trace a pattern during the precious moments Whitney Houston sang so beautifully about. When an opportunity tickles your fancy hope and enthusiasm will be the frontrunners. Self-doubt, however, is never far behind. It can act as poison ivy in your head, stifling any courage that was beginning to surface. It may help to compare these feelings to the first flight of a fledgling bird. Having mustered the strength to take off they then dip sharply. However, they quickly learn to glide and eventually begin to soar. What is vital during these times is to hold your nerve and get over this pattern of feelings.
Rather than shying away from the opportunities that are presented to us, there are steps you can take to help you to push through:
- Be brave enough to give the opportunity a go. You are going to learn something even if it doesn’t turn out quite as planned. You’ll feel better for trying, and others will admire your courage.
- Visualise a successful outcome. Think of the benefits that this event or project will lead to. How will your self-perception change? How will your self-image improve as a result?
- Ask yourself, “Is it fear of failure or fear of success that is really playing on my mind?” Are you comfortable in your self-image no matter how limiting it is?
- Get a notebook and record how you’re feeling during the initial period of a new project or role. You’ll notice the pattern described above; the emergence of self-doubt and uneasiness, which gradually gives way to a more familiar experience. This can support you as you launch into future opportunities.
- Build on any positive experiences you have had, no matter how small they may be. Write down how you got to grips with those tasks. Identify any struggles you had and how you overcame them.
- If you feel overwhelmed, break your challenge down into small chunks and work on them, one by one.
- Find out more about a successful person you admire, in sport, in business or elsewhere. Consider any struggles they might have had. Perhaps they have an autobiography that will inspire you.
The more times you take up a challenge and work through your feelings the easier this becomes. We learn from experience and the poison ivy of self-doubt dies down as we act, and demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we can succeed. Whether you are taking on a new project or starting a business the inner strength you are developing will power you to success.
Aine O’Neill is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings, and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.