Vision trumps self-doubt
The clatter of the dice rolling across the Monopoly board fills me with exhilaration.
I loved playing Monopoly — rolling the dice for opportunity, collecting groups of two or three coloured cards, strategizing, negotiating with my siblings, collecting “huge sums” of rent, owning the board.
And to make it even more profound, when I was 10, I saw my first real estate sign while in the big city. My initials, MLS, were on that sign. I inhaled the beginnings of a dream.
When I was 24, I thought it would be interesting if my first sales job was selling commercial real estate.
I took a slow, thoughtful drive through an industrial park. I liked the thought of leasing and selling warehouses. I don’t know why; the small town I grew up in didn’t even have warehouses.
I compiled a list of businesses I thought I should call, and decided to make 20 calls a day.
That seemed like a plan.
What I hadn’t counted on was the paralysis that struck me, from my guts to my dialling fingers. My fingers were as rigid as the pen I would struggle to write with if I ever talked to a real person, a potential client.
If I never talked to people, how would I ever sell or lease a warehouse? I didn’t see any other way.
I cut myself some slack. My first call, every day, was to a friend — someone who would go for lunch with me. That way, if I lived till lunch, if I survived making the other 19 calls, I had something to look forward to.
Every morning, I sat at my desk, took deep breaths, and talked to myself: — “I can do this. I can; I’m just not sure I want to.”
I imagined the consequence of not making the calls truly dire.
I looked at my right hand. “Make the call, make progress.”
I looked at my left hand. “Don’t make the call, starve to death.”
OK. OK. I made the call.
And I called every morning for three months. My afternoons filled up with appointments. Appointments became clients. Clients who wanted to lease or buy warehouses.
I have never forgotten the fear, the terror of starting something new. New and big, at least to my 24-year-old eyes.
Fast forward to the discomfort and the questions that come with being a leader wanting to build a tribe.
- What if my ideas don’t work?
- How much can I challenge the norm and not fall off the cliff?
- What if my peers criticize me and my ideas? Are they right? Am I just a dreamer?
- But what if I settle? What if I do nothing?
That last thought feels like a frozen Twizzler licorice worming its way through my body.
According to Seth Godin in his book, Tribes, a lack of faith holds us back, “…Faith that you can do it. Faith that it is worth doing. Faith that failure won’t destroy you.”
The faith we need to be leaders, to move as leaders, comes from developing a future we want to see, a future we want to share with our tribe. The faith will free us to do difficult things.
When running into obstacles, that faith will give us the strength to overcome them — to stride by them or push them aside.
We see the vision of our future hovering just above our horizon. We are living it and sharing it with our people.
- Is it the vision of the future that keeps the faith that we can do it?
- Or is it the faith that inspires the vision of the future?
- Or the ebb and flow between these two states of mind?
As I reflected on the faith, the vision required to go “where no (wo)man has gone before,” I wondered how I did it.
This is what I recall:
I took lots of deep breaths. I would breathe into the belief that I could (and would) do whatever it took.
I was careful with my self-talk. If something was particularly difficult, I would tell myself I only needed to do it for another half-hour, till noon, for the next 90 days. I would allow myself to pretend the difficult tasks were of a short duration.
I used this same technique when running. I don’t need to run 10k — I only need to run to the next power pole. And the next. And the next.
When something stopped me cold, I would imagine I was Robert Frost about to choose a “road less travelled” and I would envision an even more exciting journey — and all the options this new direction provided. “This or something better.”
I made a date with myself every Friday afternoon at 2. I created a spreadsheet with all the variables that would make me advance my cause, move closer to my vision for the future.
I didn’t allow any hiding places. And the places where I did not do so well — they went to the top of the list for the next week.
Being accountable to myself was far more powerful than being accountable to anyone else.
As I have matured, I have discovered the power of working toward a bigger purpose. Involving others in a bigger dream creates synergy and momentum. My dream helps them achieve their dreams.
“You know how they always say that things will work out for the best in the end? Well, if they are not working out for you right now, it means you are not at the end yet.”
The hours spent playing Monopoly as a kid were lessons that served me in my journey as a leader.
When I could not get Boardwalk or Park Place, I would own all the Railroads and do just fine. The vision stayed the same — only the journey changed. And that was perfect.