I am a swimmer. I’m pretty fast, usually the fastest in the pool during the slower midday hours but I always swim in the medium lane. Why? Because life in the fast lane is actually fairly slow, in fact, everyone is swimming at a much slower pace than me.
I began to examine this a little more and realised that, generally, men swim in the fast lane and women swim in the medium lane but the medium lane swimmers are faster than the fast lane swimmers! I’ve come to the conclusion that on the whole, men are often much more confident in their abilities than women and are more willing to assert what they see as their rightful place in the fast lane. And rather than go toe to toe with them, women will retreat to the medium lane where it’s safer and more familiar.
We can use this as a metaphor for what happens outside the pool too. Men are raised to put their hand up, step forward, take on the challenge, even when they aren’t qualified or experienced enough to do it. But women don’t behave like this. We wait until we are picked, asked, or are certain we are really ready before we put ourselves out there. And this lack of confidence holds us back.
We need to stop playing it safe and start playing big – just like the boys!
Believe you can do it
One unhelpful thinking style that many of us have is the tendency to amplify the importance of other people’s opinions and minimise our own. We assume that others must know better and we diminish the knowledge, experience and intuition that informs our own opinions. It is valuable to incorporate other people’s ideas and feedback but the motivation to try something new should come from within.
The best way to find inspiration is to write a diary, take notes or document your ideas. You might not think you have anything interesting to say, but most changes occur after you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and come up with a plan.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Imagining the worst case scenario serves two purposes; firstly, when you actually consider the worst possible outcome from your actions it is rarely as scary as you think it will be. Secondly if you know the worst case scenario you can better plan for it which will help alleviate much of the anxiety around it. It’s not about being less afraid, it’s about doing it anyway. Swimming in the fast lane is hardly going to kill you and if one of those annoyingly self-assured men swim up your bum, give him a swift kick to the Speedos. Seriously though, you don’t need to beat men at their own game, you need to redefine the rules of the game to include women. Use your emotional intelligence and compassion, especially your self-compassion, to dive in the deep end.
Tame your inner critic
We all have an inner critic; that part of ourselves that keeps reminding us that we are not smart, strong, brave or talented enough to fulfil our dreams. How many times have you said to yourself you’re not ready to do something or you don’t think you’re good enough? Simply trying to ignore your inner critic will not help. According to Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big, you need to tame it:
“So here’s the thing: we do need to respond to the critic, but not by meeting it with its language. Just notice the critic, as an observer, and name it. “Oh, hey, that’s my inner critic talking.” Kindly say, “Thanks so much for your input! But I’ve got this one covered! You can relax.”Or get out of mental dialogue entirely. Get into action. Connect. Start doing the thing it’s chattering about. Respond by remembering that this is the same stuff your critic has been saying to you for years, that it has yet to be proven true, and that today, like every day is your opportunity to prove it false.”
Failure is an opportunity to learn
One of the barriers to taking risks is our need for achievement and this is particularly true for perfectionists. We do not want to do something if we don’t think it will be a success. But what would happen if you redefined success on your own terms? Instead of approaching your goals with a focus on achievement you could approach them with a growth or curious mindset; “I wonder what would happen if I did that?” or “I would love to know more about graphic design at the end of this project”. Define your own success based on your values rather than on what you believe to be society’s expectations.
Another way to look at it is that in competition sport and job interviews and various other pursuits in life, there can only be one winner, which means that there’s an awful lot of “losers” or people who miss out. It’s good to keep this in perspective so that you don’t think you’re the only one who’s suffered defeat. The more you trust your instincts, your experience and knowledge, the less likely you’ll find yourself worrying about failure or what other people think.
Be inspired by others
Look to other women who have taken risks and who inspire you. These aren’t beautiful celebrities or successful entrepreneurs, they’re your mum, who raised three kids on a single income or your neighbour who’s been through a lot but continues to have a positive outlook on life. Actively listen, take notes and ask questions. What worked for these women and what didn’t? What do they do when they hit an obstacle or have a bad day? How do they manage emotions such as anger, frustration, fear and rejection.
Next time you hit the pool, try out the fast lane for size and tell those boys to eat your bubbles!