The Fear of Pushing Ourselves

Jim Collins is probably best known for his Good to Great book, but I remember seeing a video of him speaking years ago talking about career development. He drew a classic three-circle venn diagram. Two of the circles were "what you love to do" and "what people will pay you to do." Obviously you want a job that is in the overlap of those two circles. He's not a believer in the "do what you love and the money will follow" school (direct quote of Collins from the video: "I love to listen to Brahms, but nobody is going to pay me to listen to Brahms all day!"). Still, he assumes there is some overlap of those two circles and that's where you should look.

But he adds a third circle, titled "what you were genetically programmed to do." There are things that you can't help being good at, he argues, because it's built into you. His example was a group of students in his math classes in college who finished the exams in half the time. Collins did well on the exams, but he had to work really hard at it, as opposed to the others who seemed to have a genetic predisposition to it. 

Brian Birch has a post on Acronym that seems to be getting at the same point, though he frames it as what you were "born to do," citing the example of his father's innate ability and enjoyment of bargaining. He then challenges all of us to evaluate whether we are doing what we were born to do:

If we are all so busy doing so many things, I wonder if we are taking the time to make sure that all of us are a good fit for the work we are doing, and that we excel at it. There has to be a better way to manage ourselves and highlight the strengths in all of us. There is nothing challenging about being too busy or wearing a bunch of silly hats. Let's stop that charade and find our core purpose, challenge ourselves, and grow.

I love that line: "there is nothing challenging about being too busy." But I think we choose that path frequently, because our society values busy, our bosses often value busy, and it gives us the excuse of not having enough time to really focus on what we are doing.

And underlying all of that, if you ask me, is fear. The reason we don't "stop that charade" and deal with things like core purpose, challenging ourselves, and growth in our work environment is because we are afraid. We are afraid it might mean changing jobs, or acknowledging that we're not good at something, or that maybe we over-promised in our job interview. Or whatever. We are afraid, and one of fear's most destructive outputs is inaction. 

KiKi L'Italien at DelCor interviewed me yesterday about emotional intelligence, and one of my main points was that much of EI is about managing your own emotions internally (as opposed to expressing emotions properly). A good one to tackle is your fear. Hit it head on and develop strategies for acting, even when you are afraid. Find ways to identify what you were born to do (or what your employees were born to do) and make changes in the workplace that support you and others doing just that. But working through your fear will probably be the first step.



  1. 14.01.2011 at 9:08 am

    Great post! As a small association executive, I had to learn (fail and try again) that I wasn’t good at everything, and that the smart path was to contract with people to do the things I am not good at. And big piece of getting there was the fear of not being perfect for my board. But the reality is they hired me for my strengths, and they want me focused in those areas.

  2. 18.01.2011 at 7:29 am

    Thanks Jamie for the nod and mention, I agree 100% with your post, well said. The EI question is a good one; I think the folks who struggle with it the most probably don’t know that they are struggling…I think many people struggle with not just managing their emotions internally (as discussed above), but expressing their isn’t a matter of not feeling the emotion (and there are people out there who on the surface don’t seem to feel many emotions), its a matter of reading the emotions of others, understanding those emotions as much as possible,and then communicating/reflecting an emotion, coupled with thought, back to them that conveys ‘I’m with you’…I do think its some biology and some culture mixing with many of these folks, but I do think the fear of sharing ones inner emotions, and fear of seeing emotion from others, plays a role…vulnerability is a strong leadership characteristic, but its also one of the most difficult to embrace, and be embraced by others… If you are grimacing as you read this, then I’m talking about you…let me know your thoughts on this!