Fred DeVito said “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
There was a time when I didn’t consider these words or understand just how true they really were. I didn’t think that I needed to change myself and remained safe and secure inside my comfort zone. Safe and secure inside the little secluded world where new people seldom entered and only a selected few were allowed to know the real me. I could be myself within this limited group but outside of it I was painfully shy. It didn’t matter though, because there hadn’t been a need to leave this safe domain. That all changed when an opportunity was placed in my path.
A position of leadership within my field was up for grabs and I knew my job like the back of my hand, I could do it with my eyes closed and I did it whilst striving for perfection. But to lead a team? Sure I had subject knowledge and experience, but leading was something different entirely. Well that would mean public speaking, and delegating tasks! The doormat faction (see When is Enough, Enough?) did not delegate tasks! We were the ones who had them delegated upon, often taking on more than our fair share and doing so without complaint. Despite this, I knew an opportunity when I saw it and the perfectionist in me had me wanting to not only take on the role, but to take it on and do it well. The prospect of being a leader and chairing meetings scared me, but the question I asked myself was whether I would be happy for someone else to take on the role, knowing that they would be doing it just for the money, knowing that I was probably the most hardworking in the team, knowing that my passion and zeal had not been dampened by all the bureaucracy and knowing how much I dreamt of making a difference in people’s lives. I took the plunge.
It has been a learning curve. I remember looking at how eloquently my peers were able to speak and I was in complete awe of that. I compared myself to others, ever-conscious of the way I fumbled my words, made mistakes and missed things completely. Standing up and speaking to an audience, many of whom were older than me, made me hot, made me nervous and made my hands clammy. The majority of people were polite and respectful, but there were a few who just did not complete tasks on time, if at all. I uncomfortably approached them with kind reminders and typed up polite requests to be continuously met with the usual excuses. I questioned my leadership abilities as I sat there madly typing away at the eleventh hour, submitting the work that they had repeatedly been asked to do. Yes it was madness, but after self reflection I realised that I didn’t do it for them, and their not being able to commit to deadlines was not a deficiency within myself, but it was the strength and the leader within me that was prepared to go above and beyond my duty to ensure the smooth running of the department that I believed in.
I realised that in order to become an effective leader, I required more than the universal characteristics which make a person ‘good,’ and the best way for me to gain them was to fake it. Confidence and assertiveness were not things I possessed, but I faked them. I faked all day long until I no longer had to, because I started believing in myself. I realised why my peers were able to deliver professional development workshops so articulately. It was because they believed in themselves and in the message they were conveying. How passionately we are able to speak about the things we love and the things we believe in! I learned that when faced with the task of presenting a seminar which rather than send people to sleep, ignited sparks of passion among the audience, I had to become passionate about it myself. Leaders lead by example.
Through this personal challenge, I have learnt a lot. I am still learning. And it is humbling. I have changed and found myself doing things that I previously wouldn’t even have dreamed of. I realised that my previous outlook was only limiting who I was and all that I can strive to be. By remaining in my comfort zone I was preventing myself from discovering all of me and from being the best version of me. The change has been good, and I actually prefer the new me that is emerging with each new challenge. I don’t know what lies ahead of me, I have big ideas and even bigger dreams. Perhaps I will not change the world, but if the opportunity for me to do so arises, I’m up for that challenge!
“If you don’t challenge yourself, you will never realise what you can become.”
Go on, challenge yourself.