One to Grow On: “It Might Have Been”

7-6 One to Grow On

Growth entails taking risks, with the degree of risk ranging from taking us slightly out of our comfort zone to significant financial, emotional, and perhaps even physical risk. The thought of facing the consequences of taking risk is simply too much for some to bear, so they protect themselves by not taking risks. In a way, it is like protecting yourself by staying close to home and not venturing out because you feel safer. That is, until you learn that over 50 percent of auto accidents occur within five miles of home and seven million disabling accidents occur within the home each year. So much for playing it safe.

“I Couldn’t Do That” and Other Lies

One of the most effective tactics for risk avoidance is to simply not let risk into your life. In other words, just play it safe and you will not fail or get hurt. For most of my life, I excelled at risk avoidance. Then, the tide turned in 1994. While taking classes toward an MBA degree, I  admired the work of some of my professors and got the idea for the next step in my career: Earn a PhD and become a college professor. I went to the library to look at catalogs of different universities to learn more about what it would take to become a PhD. My heart sank as I gathered the information. To complete a PhD program, I would have to do the following:

  • Complete two years of course work (“That would probably be very hard- I don’t know if I could do that”)
  • Pass a written comprehensive exam (“That, too would be very hard- I don’t know if I could do that”)
  • Pass an oral comprehensive exam before a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”)
  • Defend a topic for dissertation research and gain approval from a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”)
  • Defend completed dissertation to a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”).

Simply put, if I had listened to the voice calling for risk avoidance, I would not be a college professor today. Thankfully, I persevered over the self-doubt that tried to “protect” me on at least five different occasions… months before I took my first doctoral level class.

You may have never contemplated whether to pursue a graduate degree, but you probably find yourself needing to make a stretch decision occasionally, forced to confront that voice that wants to protect you from failure. You know the voice- it says things like:

  • I’m too old (or too young)
  • I don’t have enough experience
  • Only people with connections get chosen
  • I need to save more money

The voice means well, but in many cases it is lying to you. The decision to avoid risk has a dangerous side effect: Regret. The short-term relief of being spared embarrassment or disappointment may be eclipsed later by sadness and disappointment that you did not reach your potential.

No Regrets

The One to Grow On quote for this week has special significance in my life. It was my mother’s favorite quote. I never knew the source or context for “of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been.” It comes from the poem “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier, and is a timeless message about the regret of not taking action because of risk avoidance. My mother left this world thirty-five years ago, too soon and before I could ask her what regrets of inaction she had. She no longer exists in a  physical presence, but the simple message passed down through Whittier’s quote is vivid in my mind and helped me in 1994 and many times since then..

Don’t be boxed in by limitations imposed in the spirit of avoiding risk. And, we owe it to those around us influenced by our words and actions to pass down Whittier’s lament. In the end, I would prefer to look back and proclaim “how great it was” instead of acknowledging “it might have been.”

Setting Goals to Take You to the Top

Author and speaker Micheal Burt says “everybody needs a coach in life.” For the past 22 years, my coach has been Zig Ziglar. My coach passed away this week at age 86. Zig was a coach to millions of people worldwide. I discovered Zig Ziglar in 1990 when I was struggling to make a career of life insurance sales and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While Zig was known as a motivational speaker he was truly a teacher. His books and seminars were not “pump up” fluff but rather provided a framework for implementing meaningful change and improvement. Zig Ziglar’s influence molded my attitude and determination to accomplish all that I have done professionally.

My tribute to Zig Ziglar will not be some long essay about how he has changed me life, although I could easily do that. Instead, I will share with you one nugget from Zig’s teachings that have relevance to individuals and organizations: the importance of setting goals. As we enter the last month of 2012 and prepare to hit the ground running in January to take on a new year, now is a good time to consider the role setting goals can have in making 2013 successful for you and your organization.

One of Zig Ziglar’s well known quotes on this topic is “a goal properly set is partially achieved.” When we have sound goals, we are on the road to achieving them if for no other reason we understand what it is we are trying to achieve. After all, as Zig asked “how can you hit a target that you do not have?”

To address the “properly set” qualifier when setting goals, assess whether your goals SMAC. Are they:

  • Specific – Stating a goal of “5% increase in sales” is preferred to “increasing sales”
  • Measurable – If a goal is specific it tends to make it measurable so that it can be determined if the goal was attained
  • Achievable – If a goal is unrealistic it can demotivate, not exactly the idea in mind when setting goals
  • Challenging – In addition to giving direction, goals should force people and organizations to “stretch” in order to grow. Even if a goal is not attained, the process of pursuing it should result in improvement.

I was saddened to learn of Zig’s passing this week, but I take comfort in two things. One, his impact will be felt for a long time beyond his 86 years on earth. Two, while he is no longer serving us with his gifts he has moved on to take a seat in the “sales meeting for the ages,” a reward he spent most of his life earning. See you at the top, Mr. Ziglar.