“I was thinking the same thing,” Brenda said several times during our conversation.
Our chat was about the chaos in her life and how she could make a difference in her world. We were standing at the front of a bookstore where I was signing books.
As Brenda and I talked, it became apparent that she knew that she had more to contribute than anyone in her life believed. She knew it but didn’t know what to do about it.
Brenda was not taking initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters because the people in her life, the ones who love and care about her, could not see her potential.
This situation is not unique to Brenda. It is a common attitude to see people not as they are but rather as we want them to be. Many of the people with whom I’ve talked about being persons of impact are living in a context where other people’s perception have them shackled to a negative self-image. When this happens, we are not clear about who we are. Consequently, we lack the confidence to step forward and take the initiative to make a difference that matters.
This is one reason why many people never find fulfillment in their lives?
There is another reason why people don’t take initiative emerges that comes as a result of the above.
One of the great obstacles to being a person of impact is fear.
Fear of what?
There are all kinds of different fears.
There is the fear of failure.
There is the fear of humiliation.
There is the fear of the validation of other people’s low opinion of us.
There is the fear of venturing into the unknown, of leaving the safety and comfort of the known, even if it is unfulfilling, to test ourselves in an unfamiliar situation with no guarantees of success?
Over the years, much has been written about fear. Having well-developed thoughts about it matters little if you are unable to face your fears.
There are two sides to fear.
There is the alert to a danger that is before us … watch out! This is a healthy fear.
There is the feeling of insecurity that blocks out motivation to take action. This is an unhealthy fear.
We should pay attention to the first kind, and, work to eradicate the second kind.
To face our fears, we need to apply the three dimensions of the Circle of Impact.
Clarity of Purpose Cancels Out Fear
The expectations of others trap Brenda. She has no defined purpose for her life except to please her family. She is always accommodating herself to their expectations.
There are circumstances where this is healthy and normal. When accommodation is a mutual form of sharing and collaboration, it functions in a healthy family or workplace.
Unfortunately, I often see that this is not what many people experience.
Respect and Trust in Relationships Cancels Out Fear
Brenda was afraid to disappoint her family. She didn’t want to be humiliated by them. She has limited freedom to be herself.
Respect and trust are missing in her family. There is a consistent yet subtle, struggle for control. Brenda’s personality makes her naturally accommodating. She would flourish in a setting of respect and trust. Instead, she is trapped by fear, which is blocking her freedom to take initiative.
Respect and trust must be mutually shared. This is true, whether between spouses or in the workplace. The basis for respect and trust is honesty, humility, transparency, and a mutual belief in one another. Where this is missing, the impact can be fear with the realization that our life is not fulfilling its potential.
Freedom to Initiate Cancels Out Fear
In my conversation with Brenda, I talked with her about the things she knows how to do that are not dependent on others. We were able to identify some areas where she could begin to develop some independence, out of which, a clearer sense of purpose could emerge. We spoke about jobs she could do or volunteer work where her gifts and skills could be utilized.
Here is where taking small steps of initiative gives us time to slowly develop a change in our self-perception. For each initiative we take we learn more about ourselves as we are, not as others tell us we are.
Why Are You Waiting?
There is a pattern that I see in human behavior that is also revealed in Brenda’s story.
It manifests itself in waiting. Maybe it is waiting for the right time, waiting for permission, waiting until I feel comfortable or waiting until I have covered every possible contingency. The reality is that we can never be certain that we have ever reached a point of absolute readiness. At some point, we have to step out and take the initiative that we believe will make the difference that matters.
Maybe what holds us back is fear or the opinions of others. Or, it quite possibly could be that we don’t know why we should act.
For Brenda, as well as for the rest of us, we need to have a purpose for our life. We don’t need something vague and sentimental. We need something clear and action-oriented. We need to see how we can take initiative to create an impact that matters.
In my conversation with Brenda, we were able to identify a project connected to her extended family on the other side of the country, which she could begin to work on. The project matched the skills that she had already described as giving her a sense of value and independence.
Why are you waiting to do something that matters? Your initiative doesn’t have to change the world. It just has to change one little thing that matters. It may only bring a smile to a person’s face. Or your action creates some order in a space that has filled with disorder. All it takes is taking one step at a time. Consistently, day after day, learning as you go along.
The Circle of Impact is a model for how we become persons of impact. It is described in my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change, which is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and from independent bookstores everywhere.