During NASA’s glory years in the 1960s, they faced every employer’s enviable position: How to hire the most suitable candidates for their space program amidst a sea of applicants, all of whom had stellar transcripts and above average IQ scores. It was both the dawn of space exploration and the genesis of a new way to assess potential job applicants. Instead of focusing on academic credentials, NASA began awarding coveted positions in the space agency based on applicants' ability to demonstrate how they not only succeeded but also had failed successfully, thus building on mistakes and taking valuable lessons from initial setbacks.
As I contemplate a possible career change and all of the inevitable anxiety and self-doubt that’s part and parcel of such a move, I’m beginning to map out what the next chapter of my life should look like. Friends and family are asking me “what I want to do”, but I believe I will get more clarity by asking myself “what I don’t want to do". What holds me back, and keeps me from making a leap of faith into a new direction, a new career, is the shame associated with potential failure. I think I’ve finally reached the point now where the precipice has become a place filled with excitement instead of dread. The best advice I can take forward is to remember the bold hiring practices adopted by NASA in the 1960s. Any life change, be it subtle or monumental, is encased in a cloak of discomfort. The mind shift for me to grow will require I remember the words of Randy Nelson, former Dean of Pixar University: “Success is not about failure avoidance, but about error recovery.”
During the past four months, I’ve been compiling what I refer to as my “Declaration of Personal Growth”, and so far, this is what it looks like.
Personal growth happens at the edge of discomfort.
I love to exist in my comfort zone, where everything is safe, predictable, and emotionally cozy. There is nothing wrong with routine, dependability, and proficiency, but I’ve chosen to reside in it far too long. If you watch children at play, you see they are happiest when they are taking risks and discovering. Now that I’m starting to come to peace with some trauma from my childhood, I feel it’s time to break out of my protective shell and explore the life I want to live.
Currency is not only money. It’s time. It’s integrity. It’s joy.
I spend a lot of my time comparing myself to others, and this is not a healthy way to live. By comparing myself to you, I’m left with only two feelings: superiority or inferiority. Money is at the root of much of this comparison, so as I consider a new direction in my career, I want to remind myself that “currency is not only money.” I want to assign significant value to “time” to do the things that make me feel good in life, “integrity” so that I can feel I’m making a difference in this life, and “joy” that ultimately nourishes me and those around me.
The opposite of my truth is also true.
I’ve always been a “black or white” kind of guy. Those who know me well, will attest that with me, you’re either “in” or you’re “out”. I either do something to extremes, or I don’t do it at all. Today I’m actively trying to open my mind to other ways of thinking and doing. Buddhist teachings describe this as “the opposite of my truth is also true.” During the past month, I’ve been avoiding the mainstream media, particularly the news, and this has afforded me the opportunity to rewire my thinking to now incorporate other global and individual perspectives. It’s like arriving at a buffet and choosing to sample lots of varying cuisines. So far, it’s been nothing short of liberating.
Choose to live a bigger life.
In a previous post, I wrote about anxiety and how we often confuse it with fear. I need to stop worrying about “Why?” and begin focussing on “Why not?”. From now on, the first thing that will enter my head every day is the mantra “Choose to live a bigger life” and the last thought before I close my eyes at night will be “Gratitude” for the opportunity to learn from my mistakes.