A New Years Eve K.I.S.S: 4 Questions (and Ruminations on Fear, Failure & Spiritual Warriorship)

"We must face the fact that fear is lurking in our lives, always, in everything that we do. On the other hand, acknowledging fear is not a cause for depression or discouragement. Because we possess such fear, we are also potentially entitled to experience fearlessness. True fearlessness is not the reduction of fear, but going beyond fear." —Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (my favorite book of the year, a translation of a speech from Buddhist spiritual leader Chögyam Trungpa in 1978)

How are you feeling on this last day of the year? Joyful? Sad? Confused? Jealous? Hurt? Excited? Grateful? Optimistic? A little bit of all of the above?

Do the round-up posts trumpeting successes and travels (of which I am guilty) make you want to hide under the covers or throw rocks at the Internet?

If so, you might be in the belly of the change beast: your confidence may have taken a hit as you try to clear the fog around your own future.

Surely, this is a noble task, even if it feels futile at times. With the best of intentions people ask with cheer, “What do YOU want for 2014? What is your VISION? What are your GOALS?”

What if you aren't sure?

I’m with Danielle LaPorte on this: I much prefer to focus on her moniker of Core Desired Feelings. Even if you don’t yet know exactly where you want to end up, how do you want to feel as you journey forward? My core desired feelings hover around connection, love, impact, equanimity, and gratitude.

4 K.I.S.S. Questions

I know how disconcerting it can feel when The Fog sets in — when you ache for something more yet don’t quite know what it is, or how to find it. I liken it to my hometown of San Francisco on one of its classic foggy days: you know the buildings are in there, but you can’t see a thing from your current vantage point. It can be maddening.

So let’s Keep It Simple (I’m going to go with Sexy instead of Stupid) . . .

I ask you four questions as you enter the new year:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What isn’t?
  3. What’s your definition of failure? Of success?
  4. What will you regret not trying?

Here's how I grapple with all four as I reflect on 2013 and the year ahead . . .

The Change Beast

"Going beyond fear begins when we examine our fear: our anxiety, nervousness, concern, and restlessness. if we look into our fear, if we look beneath its veneer, the first thing we find is sadness, beneath the nervousness. Nervousness is cranking up, vibrating, all the time.

When we slow down, when we relax with our fear, we find sadness, which is calm and gentle. Sadness hits you in your heart, and your body produces a tear...and you feel sad and lonely, and perhaps romantic at the same time. That is the first tip of fearlessness, and the first sign of real warriorship." —Shambala

The irony of change is that it is constant and unrelenting, and yet we resist it so! Such is the human condition, and coming to a place of acceptance and agility around change can be, for many of us, the work of a lifetime.

If there is one thing I’ve learned this year, its that change is uncomfortable, confusing, gremlin-rousing and . . . it’s living. And that the love of friends and family can be a lifevest not to be taken for granted. I have been humbled countless times by grace and unconditional love from many precious relationships this year.

In 2013 I often felt like a toddler learning to walk again in my own life, trying on new values, habits, principles and ways of being. It was marked as much by raw, vulnerable sadness as it was by clarity and happiness. I asked for Alignment (my word for 2013) and I got many universe-led chiropractic shifts of cracking things uncomfortably into place.

At a certain point, I gave up on the quest to feel happy and just asked for a basic sense of peace and equanimity instead. I can’t say I always found it, but I did my best. Toward the end of the year I adopted the motto, “I give in.” Not “I give up,” but I give in (my SPRIL Elisa describes this beautifully in her post on Surrender).

I give in to the change, the questions, the uncertainty, the confusion, the fog. I give in to my attachments, my imperfections, my aspirations, my longing, my wounds, my insecurities and to the spinning around it all.

I give in to the age-old blessing and curse of a creative mind: a calling to voice the truths of human experience, but a mind that can quickly become too depressive, analytical, perfectionistic and sensitive for its own good.

Stop the self-lashing

One of the blog posts that stopped me in my tracks this year was from my friend Kelly, who was describing her preparations for a big new product launch:

"But there’s a big problem. I’m doing all this while being verbally abused.

Even more upsetting: I am the one giving out the lashes. 

I know I’m not alone here. For most of us, this is how our brains function whenever we leap. We begin a new job, start a big task, or commit to a new relationship, or move to a different place… and our brains (or, in yoga-speak, our “egos”) go wild with unhelpful, fear-based thinking.

It’s up to each of us to vet the vile, unhelpful noise and, instead, tune our senses to what’s supportive. Starting any new venture is hard enough, but it’s 1000% harder when you’re being bullied… and bullying keeps you small, which is exactly the opposite of your whole purpose for being here.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying it. I’m countering every bullying lie with a bolstering truth. I’m not staying small. I’m going for purpose." —Kelly Newsome

Kelly nailed it. Even just days ago I caught myself in the act of lashing myself for lashing myself! There you go again, over-analyzing things. Fucking things up. Making yourself miserable. OUCH. I'm working on spotting those lashings sooner and letting them go (more on that below).

Honor Your Fears  without Becoming Slave to Them

When I set out on my own in 2011, I wrote a blog post that outlined my core fears around leaving Google to work for myself (Free Agent Part Two: On Big Decisions and Very Real Fears).

When I look back on 2013, I can almost laugh about the fact that many came true, along with a new batch of Blindside Fears — ones I didn’t even see coming.

Don’t you sometimes wonder if fears are actually premonitions?

Things that, deep down in our subconscious, we know are the lessons that have been hand-picked by a firm-but-fickle universe to help us grow in those exact areas?

As a business and career coach, I don’t insult my clients by pretending their fears aren’t real, or that they can move past them with simple affirmations and positive thinking. When they tell me their fears, after experiencing my own year of wading knee-deep in them I now reply with, “Yep. Those things might happen. But will that stop you?”

And I genuinely mean it: Will those worst case scenarios stop you?

If so, that’s okay — we need to come up with a new game-plan that allows you to side-step that paralysis. While many of us know when it’s time to leave the comfort zone, there’s a fine line between leaving the Stretch zone for the Panic zone. 

Many of my coaching clients are on the cusp of a big career change — either moving within a company or industry, quitting their job to start their own venture, or pivoting their small business in some way. And in many of our early conversations, before The Big Change is a sure thing, the word failure comes up: "I want to do XYZ, but I’m afraid to fail. What if I’m not cut out for this?"

To that I ask: What is your definition of failure?

I don’t mean this in a Polyanna sense — as a loaded question for you to reply, “There is no such thing!” Because fear of failure is real. But what does failure actually mean to you?

Flip Fear of Failure with Regret Minimization

Oftentimes when I dig deeper with entrepreneurs who say they are afraid to fail (lose money, have to find steady work again even if they don’t love it) their true definition of failure is complacency or regret. 

That’s certainly mine. I could wipe every penny from my savings account (and I did to get my new NYC apartment — damn that 3-month security deposit for being self-employed!) and still not feel like a failure. For me, failure is not trying. 

Jeff Bezos called upon his Regret Minimization Framework to launch Amazon.com:

“I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘OK, I’m looking back on my life. I want to minimize the number of regrets I have.’ And I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day.

In 2012, my kick-off post for the new year at Life After College asked the question, What ONE THING will you regret not doing this year?

A Quiet and Creative Countdown

Not one for overpriced bars, I’m spending New Years Eve tonight with my dear friend Monica, reflecting on my the questions above, working on creative projects and career brainstorming. I will spend time giving thanks to all of the amazing people in my life. Tomorrow I will write, walk through the city, and take a yoga class. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

I'm setting the grand vision-setting aside this New Years Eve and leaning in to my life just as it is right now: accepting all my flaws, fears and failures, and doing it with a sense of honesty,  humility and compassion.

I'll end this post the way it started, with one final bit of Shambhala wisdom that I will be taking with me into the new year:

"The key to warriorship and the first principle of Shambhala vision is not being afraid of who you are. Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery: not being afraid of yourself. Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world's greatest problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time."

My wish for all of us in 2014 is to embrace the mess and strive to do just one brave thing each day. To have the courage to be ourselves, and to find the place beyond fear as we take risks big and small to do our best work in the world.

With love and gratitude for all of you,