Updated in 2014 to add: Welcome, Make It Happen book readers! A note before you read this older post. God has given me much clarity since I wrote this. I don’t believe everything below anymore. There is a lot of truth here, but my faith has grown since this was written. It’s honestly hard for me to read this post because I hear a different me before God got a hold of my heart : )
There are two rules to this post: 1. you need a pen and paper, and 2. put on some great music. Rule number 1 is because this post is interactive. Don’t read any further if you’re not up for the challenge. Rule number 2 is because you only live once. You might as well enjoy it!
In my inbox today: “How do you “make things happen?”. I love what I do and I’m really driven but also really shy and think that is kind of holding me back from really breaking into the industry and building great relationships. Do you have any advice?”
I wrote this post like I talk to myself and, while I could have padded it more, lots of people have been coming to me recently in dire need of “straight talk”. This post is dedicated to my dear friends and clients who have shared their lives and fears with me lately. What is it about the fall? It’s a season of change, reflection, and getting charged for the year ahead. It’s a time for transformation. If you really want to make things happen, you have to ask yourself some hard questions first. While this isn’t the complete formula, here’s a kick-start: it takes 1 part Nike (aka “Just Do It”), 1 part people, 2 parts discipline, 2 parts humility, and 5 parts crazy. Read on, friends.
Fear. The most meaningful things I’ve accomplished in my life were things I was terrified of at one point. Fear can hold us back from making things happen. Right now, you already know the answers. You know not-so-deep down what you have to do. You just have a million excuses and fears as to why you can’t get there. My job as a consultant is to hear the fear. I was a personal trainer in Manhattan for several years, during which time I learned more about self-imposed limitations than I care to share. I have heard every excuse for living an unhappy life and the truth of the matter is (and no one likes to hear this)… it’s all in your head. Face real facts, not the constant mental chatter that holds you back from living the life of success you deserve. When you simply identify your fear, worlds of possibility open up.
Write down what you are really afraid of and get as specific as possible… “I’m afraid of ___ because ___.” Sounds easy, but did you actually do it just now? I have a favorite phrase: feel the fear and do it anyway. That does not mean blindly dive in. Fear does exist for a reason. It makes us question ourselves, weigh the pros and cons, and get connected with our gut instincts. Listen to that; there’s the feel the fear part. Then, accept it as fear, not fact. Act on it strategically, purposefully, and with support. Which brings me to my next point…
People. You are a product of your environment and the people you surround yourself with. This was a big point of discussion in Outliers. Our level of success is directly related to the people we interact with on a daily basis. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” –Jim Rohn I’m sure, as you are reading this, you may be thinking of that one person who sucks your energy dry. How is that affecting you? Why are they in your life? Yes, there are some people we can’t wish away in our lives, but we can surround ourselves with others to balance that out. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, and work hard to inspire them, too. Creating an environment where you can learn and, at the same time, infuse others is the most fulfilling way to grow.
Who are the people you spend your days with and how do they make you feel? Write them down right now. Do not read the rest of this post, do not pass go, and do NOT collect your $200 until you make your “inner circle” list. This may just be your most important step to achieving a “making things happen” breakthrough. This is a step I have been bad at taking in the past. I let those energy leeches stay in my environment for way. too. long. I’m not good at cutting ties with people because I always feel like I can just “make it work”. No, I can’t, and you can’t either. You cannot change people. All you have the power to do is invite people into your inner circle (I use the word “invite” purposefully here because you need to put a lot of thought into crafting this life guest list) who uplift you, share your life’s visions, ideals, and whom you can really trust. Kick the life-suckers to the curb and get on the train with people who dream like and with you. Jeff Holt and I have had this conversation a hundred times over and every time we talk about surrounding ourselves with people we believe in and who believe in us, magic happens.
This is why I have made a great effort to go to conferences and events where I know I will be surrounded by people who I can learn from. The first Engage I attended completely blew my mind. (You can read my last two recaps here and here.) Meeting people like Rebecca Grinnals and Sean Low made me want to raise the bar. I credit them with helping me dream bigger, opening up worlds of opportunity for me, and unknowingly encouraging me with every step. If you can’t invest in going to conferences, get out and meet people where you are. Get on the phone, iChat, whatever it takes to connect with people who dream like you do.
I am a firm believer in the power of counsel. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” Proverbs 12:15 Who do you bounce ideas off of? Who gives you sound advice? My sounding board is about 10 people deep, starting with my husband. We are the yin to each other’s yang. I am innately the active big picture thinker and he’s the logical realist. I have a team of dear friends and paid experts that I trust to tell me when I’m out of line so I can get back on track to making the right things happen. In 2010, I plan on adding a few more people to my team to help take us to the next level. You are not an island. Get help… especially if you think you are one of those people who just doesn’t need it.
Discipline. Making things happen isn’t about setting goals, having a strong cup of coffee and diving in. Back up 20 steps. It’s about giving yourself the ability to make clear, intuitive choices by having your life together. I make my best, most successful decisions when I feel a sense of health, wholeness and clarity. A verse I always think of when I get overwhelmed: “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” 1 Peter 4:1-7. Same goes for all of life – be clear minded and disciplined so that you can make the right things happen. For me, this involves several factors: sleeping enough, eating well, laughing often and working out every day even when I’m tired. If I don’t practice extreme self-care, I am no good for the people around me. I say “extreme” because you have to be a parent to yourself and stay disciplined. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” — 2 Timothy 1:7 What are the 5 essential things that make you feel whole and like you have your life together? Write them down.
Some notes on discipline, drive, and staying up until 6am: For one, the latter should not be in your vocabulary. There are things I twitter and share here because I want you to know what really goes into this. I wouldn’t have to stay up until 6am editing a magazine for a week if I had planned better, had a staff of designers working for me, hadn’t overloaded my schedule with projects I’m passionate about and clients I want to see soar, and (insert million reasons here). I am not the best example when it comes to work balance. I’m working actively on this. I have lots of people helping me work on it. I am generally a very happy healthy person, but when it comes to getting what I really want, I tend to go to extremes. Please refer to the very first post I wrote on this blog.
So, do you have to be innately driven or can you harness that type-A mentality and still make things happen? First of all, define where you fall on the Type-A vs. Type BCDXYZ spectrum. I fall into the former category, unfortunately. Minus that time I got a C in handwriting in 2nd grade, I was always driven. I get it from both of my parents. I grew up with my mom being superwoman in the kitchen and my dad superman in the operating room. They work hard and make it seem effortless. My dad, the man who starts his day by biking 30 miles before sunrise, is 76 and has no plans to retire. A lot to live up to. I went to my first Yale class for summer school when I was 17. I double-majored in college with 56 credit hours a semester. Insanity. I was at school from 8am to 11pm most weekdays and rehearsals on weekends. Every day of college, I’d say to myself “nothing will be as bad as this. When I’m done here, I’ll be able to handle anything!” Well, I can’t handle anything, but I sure can endure a lot of [self-imposed] stress. I was taught to push myself and lived in a world where that was the norm.
Since many of you B, C, and XYZ personalities are now about to leave this blog post in search of greener pastures, I’ll give you the good news. You don’t have to be born with a color-coded to-do list in your hand. Some of the most successful people I know did not grow up with instilled discipline. In fact, quite the contrary. But, one thing is certain. All successful people start with a spark of passion. They discover what makes them tick and will stop at nothing to get it. They develop the ability to make decisions and follow through, even if the result is a major bomb. Living in NC, I think of the Wright brothers. Fail fail fail fail fail fail fail and then finally… success. All because they discovered a passion, made clear decisions, went full force with each, accepted defeat, and tried and tried again. Something we always talk about here in the office: it’s better to make a clear decision about something and fail, then make no decision at all.
Some tough love for the XYZ’s. (I have a few XY#!Q$E#X’s as clients.) My advice to them is always as follows: stop making excuses. I get the laundry list of excuses accompanied with lots of whining and in the end… “buuuut Lara… ok, ok, I know you’re right buuut… I just… I…”. Get over the idea that you just aren’t good enough, you’ll never get caught up, and you’ll never be great. You are, you will and you have the choice to be. If you don’t believe that, first of all, I want to give you a hug, then a swift kick in the pants because you have much more potential than you give yourself credit for. On my bulletin board: “The greatest human temptation is to settle for too little.” – Thomas Merton Are you settling for too little? What excuses do you make on a regular basis? If you need help with this one, be brave and ask your spouse or your best friend to tell you the excuses they hear you make often. Write them down. Time to get real, friends.
Humility. Humility’s purpose in making things happen is to allow us the freedom to fail. It’s about letting go. If you aren’t failing on occasion, you aren’t dreaming big enough. You are hiding from your true potential. I’ve failed more times than I can count. You know why I’m speaking on “Taking Interns to Associates” at Eventology? Because I’ve made every mistake in the book and it has taken years of learning the hard way to get me to the right way. I now have a team of equals that infuses me as much as I infuse them. Granted, I don’t take credit for them being so awesome. Katharine, Emily and Whitney arrived on the awesome train together. But, we’ve made a conscious effort to create an environment that allows us to fail and not fall.
We learn together and communicate honestly and openly about fears, mistakes, money, family, and all the hard stuff I used to hate talking about. We all put in an equal effort to keep the atmosphere positive, encouraging, and honest. We have built trust to the point where I can say, “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. Here’s how I intend to fix and learn from it.” It takes failing gracefully –and sometimes not so gracefully– to start to “get it.” It’s a practice, an awareness, and for me, a life-long journey that I’m excited to take because with every wall I break down, I feel more genuine pride. Healthy pride. Humility is not about being timid. Don’t confuse the two. Practicing true humility means embodying one’s strengths and God-given gifts with grace, allowing for self-reflection, keying into the ability to listen to the feedback the world is giving us, and -here’s the kicker- doing something about it. What are your unique strengths? Write them down. Get specific. For example, I know I am great at motivating and encouraging people. Specifically, I have the ability to see people’s potential and can define active steps for them to get there. It’s important to know what your strengths are when facing failure so the pain of facing it doesn’t paralyze you.
I know when I’m exercising humility, I can feel it. It’s a very silent moment. I’ll get mad about criticism or a comment, start to feel my blood boil and that defensive lawyer emerge in me and I just have to stop. I stop, breathe, and there is a small painful moment of letting go when I pause to consider “maybe they are right and I am dead wrong”. Let yourself at least consider it. Most of the time, the things that anger us the most about others, are a reflection of ourselves. I can’t emphasize enough how much learning how to stop in those moments has helped me in business.
As an INFP (translate that to sensitive person), I like to put up walls to protect myself from the vulnerability that comes with true humility. It gets me nowhere. Anger, I have learned, is a call to action. I can do something about it or continue to ride my high horse in circles. Do you always feel like you are on the defense with clients? Are you going in circles with your progress? If so, it’s time for a reality check. No one is perfect. You are not your thoughts. You are not your fears. You are not defined by past actions and missteps. You are defined by how you express them in this moment and in every moment from hereon out. Practicing humility is just that… it’s a process. Accept that you make mistakes and resolve to fix them, one baby step at a time. You’ll fail a thousand times, but every single failure is worth experiencing if it brings you to greater clarity and renewed genuine confidence.
Crazy. Last and greatest: this is the part of the formula entitled “5 parts crazy”. You have to have a little wild card in you to experience the success you deserve. I’m pretty sure that if you are reading this post, you do. I love when a client starts a conversation with “I have this crazy idea…” Those are always the ones that take wings because they take a deeply-rooted passion to even dream up! Seize them and run with them. Everything I’ve accomplished started as one of those “I have this crazy idea” moments. Talking about creating a blog many years ago, starting an event planning firm, being a consultant for luxury wedding pros and hello.. starting my own magazine all seemed ludicrous at the time! What are your big ideas? What are the things you want to make happen? Write them down.
Sometimes making things happen is simply about showing up. You have to seize opportunity when it knocks. I learned this year that taking too much opportunity and always saying yes can hinder happiness, but if you want to play with the big boys, you have to act like it. Get off the couch and get out there. Opportunity doesn’t exactly come and find you while you are holed up in your office messing with Aperture. Opportunity is born out of relationships and you can’t make those in front of a computer screen. [side note: Twitter and social media of all forms are not a replacement for one-on-one time, but are valuable because they can help start the conversation. When I meet people at events, I have a great point of reference and feel like I know them a little, even though we’ve never actually met in person. I have met 90% of the people I follow on Twitter now and have real relationships with many of them, not just “tweelationships”.
This post took me two weeks to write because I was afraid to put it out there. In the end, I had to take my own advice and step into the fear. These thoughts are the real deal… the things I think about all day long.
A final thought: if you’re not having fun along this journey, just stop. Running a busy business makes me want to cry and fall to my knees at times, but experiencing life with the inspiring women I work with and laughing every step of the way makes it all worth it. Asking yourself these questions is not at all easy and accepting facts about where you are can be daunting, but just remember that you don’t have to figure it all out today. Take time to celebrate your successes. Laugh, dance, sing, and play along the way. What’s the phrase? … work hard, play hard? Yeah. Do that. You’ll thank yourself.