Lift Off

If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are now

Last night, our whole family went and watched the movie “Kung Fun Panda 3”. There are quite a few lessons blended in with the jokes and humorous scenes. One of lessons is when Master Oogway says “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are now”. This statement generated an emotion within me but I couldn’t explain why. What does this statement really mean?

Does it mean that I need to try to do the things that I cannot do now? Is it okay to just be where I am and not try to be more? As I explore the question, I realize this sentence struck an emotion within me because somehow somewhere along the way I have stopped trying to do the things that I cannot do. Somehow somewhere along the way I have stopped growing and agreed to be satisfied with the status quo.

Is learning and growing a natural course of life?

Our life evolved from learning and trying to do what we hadn’t been able to do in the past. Let’s look at the life of an individual person. When we were born, we didn’t know how to crawl or walk. So, we tried to do what we couldn’t do before. We learned to crawl then walk. As a parent of young children, I have watched my children trying to crawl and walk. They fell down again and again, but they always got back up to try, and yes one day they just walked, and they ran. Similar experience happened when we learned to bike for the first time, learned how to read, learned to swim, or do mathematics. We failed at first, but if we were encouraged to keep on trying, we succeeded at the end.

Looking at the world from a transportation angle, we moved from horse carriage, to bicycle, to motorcycle and automobile. We were using boat, ship, then airplane, and now some of us could even go to space on a space shuttle. Would any of this be possible if we all are satisfied with where we were and stop trying to go out of our comfort zone? 

Why do we stop trying to do more and be more?

So, at what point and why did people like me stop trying to do the things that we can’t do? Why do we agree being a status quo? There are a few possible explanations for it. One is we are satisfied with where we are, and we rather keep doing what we know how to do. We are tired of growing and learning. Things in our life are going well. There is not really a need for change. Changing and growing mean effort, and sometimes mean pain. Why going through the pain and why putting into much effort if we don’t need to? For those who are in this phase, look at the world around you. The world around you is constantly changing, constantly in motion. Apples keeps coming out with latest newest technology. Scientists are discovering new universes and black holes. My 6 years old son can use my phone better than I do. Would it be possible for the world to move pass you while you are standing still? The biggest gift that any of us can bring to this world is our ability to learn new things and to expand our knowledge so that we can do more and contribute more to others around us.

One other explanation is that we are scared. The older we grow, the more discouragement we encountered. Remember when you were a kid, and you fell down, your parents would rush to you and shower you with love and encouragement “Get up kid, get up sweetie. Get up. I know you can do it”. Remember when we achieved a milestone, our parents would cheer and applaud us “you are my rock star. You did great. You see, I knew you could do it. Keep it up”. When we enter our adult life and move out of our parent house, the encouragement and cheering become less and less. The criticism increases. The noises, opinions and signals around us keep on saying “don’t screw up. Don’t make a mistake.” Even if the amount of discouragement and failure we encounter are the same, we don’t have enough encouragement and cheering to balance it out. Gradually, we become less and less inclined to take that risk, to move into that unfamiliar direction, and to do more than what we currently can. Fear becomes too big.

Recognizing the causes gives me clarity but it still doesn’t necessarily help me get over the fear of failure. Fear is real, and I can’t just shout at it to go away and then expect fear to disappear. Does it mean I should be stopped by fear? Can I still have fear and take step to do the things that are beyond my comfort zone? Nelson Mandela had an answer for us: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Taking risk

Having courage to do new things does not mean that we should be reckless in taking risk. There always need to be a balance between when to take risk and what risk to take. A few tools can help us:

Stephen R. Covey said in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book that we should all begin with an end in mind. “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” There are examples of people who work so hard to build a successful venture, and in the journey, sacrifice their health, their marriage, the relationship with their friends, missing out on their children’s lives. As adults, we often have duties and responsibilities beyond us, like our children’s well-beings. I know I would not take a risk that may jeopardize the well beings of my children. I must look at each decision as a whole – work needs, family needs, personal fulfilment needs, etc. I need to make responsible decisions and take risks that are challenging and moving me to my destination.

John C. Maxwell recommends us to ask the following questions to determine whether a risk is reasonable (a risk that motivates and moves us into the right decision) or it’s reckless (a risk that is not built upon careful thinking but on an impulse reaction or emotion). (Maxwell, 2013)

1.  Is our decision built on a strategy or just hope?

Hope is not a plan. As we think of the risk we are about we take, ask ourselves whether we carefully thought through a plan to implement it? Do we have an end goal in mind? Did we consult the experts or acquire some reasonable knowledge in the area?

2.  Do we have margin for error?

If our decision only involves us, and we are willing to do whatever it takes, then maybe margin for error is not so important. However, many decisions in life involve people other than us. Your decisions in business affect the people who work for you. Your decision to start a business venture affects your family. Do we have a backup plan for if and when we fail? Dave Ramsey, a successful financial author and radio talk show, advises us to always have 3-6 months of financial backup saved in a “God only know” account.

3.  Is the risk based on our strength zone? Is it based on what we do well?

I often dreamed of being a ballerina or a dancer on stage. Should I have taken the risk to be a ballet performer or dancer at this stage of my life, the chance for success would be very low. However, I also enjoy speaking on stage, and had mild successes over the years whenever I had occasions to speak. Maybe an angle to satisfy my dream of being a ballerina on stage would be to become a speaker on stage. We have to take risk in the areas of our strength for us to be successful. How do we find our strength? This takes some reflection. What is it that you do that gives you the energy? What is it that you would happily and eager to do even if you don’t get paid? A recent example gives me the illustration. I was having a cold and feeling sick. However, I was asked to do a presentation to a group of new employees. They couldn’t find anyone to take my place, so I went in. I felt more and more energetic during the presentation. After 2 hours of presenting, I felt so much better (physically and mentally better). I realized then that speaking gives me the energy. Coaching is the same way. I love to help people grow and reach their potential. When I see a person suffers because of bad management or because of their self-limiting beliefs, it breaks my heart. I would take actions to help. Aside from self-reflecting, there is a more scientific way to figure out your strength. The Gallup organization comes out with a Strength Finder test (https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/) to help you identify your top five strengths and give you quick tips on how to maximize your talents.

Make That Decision

If we answer “yes” to all the questions above, we have thought about our risk well enough and can make an informed decision on taking risk. If after careful thinking, we are still hesitated, remember this: Leaders have a bias for actions. “Have a bias toward actions – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away” – Indira Gandhi.

Don’t be paralyzed by fear or by analysis, and stop growing.

Remember your time on earth here is limited. Steve Jobs said it best: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs.

One last thought, when we are trying to break through that self-limiting belief or that fear that acts like gravity pulling us down, remember our parents, remember how they encouraged us, and how their encouragement acted as a catalyst to move us forward. Remember those moments, and try to do the same for other grown up human beings around us. You never know – a kind act or a cheering may help us Lift Off. And, if we all can lift off, imagine how far humankind can go.

 

References

Maxwell, J. (2013, June 7). John Maxwell on Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/the-risk-test

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