Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Power serves you best when you know how to use it.
Last week we talked about those devastating one liners and weeding them out. This week we’re telling stories about how you really get to have the things you want most. What it means to do what it takes to make something happen.
When I was 18 I launched my own little hand-made jewelry business. I strung beautiful handmade beads on leather and I sold to ski resort gift shops. This was well before jewelery making was cool, or Michael’s a had a whole aisle of jewelry making supplies. I was working my way through college, and my entrepreneurial yearnings created this business as a side venture to working at Fred Meyer between college classes. I had 5 or 6 orders from various resorts, but it never got any bigger than that. When I was a stay-at-home mom I launched a fun business of designing personalized candy-bar wrappers for birthdays, weddings, any party or event – I designed the custom wrapper, printed the wrappers and wrapped the candy bars. Shipped them in ice-bagged insulated boxes so the chocolate wouldn’t melt. I put all the money into the software, the design training and the production, but fell short of putting in the marketing dollars needed, so my return on investment was a handful of orders from neighbors and friends, a new-found skill of design, an iMac, a high-end paper cutter and cases of candy bars. A few years ago when my newest hiking guidebook came out – Best Hikes Near Salt Lake City, published by Falcon guides, I put together a gorgeous plan for week-long hiking retreats that involved mountain lodgings, massage, yoga, an in-house cook and daily guided hikes in the Northern mountains of Utah. Same thing happened, all the planning, designing, arranging for providers, and when it came time to persevere through the swamps of finding clients I got bored and wandered onto the next thing caring a sense of failure at not pushing through and taking it all the way. I ended up guiding day hiking trips, but it was nothing like I had pictured. I could have put in the time and effort to market it, for sure, but if I have a wonderful idea and a snazzy product shouldn’t clients come to me? I hated to have to sell people on anything, and so these business “failures” made a tidy little stack in my bookshelf of stories.
One of the stories I started telling myself, that was not serving me well, was that if I put time and effort into a new venture that it will all be a waste of time and resources because in the end it will fall flat. I mean it’s happened 3 times. There is this fear monster that pops up when I contemplate doing something that might make a difference, to me or the world, and I am flooded with a fear of failure, a fear of wasted time, and a fear of wasting money on something that in the end won’t launch.
Now, like all our stories, there are reasons I have this fear. Namely my past experience. While sometimes our fears seem to pop out of nowhere, they often do originate from some disappointment that we don’t want to relive. But the past doesn’t have to define the future.
The other day I was looking through a post that Lewis Howe’s, a popular podcaster and NY Times best-selling author wrote about how he got his book on the NY Times best seller list. It was a tremendous list of hard work, networking, selling, finagling, up-selling and going the extra mile to market his own work. As I read his list of “how he did it” I felt a little sick. Holy cow, it was a tremendous amount of work. I always leave it up to my publishers to promote my books, I mean really, isn’t that their job? But I couldn’t deny that reading about all the work he went through to get his book to go big was a price he was willing to pay to reach that milestone. I began to realize that if you want really big things you don’t drop the ball when it comes to promoting your idea. That seems like a no-brainer, but I saw it in a way that shed the light of responsibility on me. Whatever that idea is. It’s not up to somebody else – I get to support my own idea. I get to carry it through to the end. And if I’m not willing to do that up front, then I get to wait for an idea that I’m willing to work for.
My stories of failure were suddenly challenged by the realization that I dropped the ball and I didn’t have to. It was something I could control. Now, if I can control it, then I don’t have to be afraid of it. I didn’t have to be afraid of investing in myself, or looking silly, or wasting time, because without the fear you just keep pushing it through to the top. You push, as Thomas Edison said, one more time. And he would know. Story has it that: As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Find a new outlet, a new resource, a new contact. It’s up to me, up to you, if we want our ideas to go big. We don’t get to give up on ourselves.
Here’s my question to you: What is the story that is stopping you from taking your idea, whatever it is – your ideal romantic relationship, your own taco truck business, your vision for your career as the next great physicist, your community garden, the bike race you want to organize, the friends you want to make…what is the story that is feeding your fear and stopping you from going for it – pushing past the “I’m going to fail so why bother” voice that tries so hard to keep us all in a space of mediocrity and smallness? I know, it feels real – the story feels like truth. But what if that excuse wasn’t there any more? What if?
Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” What if the stories you gave space in your head for were stories and visions of you accomplishing this thing you really want? Maybe it feels impossible right now at this moment, but today’s ceiling is tomorrow’s floor. One step at a time we create. One step at a time we create. And before we will take that step we have to believe, or have faith that our efforts will bear fruit. All creation starts in the mind with an idea, and then with a belief in that idea, and then with enough faith we begin to take that first step, and then that second step, and then that third. That’s how everything man-made was ever created. You see your refridgerator? Your car? The building across the street? Your favorite coffee shop? The book you’re reading? All these things were created in this way. First as an idea, second as a belief in the idea, and third with the steps to make it happen.
One of my favorite sayings – I have it taped to my fridge — is “Tomorrow begins today.” I’ve become a fan of looking at large projects in steps. It’s the idea of eating an elephant one bite at a time. Today we get to plant a tomato seed and tomorrow, with enough care, we get to sow tomatoes. But to get that tomato harvest we have to plant, and one day at a time we get to water, weed, and fertilize. It’s possible, it’s doable, so start…if you want tomatoes.
Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Then there’s the other saying that showing up is half the battle. There is a funny cartoon of two warriors in their battle gear facing a whole army that is ready to attack. They are clearly outnumbered and about to die, and the one soldier says to the other, “Anymore words of wisdom, Mr. Showing Up is Half the Battle.” Yes, you’re not going to get ahead unless you get started, AND if you don’t show up you’ve got NO chance, but in my case, it’s that other half of the battle that I’m learning about. The half where you push through the road blocks, and where you promote your own dreams, and you try 1000 times using different approaches if your past attempts aren’t working out.
Thomas Edison was speaking to me when he said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
I know that we all have that voice in our heads (like we talked about in episode 6) – some think of it as the voice of reason, some know it’s the devil on their shoulder, some don’t recognize it at all because they just thinks it’s their earned wisdom, but today you get to listen to the voice.
Write down what the excuses are that you give yourself for not doing that thing you really want to do. Then do yourself a favor and realize that the voice is a STORY. Without that story what could you do? Find your way around that story, blow it out of the water. It might hurt to make that stretch, but you wouldn’t want the thing you want if it weren’t worth having, would you? If you don’t do it today, when will you? The stories don’t change until we decide to work through them. Until WE CHANGE THEM and start to allow for real possibility. They are our stories.
One of my big life dreams was to get my master’s degree and my Ph.D. I had put that on hold after I got divorced from my first husband because I had small kids and I needed to support them and focus on other aspects of living. But always when I thought about what I wanted to do before I died, my continued schooling was incredibly important to me. I had lots of reasons I couldn’t do it – I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the time, I couldn’t relocate with kids who needed to stay in their schools. Well, let me tell you about one of the most difficult and magical things I have ever done:
I think it was Facebook. I get a message from a high school friend, a dear friend I hadn’t seen for many years, and she’s inviting me to be her +1 for her high school reunion. She’d recently been divorced and didn’t want to go by herself, so I was the lucky gal to be her escort. We spent the night catching up and she told me she was working on her masters degree. Wonder of wonders, she was in the exact program, at the exact school, that I had planned to apply for. I had no idea we had this similar interest, but the more we talked the more our studies and schooling goals strangely coincided. When I asked how she had done it, she explained that she had received a fellowship of twenty thousand dollars to the program. I got all the details and as I pondered on the idea I felt certain I could get that fellowship for the following year because I had 20 years more publishing experience than any kid fresh out of college. With that money I could see a way to make it happen. One by one she helped me work through all those stories that stopped me. I didn’t have to spend a year studying for the GRE because I could take the GMAT which one could not really study for. It relieved a great deal of pressure for me to go that route. So, step, by step I filled out applications, took tests, wrote letters, put together referral contacts and submitted my application for grad school. She had arranged her classes in such a way that she only had to be on campus once a week, and I could see that being doable, so I forged ahead with a plan of 20K fellowship and once a week on campus. Well, I got accepted to the program, but when we got the award letters, I had been invited to teach at the University, but the fellowship was not awarded that year. I was surprised and dismayed, things were not working out as I had planned, but I was sorely tempted because of the teaching position. I’d always wanted to teach at a university and this was my chance. It had all happened so fast, and the reality of it was not in the shape or form that I had envisioned and thus dared to move forward with, but one thing led to another and before I knew it I was making the final decision about whether or not I could devote the next two years of my life, with two teenage sons, to a masters degree that would require 3 hours a day of commute through all weather conditions, while teaching at the university, while carrying a full graduate class load, and while continuing on with my career in real estate that kept food on the table and a roof over our heads. While any sane person would have said no way, the dream was so big, and here was my chance. So I did it. I plunged in and every day for the next two years I counted minutes. If I stopped for gas at the gas station 5 miles before the university, I could pee while the gas tank filled and then I could hit the road, and if there was not traffic I would arrive on campus, if I could find parking, with just enough time to walk up the hill and arrive at the English Department building with 2 minutes to spare. My whole life was scheduled this way. How many times did I wish that text books were on Audible so I could listen to the 100 pages of reading, per night, while walking up that hill and across campus. On warm fall days I brought my bike so I could get across campus faster, and I found apps that allowed me to scan real estate documents from my class room on campus, instead of working from my real estate office. I graded papers til 3 a.m. and got up at 6:00 to be to my 8:00 class. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it, and I graduated before most of the other 20somethings that started the program with me, who did not have kids, or jobs, or commutes. I pulled a 3.95 GPA and won writing awards for poetry, non-fiction and research both years of my program. I kicked ass. And do you know why? Because I wanted it! I wanted it. And when you really want something, you find a way around the obstacles. I look back at the whole thing in awe. In complete wonder at what a determined soul can do. Was I afraid of failure? I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. It was a complete act of faith. I believed in myself, I knew of my intent and desire, and on the first day of school, as I’m driving my 1.5 hour drive I’m having an internal freak out about. My thought was God is just waiting for me to make a mistake and all of this is going to get pulled out from under me. I don’t even know where that thought came from, but it was quickly replaced with another thought that said, God is not about waiting for you to fail so he can take things away, he is your support, he is here to help you do what is not possible for you to do on your own. And I knew that was true. But I still had no idea how it was going to unfold and what price I would pay.
When the voice pops up and says “what about failure?” Well, life is messy. I don’t know anyone who likes failure. But what do you think of the idea that failure is a portal. Yes a portal. Failure is a window into what to change, how to do something different in the future, a window into our own strengths and weaknesses, a window to the world around us.
Brene’ Brown, I’ve mentioned her work here in episode 2, is a researcher and NY Times best-selling author on the topics of shame and vulnerability. In her book, Standing Strong, she often refers to the people who are in the “arena” falling flat on their faces as they tackle challenges, try new things, and pick themselves up, lick their wounds and try again, as the “badasses!” The folks on the side, safely watching and criticizing, those are the cowards, the ones not living. You can find a dozen Ted Talks and podcasts on why failure is ok and in some cases encouraged. Why it is necessary if we wish to progress. I reiterate the words – nobody likes to fail. It hurts. It sucks. It can be embarrassing. But no one really lives big without getting in the arena and getting dirty, and no one gets in the arena without falling down a time or two. So the fear of failure doesn’t get to stop you from making things happen – because it will, stop you.
I get to look back at my failed business ventures with forgiveness for myself and the things I didn’t yet understand about myself, with a greater understanding of the work I need to put in if I want to go all the way. I see through my portal a clear picture of what Does Not work. I also hear and recognize the voices that try to stop me everyday – yes, everyday – but I use what I’ve learned and I fight them off, even when I’m terrified. But that’s the struggle in the arena. That’s where the champions are born. You get to be a champion by looking at the stories you tell yourself that stop you from living the life you want to live, and you get to get rid of them completely, or rewrite them so they serve you – reframe (episode 1) those failures so you can see clearly through the portal. And that’s how you become the hero of your story (episode 2), by fighting off the things that hold you back. By not staying in the dark moments. By standing back up when you fail, because you will sometimes, and that’s okay. All the real heroes do.
Your challenge this week is to think about that one thing on your bucket list that you’ve never done but really want to – and then list out all the excuses why you haven’t – find the stories. Then you get to find a way around everyone of those stories. Log onto our website: www.loveyourstorypodcast.com….and tell us how you do it!
Have a great week of creating and telling stories. Get rid of the ones that hold you back. Retell the ones that build and empower you! See you next week on the Love Your Story podcast. And, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure you subscribe and give us a review!