When I was first starting out in my career I never quite felt like I fit in. I always felt too young or too single or too trendy or too bland. For whatever reason I carried around an insecurity that left me feeling inadequate compared to others…too [fill in the blank with something negative].
Then someone recommended I read the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness. It changed my outlook…and thereby my life…for a number of reasons but the biggest…the one that’s stuck with me the longest…was such a simple notion.
It was the notion that when you feel like you don’t belong…or fit in…you need only remember one thing. Remember that we all put our pants on one leg at time.
The imagery was exactly what I needed. Essentially it was saying at a much higher level that we are all the same because we are all human. But that would have been too macro for me to grasp. I needed a clear visual…and the thought of all those people that I thought were so much more impressive than me struggling to put their pants on just like I do…one leg at a time….was perfect.
Over the years, I’ve called on that memory many times. It’s not like the insecurities completely vanished but whenever they threatened to take over a meeting…or a conference call…or a presentation, I would recall the image of the pants.
More recently I’ve been paying attention to the behavior…performance…abilities of those in positions of power. Whether in government, technology, the medical field…it doesn’t matter. I’ve been struck by the realization that we’re all just trying to do the best we can. That there really isn’t anyone that is an expert at their job…unless their job is so narrow in scope to eliminate many possibilities for errors.
It seems like we’re all slightly ill equipped to do the jobs we’re given. That some percentage of our effort is “stretch”…”faking it”…just “getting by”. From that point, we have the ability to grow into a better employee/leader/government official/person. Or we have the ability to implode under the fear of failure.
Somewhere during my career, the option of failing as a result of swinging for the fences was consumed by the fear of failure. That fear held not only me back but countless other well-intentioned employees. It’s so obvious now…to look back and see the fear in everyone’s eyes. To smell the scent of mediocracy as folks have no choice but to settle into life under the overcast of fear.
It’s probably the biggest disservice we do to our companies…to our employees…to our selves. I don’t think knowing that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time will vanquish your fear but it does start to shift the focus.
And anything that focuses on similarities…common ground…likeness…is a big step in the right direction.