Sometimes doing things a little bit differently can feel pretty uncomfortable and often downright scary. Just because it’s different can make it feel bad even when it’s right. That’s why in business especially, we tend to avoid that feeling and go with what we know, or what we’re told we should know and what has always worked … for everyone else. With what the stats say, what the analyst says, the market indicators, the current condition, the economic climate. You know, business is business right? We’ve always done it this way - question that wisdom at your own peril … or would you be brave enough to do things differently if you really believed something was important enough? Even when doing it feels all weird and confronting and, well, like it’s wrong?
I had this experience recently with something totally unrelated to work, but it made me think about how it feels to do something different and why it can feel wrong even when we’re sure it’s good or right. This year I wanted to do something different to the usual teacher thank you cards passed around for parents to sign at the end of the school year. That works really well and actually we still did that again this year, but I wanted to do something that was from the kids, that they’d created and contributed to themselves. So my kids and I came up with this idea to cut out lots of butterflies and hearts for all the kids write on and decorate. Once they were all done, we thought we’d make a collage of thank you messages.
Great idea and everyone was enthusiastically onboard. It’s just that when it came to making the collage, it became clear that my talent as an artist extends only as far as the idea. I do have some wonderful, visionary (ok, maybe lofty) ideas, but my skills in actual implementation means it’s often a good idea to outsource (and that leads me to another discussion about knowing your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses, but I’ll post that tomorrow). Anyway, after all this organising and collecting and coordinating the hearts and butterflies, I was sadly disappointed when I came to put it all together.
I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling that what I’d created wasn’t good enough and that I’d wasted people’s time in trying to do something different. I felt embarrassed about putting myself out there and I was wishing I hadn’t. What I wished was that I’d just stuck to what we’d always done - buy a card, pass it around for the parents to sign and kick in some cash. I really regretted trying to do something with more meaning and although I knew it was the thought that counted, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I’d done something wrong.
The truth is that sometimes that weird feeling, that vulnerability, is a good thing because it shows that what you're doing still has the heart left in it - that it's a real, living and breathing thing that matters. It feel wrong not because it is wrong, but because we’re not used to feeling that way. We have a tendency to play it safe, toe the line, do what’s done because we equate fear with an indication that something’s wrong. It comes from our crocodile brain that had to protect us from predators way back in the dark ages, but hasn’t changed much with the times. Actually we’re mostly pretty safe now and sometimes that feeling's just discomfort about showing heart when we've been conditioned to think that's a risky business.
Ok, so maybe showing heart is "risky". Maybe you are being vulnerable, but is that necessarily bad? What if your intentions are pure and you really care about this thing, should you not do it because it feels awkward and weird? Is that enough of a reason to retreat back into ordinary?
Well here's a test; does that fear of being vulnerable open your heart or close it? Do you feel expansive or smaller? Closer to what's true and real and on your path, or further from it?
Compare that to the alternative. How do you feel when you think about going safe, toeing the line, keeping the heart out, tried and true, 'best practice'? A little bit dead perhaps? A little bit deflated? Smaller, blander, safer, more ho-hum? Constricted by any chance?
Is that the way you want to connect with people? Is that the way you want to show up? Maybe it is, and that's fine. You'll know if it's fine for you because you won't have a weird feeling of fear and there really won't be an issue. If that's the case, good for you, go for it. But if your inner voice is shaking its head and saying, "We could, but I don't know, it just doesn't feel right", then that's your guy. You've got to put the heart back in and listen to that inner voice.
And what's the worst that could happen? So what if it's not perfect, polished, praised by the analyst and approved by the board? Leaving the heart in takes some work, it's a bit rougher than the polished tried and true. So iterate. Get comfortable with the feeling and learn. Improve. Make it better, polish it, argue the point, sell it, solve it, ship it. But leave the heart in. You're trying a new path, a path that feels a bit scary, but which has the potential to connect more and be more meaningful. It feels weird because heart’s not always common, not because it's wrong. You can make it better, you can SEO it, polish it more, edit it more, research it more, analyse it more, but leave the heart in it - that's the bit that's right, not the bit that's wrong.