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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Poised for Action: do not give up!

In a recent Perspectives Post I talked about what helps to ground our personal vision once we’ve created it: ‘Ensuring our vision happens…demands a very different aspect of ourselves, moving from the creative, imaginative part of our brain to the implementing action part and that can feel very daunting. It requires great focus, courage and discipline to ground our vision and it’s why so many fail to do so: ‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas Edison’ I’ve been thinking about Edison’s quote. What makes that difference between those who succeed in grounding their vision and those who give up too soon and it remains a wistful dream? We all know people who have become grumpy about life and it’s often those who had the biggest aspirations not fulfilled who become the most cynical and bitter. Beyond the ingredients I listed in the ‘Ground Your Vision’ Perspectives Post, I think it comes down to three extra factors:

  1. Our relationship with ‘regret’: do we become ossified in it or do we use it as a transformative fuel propelling us forwards?

  2. Our inner resilience and ability to dig deep, pushing through however exhausted and daunted we might be.

  3. Our inner confidence and willingness to push through our shyness and feelings of not being worthy i.e., the ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

Factor One Regret: why is our relationship with regret such an important factor in whether we give up or push through? And what is it about living with unresolved regret that hurts us so much? It’s because ultimately regret forces us to face ourselves and the choices we have made. We cannot control the sorrows in our life. Loss is an inevitable part of life…the shadow balancing the light…and whatever we do, no one has the power to avoid loss and sorrow. But regret is different. Regret is when we have failed to do/not do something within our power that we knew was right but were too afraid. We can rationalise it away, inventing all kinds of excuses but deep down we know there was no one to blame but ourselves. It was down to us, and we failed. Simple as that. The impetus to live a life without regret is not abstract. It comes from many heartfelt experiences: people we loved deeply but were too afraid to show them our hearts, paths that felt too risky or beyond us, so we chose the safe and known one. These regrets stay with us, seeping into our sleep dreams. For many people, their regrets fester, creating a bitter and victim mindset. But for others, we get to a tipping point when we’ve had enough. We know we don’t want to continue living a life filled with regret, so we use these painful experiences as the transformative fuel to propel us forwards into a different trajectory. I use the following exercise when I’m teaching what ‘Success’ really means and how not to live a life of regret:

  • Imagine you are on your deathbed many, many… many!... years from now.

  • You look back at your life and say: ‘That was a truly successful life!’

  • Write down 10 things you really want to have made happen to create that life. Be bold and hungry for yourself in all aspects of your life.

  • Choose the 3 most important ones to you. You will know which ones on a visceral level.

  • Find 1 next ‘baby step’ to ground each one with timelines for each one.

One of my MBA students thought about this and said he wanted a big family by the time he was 40 but that it felt overwhelming from his starting point. I asked him if he had a girlfriend yet. When he said no, I responded ‘Well, that’s your first step!’ We have to create personal visions that we are serious about and follow consciously: ‘Another mind game is a wilful gung-ho attitude, jumping into the deep end with eyes tightly shut. There is indeed an element of taking a deep breath and making the leap, our instinctual body overriding our anxiously stuck IQ, but if we keep moving blindly, we set ourselves up to fail at the first hurdle. We have to do our part and move consciously forwards, step by step, breath by breath, beat by beating heartbeat.’ Factor Two Our Inner Resilience and ability to dig deep: ‘people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ When we’ve come so far and we are so close to grounding our personal vision, we’ll have experienced many failures and obstacles to get to this point. We’re battered, bruised and exhausted and we are so habituated to these seemingly insurmountable obstacles on our path, we know the extraordinary effort and energy it will take to overcome another one. We don’t know if we’ve got anything left in our tank. How do we find that extra energy and motivation? Surely, we’ve done enough?! It's at this point that most people understandably give up. Our brain plays self-sabotaging tricks on us: being cynical, doubting, not feeling worthy, freezing in fear, over-thinking, not remembering why this particular vision is so important to us, or being distracted by the ‘noise’. What’s actually happening is that our brain knows we are on the cusp of great change and is panicking. Our self-structure is fighting to keep the status quo and like all resisters of transformational change, the resistance gets stronger and more determined the closer we are to that threshold point of real change. I know I’m almost there…really close to that threshold… when my inner voices of resistance, the doubt, exhaustion and fear, are clamouring very loudly at me. They know, before I have consciously realised it, how near I am. I now use this as my signal and motivation. I even thank these resisters for giving me the heads up and I visualise how grumpy that makes them! It diffuses their power over me and gives me the courage to keep going. I know I am really, really close! Factor Three Our inner confidence: International Women’s Day this year was joyous. I went to three Events with fascinating and thought-provoking Panels and conversations, and it was a great sign of how far we’ve come over the years. And yet, throughout the day, I kept thinking of this issue of confidence. The term ‘Imposter syndrome’ was frequently used and I was struck by how many amazing women on the various Panels introduced themselves with shy caveats, not fully embracing or owning their achievements or how long and hard they had worked to get to their success. The Confidence Gap is a great article which explores why women are generally less confident than men: ‘Hewlett-Packard discovered several years ago, when it was trying to figure out how to get more women into top management positions, that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirm what we instinctively know. Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and over prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.’ When I’m recommending this article, I always add that it needs to be read to the end. The research makes for depressing reading as evidence after evidence builds up to show how so many women are up against it in terms of inner confidence. ‘When we embarked on this quest two years ago, we had a slight conflict of interest. As journalists, we were exhilarated by the puzzle of why high-achieving women were so lacking in confidence, but as women, we grew gloomy. Delving into research and interviews, we more than once found ourselves wondering whether the entire female sex was doomed to feel less than self-assured. Biology, upbringing, society: all seemed to be conspiring against women’s confidence.’ Then finally hope beams in as the journalists bring in evidence of what we can do to shift this heavily fatalistic outcome into one full of life-embracing energy: the natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, we perform just as well as men do.’ Or as a Panel member on IWD said: ‘Act BEFORE you are ready to act!’ It’s as simple as that and of course this applies to men who are hesitant and unconfident as well. This is not about foolish unthinking action, but it is about making the leap when we know it’s right and not holding back in fear. It’s about seizing what I call a ‘Chance Meets Purpose’ moment. Every fibre of our being knows this is the moment, but if we leap too soon or too late we shall mess it up. It’s all about the timing. We know we have to wait, but it’s not a passive waiting. It’s an active waiting, full of intensity and focus with every muscle poised for action. Like a cat waiting to pounce. Our IQ won’t tell us when, it’s our intuition and instinct that will prompt us. So, once you’ve created the vision you want to ground, push through those negative, grumpy voices, be bold… and pounce! Finally, this video discussion, recorded for IWD in 2021, is with a great friend of mine, Sue Walter, who has courageously pushed through many barriers in her life and is an inspiration to us all:

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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