Action: The key to fulfillment
It’s not how much money you make that brings fulfillment. It’s connecting what you do with your purpose that brings great fulfillment in life: it’s doing (performing) a seemingly insignificant act of difference in an area or field that you believe will make the greatest difference to humanity at large. Taking action in what we believe in is what starts a chain of a life that brings you joy.
Fulfillment doesn’t happen at the end of life, it happens in the journey of life. According to Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care giver and author of bestselling book, “5 Regrets of the Dying”, dreams not acted upon was the biggest regret people faced on their deathbed. Taking action is what produces the great value in our lives. Amazon founder Jeff Bezo would still be under someone else’s payroll. But he mustered the courage to quit his job to pursue what he believed to be the greatest opportunity that laid in front of him back in 1994. Interestingly, in an interview much earlier before Bronnie Ware’s list was published, Jeff Bezo had an insight on how action leads to fulfilment and eliminates regrets. He shared about a mindset he referred to as regret minimization framework that helped him take action to start what has become one of the most successful businesses in our century. Basically, the mindset helped him take action in the present to avoid regret in the future.
Fear breeds Inaction
The greatest enemy to action is fear. Fear prevents most people from living a life that’s truly fulfilling. It can tie people down in jobs they hate and force them to remain in the shallow end of performance; mediocre work. Despite position or kind of job one has, fear has the ability to breed inaction even in the best of ideas. While fear will always be there, courage is what silences its call for inaction: Courage calls you into action in the midst of judgment and criticism from others, and even when failure is possible.
I am convinced that to take action that produces great work courage is required. So, the goal for today’s post is to show you how to build courage to take action(s) that will propel you to producing work that will bring you fulfilment. The question, how do you show up and perform at your best without fear of failing? has helped me discover three mindsets on developing courage to perform greatly. Let’s examine each mindset;
1. Embrace excellence
I grew up hearing the words excellence, but my poor understanding of excellence made me think it was only for a select few. I thought it was only for the top students in my class or for the fellow employee who was the most experienced at my workplace. I believed that excellence meant I had to be perfect. But all that changed when I realized that excellence was not something that people are born with but a habit that people developed, and I could develop it as well. Most importantly, I learned that excellence didn’t require perfection, but for me to be in a state of continuous improvement. This realization made me embrace excellence by putting in me a desire to be excellent. I immediately started working on it.
Not long after this, I noticed a shift in how I approach any task or work I was engaged in. I realized that the fear of failing was shrinking and my desire to learn was increasing. I stopped paying attention to the critics and naysayers. Rather, I cared more about improving and getting better as a person. This was followed by increased courage to take on actions that were at times more challenging, demanding and at other times beyond my abilities. This is when I discovered that the step of building courage for action was embracing excellence; being in a continuous state of improvement.
You embrace excellence when you make it a habit. That is, when you become intentional on doing better than your last attempt. You become your greatest competitor. When this happens, you will soon tap into the unlimited power of excellence to boost your courage to make a difference by your action. Excellence will not only boost your courage, it will direction you to a craftsman mindset, which I first learned from Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. A craftsman mindset will allow what embracing excellence produces to be channeled into deliberate practice. It allows you to focus on what’s important and maximize your practice to become your best. While embracing excellence ignites courage, possessing a make-a-difference mindset amplifies courage.
2. Possess a make-a-difference mindset
The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai Ph.D., a Kenyan-born environmentalist referred to herself as a hummingbird. She was fond of giving the hummingbird story during her interviews. The story is about a huge fire that had engulfed a forest. All the wild animals ran out of the forest and stood at a distance. All animals were hopelessly looking at the fire consuming the forest, feeling overwhelmed and powerless except a little hummingbird. It shouted, “I’m going to do something about the fire!” without hesitation it flew to the nearest stream, took a drop of water and put it on the fire. It went up and down, as fast as it could. But as it was flying back and forth, all the other animals, even the much bigger animals like the elephant that could have carried much more water with their long trunks, were standing there helpless. And they would say to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little, and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’ But as they continued to discourage it, it turned to them and without wasting any time said, “I am doing the best I can.”
Despite its tiny size in comparison to the fire, the hummingbird exemplifies what it means to Possess a make-a-difference mindset. It believed that what it had or what it could do could make a difference. It did not wait for the rest of the animals to take action. Like the bird, don’t wait to have the best plan or tools to believe you can make a difference; start with what you have.
Possessing a make-a-difference mindset will shift your focus from fear to what you can do. It will amplify the courage and help you to get started like the hummingbird.
3. Focus on getting started
The final step to developing courage to make a difference with action is to get started. You can never finish a journey of a thousand steps if you don’t take the first step. This is where, I would like to remind you that courage is not a feeling but it’s an action. We don’t feel courageous, rather, we act courageous. Getting started is what gives fear the Mike Tyson TKO, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back of fear and stagnancy. It ignites momentum of subsequent actions that fear can’t stop. Getting started is the first piece of a domino.
I focus on getting started in every process using this question, What’s the right and easiest thing I can do now to achieve my bigger goal? Try using this question next time you feel overwhelmed by a big goal.
Now that we have covered the steps of developing courage for action, I would like you to identify an area of your life that you can develop courage to make a difference. I would love if you can share with me below in the comment section which area you have picked to make a difference and how you will do it. Finally, here is a quote to ponder on “No one can progress in life without courage.” Speaker Dumbi Mabiala.