One of the aspects of my job that I particularly enjoy is personal development. Coaching clients to progress, to achieve, to become the best possible versions of themselves is a real privilege. Often all that is holding them back is a thought or a worry about ‘what if’.
The ‘what if’ is usually about vulnerability, ‘what if it doesn’t work?’, ‘what if I don’t succeed?’, ‘What if they don’t like it?’
We use our ‘what if’ as a shield protecting us from disappointment, criticism and from the threat of being disliked. But ‘what if’ we used it in a different way?
Many years ago I was considering embarking on an Open University degree that, part-time would take six years to complete and was discussing my indecision with a friend. My reason for not doing it? I would be 40 by the time it was completed. My friend took a breath and said ‘you’ll be 40 anyway’.
It was a challenging six years in which I experienced exceptional highs and horrible lows. Any time my work came back with constructive feedback about where I could improve I would view it as criticism and in my mind that meant that I was not good enough. Any time my work came back with positive feedback I felt that I was lucky or that I still could have done better.
In my penultimate year, with one essay to go I gave up. Just like that. The stress of trying to be good enough, the feeling of being judged, my own expectations of what I should achieve all got the better of me and I quit. Then I spoke to my friend.
‘What if you just finish this year?’ she said. ‘It’s only one essay and then you can give up and never have to do another one in your life after that?’
That ‘what if’ was powerful. What if I did do just one more essay? What if I did one more year? What if I did something for no other reason than I wanted to do it? Those ‘what if’s’ resulted in a completed degree in psychology.
Our ‘what if’s’ can become a beacon of possibility instead of a shield of protection enabling us to think about what we are capable of and beyond. It’s one of the things that I ask people to consider when they tell me all the reasons why they can’t or shouldn’t do something.
It’s OK to feel vulnerable, it’s part of moving forward, of developing confidence and creating a world in which you are the person you want to be. So think about what you would like to achieve this year and get ‘the what if’s’ working for you.