Many of us live in a world we experience as requiring us to constantly “produce” or “perform.” Seeing our world this way can impede our ability to grow and develop. Imagine for a moment your favorite sports figure or performer. How much time have they spent practicing before they step onto the field or stage? A lot, right? What about you? How much time do you spend practicing verse performing? Many of may feel like practice is a luxury, as the world speeds up and we feel pressure to get things done now and get them done well. Clearly, if we relate to our work this way we will hamper our ability to grow and develop. This blog explores the critical imperative to practice more and find ways to do that.
When we lack enough practice arenas many things can happen. One obvious one is that we don’t perform as well. A simple example of this is giving presentations. Your ability to present effectively will be enhanced by rehearsing a few times before doing it live. All of us know this, yet many of us avoid practicing our presentation and then suffer the consequences of being a less effective communicator. Another, and perhaps less obvious, outcome of failing to develop practice arenas is slowing down our growth. Let’s go back to the sports figure metaphor. If I always throw with my right hand and have less skill with my left hand, how likely will it be that I use my left hand during a play on the field? Pretty unlikely, right? My ability to tolerate a “failure” in the moment is probably pretty low, so I default to what I know (i.e., my right hand) and fail to develop my new move (i.e., my left hand). Similarly speaking, if I don’t have enough space to practice a burgeoning skill it will likely never blossom and be a full fledged part of my repertoire. So I become stagnant in my moves and become less adaptable and therefore less effective over time. Ironically, in trying to preserve my performance, my performance will decline.
Thus, the imperative for all of us is two-fold. First, we must identify our growth edges. Where are you running into challenges that are inviting you beyond where you are now? Once you have this growth edge clarified, you can now move into intentional practice. Where will you choose to be less skillful, where can you focus on learning? A few conditions and attitudes can help us do this, and will be different for us all. However one universal supportive condition is relaxing our identification with performing and adopt what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset.” This mindset is less focused on pass/fail and more focused on getting feedback in order to grow. Interestingly, your ability to relax with this and talk openly and frankly about how you are growing and practicing, will allow your peers and team to do the same. In many ways it signals that you expect others to develop new skills and that growing and developing must include some fumbling at times and that’s actually an indicator, not of failure, but of intentional development. So an underlying condition to which I am pointing is vulnerability. The ability to acknowledge areas that are under construction will accelerate your growth. Often we try to hide these areas and in doing so, we slow down our growth. To encourage you down this path of growth and change by practicing new skills and investing less in your polished performance. I’ll leave you with a poem from David Whyte. Happy practicing!
is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is one of the privileges and the prime conceits of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath. The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
© May 2014 David Whyte
Excerpted from ‘VULNERABILITY’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
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