A couple of years ago, sitting in an advanced training for public speaking, the teacher looked around the room and asked who was nervous about speaking in front of a large group.
Their faces told me that most of the room felt nervous, but along with only a handful of other people I put up my hand. Although, I only put it half-way up, which caught the attention of the cantankerous teacher.
A challenging fellow, he turned to me and said, “Why is your hand only half way up? Does that mean you are half nervous?” While the rest of the room giggled at my expense, I told him, I didn’t really know because I had never stood up to speak in front of a large group.
He looked at me strangely, and clarifying he said: “So you’ve never spoken in front of a group, but you decided to show up at an advanced training for public speaking.” I said, “yep, I hate the shallow end of the pool.”
He said, “well, you are either an idiot or you are very brave.”
He was right, but he was also wrong. He was right, I am an idiot and I do many things that I have no business doing.
When I started working with clients I had no idea how to teach the ideas that had worked so well for me. So, I began working with clients for free, learning along the way, and after proving I could create massive value for my clients, I began demanding some of the highest fees in the industry, working exclusively for five and six figure retainers.
But, he was also wrong. I am not very brave.
Sure, many people think it takes courage to make the moves I made in my career, quitting Goldman Sachs and the Carlyle Group, and today holding myself out as an expert, but the truth is I am not very courageous. And neither are most people who do hard things.
To some people it seems it would take a great deal of courage to walk across a tight rope without the safety of a net. Or it takes enormous kahunas to strap on a wingsuit and fly within meters of a rock ledge. Or it takes a ridiculous love of risk to climb a rock face without any safety ropes.
But study most of the people in the world who do seemingly courageous things and you learn that it is not bravery that enables them to climb or fly or walk tall, but it is the years of practice they go through, developing mastery in an environment in which they are safe to fail.
You see, whereas to many of the hundreds of people in that training session, it took courage to stand on the stage and speak because they were concerned about leaving a favorable impression, I didn’t give a shit.
Truly, I could care less what any person in that room or any room for that matter thinks of me. Why would I? Why would I possibly give a crap about whether a room full of people learning public speaking thinks I am a good public speaker or not?
Similarly, when I put out my videos or I stand in front of another group speaking, why would I be nervous? Why would I be afraid? Why does it matter whether the people in the audience are wowed by me, or are critical?
Of course I want to do the best job I can and all of my work is in the pursuit of mastery, but developing mastery only happens when you are willing to keep trying new things in environments in which you are safe to fail.
Years ago I watched a wonderful documentary by legendary comedian Eddie Izzard in which he talked about going to France and doing a show in French. With only basic French speaking skills and no appreciation for how to time his jokes, his show was a complete disaster. But, in failing, he set himself up to take his work to an entirely new level.
To learn to climb a mountain without ropes, first you must spend tens of thousands of hours on a climbing wall, falling down and getting back up again. To strap on a wingsuit, you must be willing to try soaring like an eagle while free-falling like a stone. And to learn to walk a tight rope you must be willing to fall into that net hundreds and thousands of times.
It is not bravery or stupidity that enables people to do exceptional things, it is the willingness to do hard things and fail, and then keep standing up over and over again.