This article first appeared on Happify
Have you ever had an opportunity come your way that’s made you giddy with excitement? The next thing you know, you’ve said no and are now living with the regrets of your decision.
Or have you mulled over and over an opportunity, reasoning with your passion until you’ve blown every breath of life out of it? And you’re now back in the same old job that has become too small for your capabilities.
Most of us have been there—reacting with fear and then justifying our actions to make ourselves feel better. Even though this may work in the moment, sooner or later we begin to regret the chances not taken, the paths we left untrodden, the opportunities we were too afraid to embrace. And sometimes, it even feels like it’s too late to do anything about it.
In my work as a leadership coach, I’ve found that people generally fall into five categories in the way they respond to opportunities. Read on to see where you tend to be, and what you can do to show up with courage and excitement.
Reaction 1: “I don’t deserve it.”
This reaction is common when you believe you’re not worthy of the opportunity that has come your way. I see clients look down or turn their faces away when talking about it. There is shame and, with it, the thought “Who am I to deserve this?” If that’s you, think of this beautiful quote by Brené Brown in her book Braving the Wilderness: “Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal.” Bring to mind all the qualities within you: your character strengths and virtues, and how you show up with them every day.
Reaction 2: “I can’t do this.”
This is another negative core belief that can stop people from stepping forward. Unfortunately, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because when you don’t take risks, you have few of those critical experiences that help you develop self-efficacy and competence. Recent research shows that individuals develop mastery through the actions they take. If you don’t have confidence in your abilities, spend some time every day taking in your past and present moments of success, learning, and growth so they become part of your life’s story. Because knowing you are competent but not believing it leads to impostor syndrome.
Reaction 3: “It’s not worth trying.”
This reaction may sometimes be an honest assessment of the situation. But more often than not, it’s a fear-based response where we try to justify why we’re turning away from the opportunity. Justifications can come in many forms: “I’ll be letting my family down,” “I’ll be disappointing my boss,” “I don’t meet all the requirements,” “I’ll never get the role because of workplace politics.” If that’s you, give your logical mind a break and connect with your emotions. What would the opportunity mean to you? How will you be able to showcase your unique strengths and expertise? What difference will you be able to make in your organization or beyond? If you can feel the stirrings of excitement, remember what Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, said: “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Reaction 4: “I have to get this!”
Although avoidance is the more common fear response, striving can also be a fear-based response when it is underpinned by the need to win approval or recognition in order to hide a perceived inadequacy. I’ve seen many clients strive relentlessly, grasp, compare, or compete at the expense of other areas of their lives. They are hooked on an ideal and can burn themselves out, or begin to sabotage their success in the pressure to maintain it. If that is you sometimes, try building awareness around your behaviors. Connect to the life you want for yourself and see whether—and how—the opportunity fits into this larger perspective. If you do decide to pursue it, you will be striving from a place of security and not of inadequacy.
Reaction 5: “I’m really excited—but let me sleep on it.”
I’ve been saving the best for last! This is the conscious response of individuals who are grounded in a sense of who they are and who they want to become. This allows them to have not only the long lens of their ideal life but also the wide lens of how their actions impact others. After all, authenticity is relational, as psychologist Carl Rogers said, and our lives are always lived in an ecosystem. Those who have arrived at this higher level of awareness are able to be flexible, assess different options, and decide intentionally. If they embrace the opportunity, it is with joy and courage. If they let it go, it is with acceptance and gratitude.
Before you get dejected about your own response (if it is any but the last), remember that life is a journey of personal growth and transformation. The more aware you become of your responses, the more able you will be to approach life with open arms. It reminds me of this beautiful quote by author and educator Parker Palmer: “If the unexamined life is not worth living, it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.”