How often do you shy away from trying something new because you’re afraid you won’t be good at it?

A client recently complimented me by saying I’m a natural at coaching and training. If they’d said that back in 2008, when I’d just begun my business and was worried sick I’d fail, I probably would’ve laughed (or cried). The truth is, nothing felt like it came “naturally” to me, and in 2008—though I’d been honing my organizational change and coaching skills for about five years by that point—I still felt way out of my depth launching my own business. It was a huge risk; I was heavily invested financially and emotionally, and I couldn’t afford to fail. 

So when I got my first couple negative reviews, I was miserable. I had just taught my first-ever sales workshop to a group of 12. Ten of the participants gave the two-day session a glowing review, but two participants were harsh in their criticism. There I was, at the very start of my entrepreneurial career and I already felt like a failure. “Failure” is a word that I don’t use loosely, but for those two reviewers, I’d fallen grossly short of their expectations. I’d failed to hit the mark. Never mind the 10 other fabulous reviews that, taken alone, would’ve encouraged me to keep going. Plagued with imposter syndrome, I could only focus on those negative comments and take them as a warning that I was not cut out for the business I had just risked everything to start. 

A few days later I was walking through an airport, feeling defeated, when a book—Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—fatefully fell into my path. By the end of the flight, I had learned all about the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell claims that when you study people who appear to be “natural talents” at their chosen profession—such as athletes, musicians, and leaders such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs—there is one common theme in their background: 10,000 hours of related experience. Gladwell really put into perspective how few of us are actually born into “natural talent.” 

As I was pondering this insight, a lightbulb went off. How on earth could I expect perfect scores leading my first workshop, when I hadn’t put in my 10,000 hours yet? At that point, with even less than 100 hours (never mind 10,000), maybe I was actually doing pretty well. 

That day marked the start of a new mindset and mission to acquire my 10,000 hours. I was relentless  in my search for opportunities to connect with leaders, help solve business issues, coach, and lead workshops to support the growth of businesses’ top talent. 

Only now, 13 years later, do I come across as a “natural,” and I truly believe I can only correlate it to hours and hours of time (well over 25,000!) putting my skills into practice working with leaders to solve problems in their businesses. . 

Success doesn’t come overnight, but looking at the 10,000 hours as one lump sum is certainly intimidating. That’s almost five years working on just one skill, full time. Is it any wonder many of us give up when the going gets tough? 

The key is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and open yourself up to learning. Since Outliers dropped into my path at the airport all those years ago, I no longer worry over questions like, “Am I good at this?” Instead, I ask myself, “Do I have the emotional real estate to put in the work to get good at this?”

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