As Californians began sheltering in place the week of March 19, 2020, I heard friends and colleagues excited about what they might do with this unexpected free time. Tackling business development through finding the right app; launching a blog; organizing homes by cleaning out closets and garages; drafting that business plan so they could change careers; finally writing the novel they have only just imagined for many years.
Then reality set in. Constant reminders about staying indoors and only going out for essential items. If out, cover your mouth, wash your hands and for heaven’s sake, STEP SIX FEET BACK from everyone else. The hope of seizing opportunities dwindled. Dreams of growing a business, organizing the house, taking steps to change careers, or writing (even one page, much less an entire blog or novel) got upended. Folks spent anticipated free time working longer hours or educating kids. They experienced a level of fear or anxiety that gave rise to exhaustion and staying in bed. They decided to enjoy free time by streaming anything they could get their hands on. I began to hear the same lament from friends, colleagues, and coaching clients: “I am wasting this opportunity.”
That lament started me thinking about what I learned when I decided to launch a solo law practice and how I can use the warning “Step Six Feet Back” as a mechanism for growth in my coaching practice.
Telling yourself, “I’m wasting this opportunity,” is not unique to COVID-19. I am willing to bet we have all said it to ourselves. Think of networking events, vacations, interviews, meeting someone interesting on a night out, or joining a gym. We believe we could embark on something amazing if we could just seize it instead of sitting shyly in the corner, answering emails when in Rome, not asking for the phone number, or skipping the workout for happy hour.
It is in these moments our internal voice pipes up, perhaps softly at first, “Come on…don’t waste this.” Then it beats like a bass rum: “You’re wasting this opportunity. You’re Wasting This Opportunity. YOU’RE WASTING THIS OPPORTUNITY.” It confirms what you already believe: “You are not good enough. You never seize things in the moment. You are a failure.”
I suggest that, rather than convincing ourselves of our own failure, we use that bass drum of a voice to find an opportunity for growth. When you hear it drumming, do not agree with it. Instead, step six feet back. Move away and take a look at the voice. Ask it questions. Find out what it’s really doing up there in your brain talking to you like that. I like to ask mine all sorts of questions:
- What is this opportunity?
- Why do I want to seize it?
- If I seize the opportunity, what will it give me?
- How will I feel?
- What is getting in my way?
- What would if I do if that voice did not exist?
Sometimes when I ask these questions, the bass dies down and I see a clear vision and purpose for what I want and why I want it. Then I can think about how I might get there. Other times, I realize I do not actually want this thing at all, but it is something that will help my family or a loved one. This helps me overcome the hurdle and move forward. And even other times, I recognize that I have created a sense of doom about something I do not need, want, or have to do. Then, I can let it go. In any scenario, stepping back forces me to shift my perspective from agreeing with that bass drum of a voice to considering that something else may be at play. I am not always successful at taking a few steps back – sometimes I leave feeling the same way I felt when I started – stuck in my head, a failure.
Yet, when I do take the steps back, when I stop listening to the bass drum and instead look at myself, the negative noise dies down. Rather than believing I am only capable of wasting an opportunity, I start to think about how I might just seize it because now I know why I want it to begin with. I can move forward. How freeing that feels, to take a step away from the voice and forward into something else.
So, as you shelter in place, if you feel the anxiety of lost opportunity or believe that you have failed, listen to the admonition, “STEP SIX FEET BACK.” May it remind you, too, that stepping back is so often the first step forward.
Megan Moore is an educator at heart. She is a zealous advocate for growth and change, in herself and in her law firm and coaching clients.