I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  I know the reason for most people’s mediocrity. We don’t like to say the word out loud, but it’s alive and well, and, sadly, it controls a large portion of our thoughts.  Especially within the last 6-7 months.

The reason: fear. 

We fear everything today.  We fear the known and the unknown, the present and the future.  We’re scared to compete because we might lose and scared to chase our dreams because we might fail.  We’re afraid to post on LinkedIn because an “influencer” might comment that we post too much.  We’re afraid to apply for the school of our dreams or for the promotion at work because we might be told ‘no.’  We fear not listening to a-list celebrities for medical advice and expertise on world affairs.   We are afraid to stick to what we know is right because those feelings are “outdated.”

We’re afraid to try anything new.  And now the media preys on us, instilling even more fear by the minute. 

But mostly, we are fearful of disrupting the precarious balancing act we call our life. 

Fear makes us listen to that voice in our heads that tells us something is a waste of time or won’t be received well in the market.  It tells us we aren’t worth the position we are in and makes you think your boss hates you.  Fear makes us resist change.  Even worse, it creates cultures of complacency.  

Our happy place becomes “the comfort zone.” 

But herein lies the problem.   The comfort zone is the very essence of mediocrity. 

I do have good news: the key to moving out of the comfort zone lies in three words: Listen, Learn, and Discover.

LISTEN to others.  Listen carefully.  Benefit from their experiences.  Most importantly:  avoid making the same mistakes they did.  Open your ears.  The good Lord blessed you with two ears and one mouth for a reason.  

But…  know this.  Talk is easy.  And it’s cheap.  If you don’t believe me, just open up any news channel and watch for 5 minutes.  It’s easy to tell people how it is.  It’s much harder to be receptive to feedback from others.  It’s easy to talk about change; it’s much harder to do it.  

You have to overcome your fears and listen to the honest and constructive criticism of others.  I do.  I used to hate it, and I feared it, but now I seek it.  I know that it will do nothing but make me and my future offerings stronger and more bullet-proof.

Does your corporate culture enable input from all employees?  If so, do you take it, or is it a pro forma request for a sneaky and self-serving pat on the back?  I’ll put it a bit more bluntly: are you surrounded by sycophants who only tell you how awesome you are?

One of the strengths in Special Operations is in our mindset of what comprises a “team.”  Of course, rank matters, but experience also matters, and solid teams know it isn’t “WHERE” the solution comes from – just that a solution was found.  The most junior person on the team might have the best idea.  And that’s fine.

Are you and your corporate culture enabling your teams?  What is your corporate tolerance for failure?  Do you endorse a “zero defect policy” expecting 100% perfection with absolutely no tolerance for failure?   

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, trust me, problems are looming just over the horizon.

Try this: open your ears, listen, and find out.

Educate yourself.  Read a book by someone established in your career field, attend a seminar, book corporate training for your organization or attend a “meet-up.”   

You will LEARN the people who’ve made it in life are unabashedly able to articulate the many mistakes they’ve made along the way. They don’t dwell on past mistakes – they learn from them and identify root causes to put solid processes to ensure they don’t happen again. 

Here is a warning, don’t undertake this journey if you are unable or unwilling to learn from your mistakes.  Mistakes are going to happen, and when they do, make sure you learn from each of them.  

When you run an event/operation/project, have your team conduct an AAR (After Action Review).  Have each member of the team (starting from the lowest ‘rank’ to highest so as not to inappropriately influence the beliefs of junior members) recite one thing each to sustain and improve about the event.  This is at a MINIMUM.  Capture what is said.

Remember, if you’ve properly selected and educated your team, they will have valuable feedback your entire organization may learn from.

Lastly, DISCOVER your potential.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t allow fear to control your life when you turn off your tv and stop listening to the fear-mongers. 

Learn to take calculated risks and exploit opportunities for growth, and don’t be afraid.   Get up and start living your life.  Put one foot in front of the other and measure your progress in baby steps. 

Let momentum fuel your endeavors.

Never embrace average, or settle for mediocre.  Listen to that voice in your head that tells you what you can do and discover your true potential.  

Jon Acuff sums it up nicely: “Fear would have told the Wright Brothers not to fly. Fear would have told Rosa Parks to change seats. Fear would have told Steve Jobs that people hate touch screens.”

Fear doesn’t change the world, the ability to overcome it does.  

You’ll never know if you don’t try.