thinking through the what-ifs

Carly Fiorina Quote

A while ago, a lovely women from our church in Brussels gave me a book that had had a big impact on her. It was Tough Choices, the memoir of Carly Fiorina. She is an American businesswoman, and for six years was CEO for Hewlitt-Packard, at a time when the number of women in top positions was tiny, driving through some big changes that were controversial and ultimately cost her the job.

The book is a fascinating walk through her life as a business woman, the relationships she had with colleagues and bosses, the decisions she made and her thoughts and feelings behind them.

One thing she said that made me stop and find a pen to write it down, was this:

“People don’t want to be mediocre; they’re just sometimes afraid they can’t be any better, or that they won’t make any difference even if they are.”

It made me stop in my tracks because I’ve seen the same thing play out in my own life. I have a new business venture before me that has a chance to be really successful. It’s a good idea, I’m good at what I do, there’s opportunity for growth.

But I find myself procrastinating important tasks each day. And I wonder why? What is it that stops me doing what I love? Because I do love this. And maybe Carly gave me the answer.

I procrastinate because I’m afraid I’m won’t be as good as I think I can be. And I have no one else to blame this time. The success of my business is dependent, by and large, on me. On my skills, my effort, my contacts. And what if that isn’t enough?

I procrastinate because maybe I am that good, but maybe the business will still fail because of something beyond my control. Maybe I won’t make a difference. Because I really believe that events can change the world. But what if I can’t?

I am a big worrier. I imagine all the worst case scenarios, everything that could go wrong, all the reasons I am not as good as I hoped. I deceive myself into believing that this kind of thinking is “sensible” because I go in to situations with realistic expectations. But in reality, I’m clipping my own wings with my foolish imaginings.

A few years ago, I was worrying away to Rasmus, telling him all the things that could go wrong, that I was sure would go wrong. And he finally said to me, “But what if it all goes right?”

I was thinking through all the what-ifs but failing to imagine all the potentially positive outcomes. What if this job goes really well? What if the advertising campaign I have in mind is a big success? What if people actually like my website, like what I stand for? What if people actually like me?! What if I get everything I ever dreamed of and more?

It’s right and good to be realistic about prospects when you start a business, or begin a relationship, take up a new course, or any new step forward. But being realistic means including the possibility, however slim it may seem, that I might be wildly successful and happy.

What if it all works out well? And how might that thought make a difference to what I do today?