Over a lunch conversation with a dear friend, we discovered we were both feeling the same way about life: tired, stressed, and pulled in many different directions. The abundance of tasks in both our personal and professional lives had grown unwieldy. We empathized with each other despite our very different places in life. Somehow, the struggle was the same.
The conversation reminded me of a book I had read only a year ago. Last year, I received a book recommendation called Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. The book, without giving it away, was about the author’s battle to choose to be present in her life without giving into opportunities to constantly seek perfection instead of mindfulness. I was going through a time in life where mindfulness techniques seemed to be the only way to help me categorize and prioritize my thoughts and feelings for all contexts. At the time, the book was just what I needed: courage to give myself permission to prioritize the things in my life that most interest me; to say no when I need (or want) to; and a sense of being enough in a world with endless demands that cause anxiety and overwhelm.
While my friend and I shared our meal and exchanged recent challenges, I confessed to the feeling that seemed to be holding me back: fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of not having enough time or energy; fear of being afraid too long; fear of not growing; etc. The list goes on. Once we concluded explaining our lists of fears and anxieties to each other, I gave (us) the only advice I could think of. I advised that we do the next right thing.
“What’s the next right thing?” she asked. “That’s pretty vague.”
I thought about it. It could be drinking a cup of coffee, or it could be writing an important e-mail to a colleague. It could be picking children up from school, or it could be making a call to schedule an overdue appointment with a therapist for the first time. The range is incredible and unending. The options are limitless. I saw her point; doing the next right thing really could be anything.
As I recalled my own list of fears in my mind, my eyes filled with tears. She was right. How could I decide on the next right or best thing for myself when it wasn’t clear? Again, I felt overwhelmed (and still afraid).
We talked about how we never wanted to become complacent and how we wanted to always encourage each other toward greatness. We promised each other never to let ourselves become static professionals or people. We talked about taking risks and how they make you feel most alive. We talked about how the scariest times in our lives have also been some of the most worthwhile.
She replied, “Perhaps it’s better to say ‘do the next extraordinary thing.’”
I thought to myself. What’s extraordinary? It is definitely something more definable and specific than “right” or “best.” To challenge myself to do the next extraordinary thing means confronting those fears that cause paralysis, and confronting them daily. It seemed that asking this question, I couldn't get stuck in sameness or a multitude of demands (or the potential would at least decrease).
Committing myself to asking the question about what next extraordinary thing I can do on a daily basis means constant re-evaluation. It means, I hope, continual self-improvement. It means using the best of my brain and my heart to pursue my personal and professional goals. It means creating a string of extraordinary moments to create an extraordinary life.
I smiled. I loved the way she had revised my advice. My mind immediately began to think of the next extraordinary thing I could, should, or needed to do. As I asked the question, so the answer came to me. But the gift of implementing this advice was not in the reaction I received after completing my first extraordinary task. The gift was watching myself go through the exercise of asking the question, and overcoming the fear of inaction. My hope is that, over time, this question will become a pattern of behavior for me.
By asking yourself “what’s the next extraordinary thing” that you can do to further your professional or personal goals is a simple, mindful way to pursue self-growth and combat fear. It is my hope that you, too, never stop asking the question.
© 2017 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.
First image above: Shutterstock.
Dedication: To my friend who helped inspire this post, thank you for your friendship and commitment to extraordinary living.