Being on the Edge

So, I’m in Taipei right now. As you do. Yesterday I spent the day working with a group of up and coming expat Kiwis, teaching and exploring strategies for charting successful careers as global citizens. The group was engaged from the word go, and the discussion was lively, rich and productive for the six hours we were together. A couple of hours into the work, I noticed something about myself: I felt like I was actively playing the ‘facilitator with a plan’ role, and at the same time, I felt like I had no control of where it was all going! In essence, I felt ‘on the edge’. Kind of like riding a roller coaster, but with a loose steering wheel attached.

Reflecting back on that now, I’ve realised I’m pretty much always on the edge when I’m doing my best work. For those of you who know me, this might come as a surprise. I’m known by my clients as someone who’s quite ‘zen’ – I got two identical two Christmas Cards from clients last year with ‘Zen Dog’ on the front. But it’s not usually how I feel!

Zen Dog

I should define what I mean by ‘the edge’. It doesn’t mean I’m on edge in a negative, antsy sort of way. Instead, it’s about being fully present to what’s going on in front of me, and responding to that. Not worrying about what might happen next, or how I’m coming across. It’s about being willing to move to wherever seems right for the person or people I’m there to serve.

Yesterday, did I just show up and see what would happen? No. I had a plan of what I thought would be useful to cover during the day, and some ideas about how to do that. And, I was willing to throw that all out if it didn’t work for the group. It was like being a jazz musician – you’ve got a basic structure and maybe some ideas, and at the same time, if you want to really get the groove going, you’ve got to notice what’s unfolding and go where the music’s going. When you do that, that’s where the magic happens, and, I think, that’s when you feel most alive.

How many times have you planned and rehearsed, and then, when it comes to ‘performance time’, you’ve allowed yourself to throw the script away, and just be in the moment? How did that feel to you? What difference did that make to you, the conversation, the people around you? Wouldn’t it be great if you could create more times like that?

Let’s have a look at some of the ways you can get to, and stay at, the edge more often:

1. Do the work up front. Plan, practice, think it through. Sweat it. There’s no getting away from this. Lay down the neural pathways so you can access what you need, when you need it. Do what it takes.

2. Focus on what you can influence. There’s so much stuff you can’t directly influence or predict when working with people. So focus on what you can. Which is essentially your attitude, your language, and your behaviour.

3. Back yourself. Remind yourself of times when you’ve been in similar situations where you took a risk, let go, and you became just that bit more alive. Maybe your first date? Your first trip overseas? We’ve all taken risks before – which ones paid off for you?

4. Focus on your ‘why’. What’s your highest intent? Define it, and keep coming back to it. For me, it’s often quite simply to stop someone in their tracks, and have them say to themselves ‘that’s got me thinking!’. Make your ‘why’ your mantra.

5. Seek out discomfort. I’ve never been to Taipei before. I don’t speak Mandarin. They don’t speak English. Am I going to stay in my hotel room for four days and order room service? No way! The more I get out there and lean into the uncomfortable, the more I learn, and the more strengthen my comfort with discomfort.

6. Listen to your instincts, and follow them. Develop the ability to notice what is happening in the moment, and what that’s telling you. Start by using the rule of good listening: ‘two ears, one mouth, use them in that proportion’. Allow some silence in your conversation, notice what you think is happening, and put it out there to test whether others see that too. And go from there.

7. Have someone to help you go to the edge and stay there. We’re social beings that do better when we have someone there to support and and challenge us. Who’s in your network that you can connect with to remind you of the six steps above?

Now I’m off to explore Taipei. I have a map, and some rudimentary Mandarin. I’ve been to plenty of foreign cities for the first time before, and I know how to keep my wits about me. That’ll get me started. Let’s see what happens – it’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride!

 

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