What Keeps You From Flying?



What if you could fly, or maybe just consistently jump a little higher in life?  Would you follow me if I could show you  how to be a little bit better parent or boss or teacher or sales person?  One sure way is to find a thing you do that gets in your way; realize that it’s comfortable for you but admit that it gets in your way and resolve to stop it.  

Here’s the key:  be open about what makes you feel in control, comfortable, or safe.  Let me give you two examples and then show you a third.  (A) I have students who “hide” in class and when called on they speak in almost tiny voices. They stay safe. It works, because teachers stop calling on small-voiced people.  In their softness, they are quite in control.  (B) I have students who jump in at the mere hint that there’s going to be a question on the floor. Their strategy gets them noticed, feeling useful, and engaged.  Although the style of Person B appears to be the opposite of A, the drive is precisely the same: Each feels comfortable and in control in their style.  Ask either to try the opposite and it will be nearly impossible.  I’ve tried with them!  For example, it may take five or six painful retries before I can get person A to speak just 10% louder.

I said I’d show you an example.  Over the weekend we went to our friend Sam Keen’s farm and Jack and Jennifer and I took turns “on the flying trapeze.”  Sam began flying at 61 years old, and at 80 he not only swings, but hangs  upside down, as “the catcher” whose hands reach down and stretch to grab a flier.  Each hand above hand, climbing that skinny circus ladder to the 30-foot platform  took us further and further from our comfort zones.  Jack “flew” pretty well. Back and forth…and got his legs over his body to hang upside down. Jennifer in classic extrovert form howled the fear right out of her body and swung back and forth.  Confident and in my comfort zone – alpha male – I held the bar and at the “hep” call I let go. Here’s me in flight:

“The predictable male mistake,” the trapeze coach explained, “You kept your elbows bent in classic bicep-bursting pose” he demonstrated. “So when you hit the end of the arc, your elbows snapped open and your hands didn’t have a chance.” As you saw, one second I was in control (or so I thought). The next I was 155 pounds of mass hurtling out of control into the net below. My natural “success strategy” or “comfort zone” felt natural and right but ill-fitted the job before me.

Some of us are comfortable as we over-steer our kids, our staff, our assistants. Others of us stay comfortable avoiding conflict at all costs. You have seen my success strategy (maybe you’ve read it in RFL): jump in, trust myself, figure I know what I’m doing. I’d love to hear your comments on the success strategy or comfort zone that you stay within or employ, which may most get in the way of your leading with your best self. And comment on what you have tried to break out of that comfort area to

Lead with your best self.


  • I give 100%+ to those areas where I feel competent. Those tasks that get delayed, to the point of causing undue stress, are those tasks at which I feel less competent. I am working on that!

  • at my mature age (63), I know what I do well. I do it very well. I’ve been internally challenged to attack the things I don’t do well: assert myself, ask for specifics about a failure and work hard at changing the way I did it, and accepting that who I am today is enough. I don’t have as many years left as I have lived and I so want to go out at the top of my game!

    One of the things I do is read your column! You challenge me. Keep it up, Dan.

  • At some point in the early 70’s while I was a small kid I became afraid of heights. I don’t know if it’s from being pushed down around 20 stairs or falling from the monkey bars landing flat on my head splitting it open, or if it’s the climbing over the railings climbing down the side of the Grand Canyon incident (as Elvis sang ‘Little Sister don’t do what your big sister does”). As a kid I would try to go on the ferris wheel but they always had to let me off, but I could and still can ride the scariest, highest roller coasters they have out there, including the ones with no floor. These days, from the ground just looking up at a ferris wheel I panic. I always tried to get over the fear of heights even by standing on balconies or ladders but I can’t. I even climbed the very top of a catwalk once going over the freeway and still never gotten over my fear of heights. I also went up in a helicopter touring the smokey mountains with a glass floor, then once I was able to open my eyes I video taped the top of the smokies from the chopper through the glass floor. (It would of been nice if they told me about the glass floor before I got into the chopper). Going into one I thought that I would get over my fear but….. Whatever happen as a kid that caused me to be afraid of heights I just can’t break away from it no matter what I do as an adult. I even grew up flying in airplanes and was in a plane many times as an adult but I panic standing on a chair. I can do some things of height but other things I’m a big chicken. By the way, I would be a student from the (A) group that you mentioned. I perfer to hide in class and I probably would shoot dirty looks at you if you kept calling me, LOL.

  • I’m not a parent *yet* but I can imagine one of the most uncomfortable challenges I’ll face in parenting is letting my son or daughter make certain choices for themselves, even if I think the decision might be unwise. My dad did a good job of instilling in me the notion of making choices and facing consequences, and I question whether I’ll have the boldness to let my kids do the same. Hopefully, my future partner can balance me out, and together, and in faith, have discretion in distinguishing between learning opportunities and truly poor judgment for our kids.

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