I’d Prefer to Stand In My Underwear…

“Hi I’m Sam and my star is to quit my job in finance and start a cooking school for kids that teaches them good values.” She scans the panels’ faces as she wrings her hands, searching for a lip twitch or a snicker. But they just sit there, pens cocked, listening patiently. “Soo…..how I’m going to get there….well first things first I need to start learning a little bit about the nutrition business. I’m going to get a job at the Whole Foods culinary center and see if I can’t shadow some professional chefs…” Sam snipes through her PowerPoint, revealing her one-year, two-year, five-year, and ten-year timelines to get to her end star. “Here at the 30 year milestone, I’m going to have my first child. I also plan to be making $200,000 a year,” she says a little with a quiver in her voice. “At 40 we are going to be opening our second location….” Sam finishes bearing her very personal roadmap to the judges and braces herself for the question session that follows.Connecting-with-Your-Audience

Now imagine you had to go through the exercise Sam did — defining your life purpose in concrete terms and creating a roadmap to get you from where you are today to that end state – and then have a panel of judges grade your work product. Talk about an exercise of vulnerability! Given the choice, I’d prefer the old night terror of giving a speech in my underwear…

But having been-there done-that as an Acton student, I know how powerful that exercise truly is, and today I had the great honor of getting to be a judge on the panel for eight graduating Acton students.

I must have been a benchwarmer called in to play, because I was by far the least intimidating judge; to my left was a well regarded writer, author, and speaker, to his left a cofounder of Austin’s start-up incubator, Tech Ranch, and to my right the prior executive recruiter for Sam Walton’s Walmart team. We were all given rubrics to score the students presentations: 20 points for clearly identifying your star, 25 points for defining your next steps, 15 points for cohesion and consistency, 10 points for how well you tell your own story, etc.

As you can imagine, this presentation chocks up to be something pretty terrifying. Yet to me, it’s a true manifestation of Marianne Williams famous observation:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us”

I loved today seeing people stretch for their greatest potential and bravely declare their biggest wants out of life. I saw how frightened, uncomfortable, and timid they felt, but watched them move through the discomfort to double-down on their commitment to the higher road.  It was inspiring, and a good reminder that a life well lived is one that is purposeful.

As a panelist this time around, I also recognized there’s a gift you give others when you challenge them, press on their comfort boundaries, and help them peel back the onion layers. It’s called accountability, and it’s a really rare relationship that can generate exponential returns to the time invested. Part because you have to be clear in communicating what you want to achieve, and part because someone believes in you.

“If I accept you as you are now, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you’re capable of becoming, I help you become that.” – Goethe

Of course after judging these presentations I had to go back and look at my “Stars and Steppingstones” deck, to see how much has changed since last year. I had a good chuckle at a few slides – “Well that job function is not at all what I thought it was!” – but overall, my personal values and purpose statement still ring pretty damn true. I’ll share a few slides with you here, because that’s what this blog is all about after all — making one personal public declaration after the other, to write the story I want to live.

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