What stories do you tell yourself that get in the way? I tell myself I have a bad memory, and I don’t understand physics. My partner’s sister says she’s not good with hand-eye coordination.

What about stories we tell ourselves as a social group? I hear often that once you have kids your life is over. Or (my personal favorite) you might hear bachelor-grooms say “this is my last night as a free man.”

What stories do we tell ourselves as non-profit leaders? “Overworked and underpaid” is a common one. Lack of resources is another. In my organization over the past nine months it has been “I have no bandwidth to take that on. I’m trying to keep my head above water!”

Sometime about six months ago I realized that the bandwidth story wasn’t actually true for me anymore. The truth was that I was caught up on most of my work and looking for something new and exciting to sink my teeth into. I was shocked, though, to hear, out of my own mouth, when I arrived at work, “I have no bandwidth to take that on.”

Our story-programming is quite incredible. Until the end of time I can see myself repeating the same story - I have no bandwidth. Looking back, I believe that in a sense I was telling the truth, though the context was missing. I didn’t have anymore bandwidth for the same work I had been doing for the last three and a half years. I needed something fresh to spark my creativity and innovative thinking.

At my next opportunity, during a meeting with my Executive Director, we began down the same path - we have no bandwidth to take that on - so I took a leap of faith and intercepted the story. I looked at him and said “Actually, that’s no longer true for me. I do have space to take on more projects.” I remember the silence that followed. It was like I had said “I don’t want to play on that team anymore.” I wonder if he experienced a sense of betrayal.

Stories keep us safe. They are a known quantity in a known framework and they prevent change. While you still believe that you don’t understand physics, or that you don’t have any time, or that you’re not good at hand-eye coordination, there is no impetus for action. It turns out that the last time my partner’s sister tried any sort of activity involving hand-eye coordination was when she was nine years old. She’s now twenty-three. That is fourteen years of stagnancy on something that could certainly have seen progress.

Today, as I mentally prepare for a meeting with my board to tell them why to promote me to Interim Executive Director, the stories I am telling myself are that I’m too young to lead and I’m too inexperienced to achieve financial success for this organization. The first truth is that I am thirty-three: the same age Amelia Earhart was when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic alone; Lewis & Clark were when they made their famous expedition; Edison was when he discovered the incandescent light bulb; and President Jefferson was when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The second truth is that during my time with this organization we have more than doubled our budget (from $400K to almost $900K) and I have played a huge role in this financial growth.

The stuff that keeps us down - they are stories we tell ourselves.

What story will you tell yourself today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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