Read an Excerpt
It’s Time for a Breakthrough
Just ten minutes into our 240-mile sea adventure, I found myself in the grip of fear. The turbulence and swells of the Atlantic Ocean were more intimidating than I had expected. In fact, I had not anticipated any turbulence. I simply had pictured us having a fun adventure as we navigated our newly purchased thirty-four-foot powerboat from northern New Jersey, where we bought it, to the Washington DC area, where we live.
Now my husband had, in fact, warned me the trip would be rough. But as so often happens in life, words failed to communicate the full impact of reality. Sitting anxiously next to Charles in the cockpit, I did my best not to look distraught, but I had to repeatedly bite my tongue to avoid blurting out, “Stop! Let’s go back and let a truck haul the boat down I-95. It’ll be in DC in no time!” Instead, my thumbs quietly typed cell-phone text messages to my parents and one of my girlfriends every hour or so, updating them on our location. If we perish out here, at least they’ll know where to look for us, I thought as the boat rose and fell with the swells of the ocean, giving my stomach the feeling that I was on a continuous roller-coaster ride. I was not having fun, and I wondered if my stomach could take it much longer.
I knew that if I could simply endure my uneasiness, we would make it back to DC as planned and have a fabulous adventure to reminisce about. As unsettling as it was for me–a woman whose swimming abilities are pretty much limited to the backstroke–to bounce around in the eighty-foot depths two miles off the East Coast, two important facts gave me the confidence not to panic. First, we had a navigation plan. We knew exactly where we were going and how to get there and that we’d spend just eighty miles of our trip in the ocean, even though that eighty miles would take more than ten hours in these conditions. Second, my husband had served nearly ten years as a naval officer, at times navigating ships from the coast of California across the Pacific Ocean to various ports in Asia. If I trusted anyone to get us safely from New Jersey to DC, it was Charles. These two facts didn’t eliminate my fears, but they gave me the strength to endure them.
By the time we arrived home two days later, I was sure the trip had been worth it. Stops in Atlantic City and quaint towns in Delaware and Maryland I’d not previously visited made for a miniature vacation. We arrived home feeling a sense of accomplishment.
When we finally docked at our marina, three friends dropped by to see the new boat and get the scoop on our trip. “So, Val, was it worth it?” one of them asked.
“Well, it was rough for a while there,” I admitted. “I don’t think I’d want to do it again, but I’m really glad we took the trip. It was well worth it.” The experience helped me appreciate the power of the ocean as well as the relative calmness of the Potomac River.
For me, our trip–and my choices along the way–offered an illustration of life. In order to get where we want to be, we must often endure fear, uncertainty, or uneasiness. If we don’t panic and flee in the opposite direction at the first sign of turbulence, we’ll reach our goal–often with new experiences and insights that will help us conquer greater frontiers in the future.
This experience drove home to me the truth that you and I are meant to live fully, passionately, and freely. God has placed within each of us a driving passion along with the skills to accomplish our particular purpose and vision. But as we seek to do so, we will often face the choice of whether to embrace an adventure that could take us further along the path to success–but that will also take us beyond our comfort zone. These experiences offer us the opportunity to develop our character and broaden our perspective, taking us to a new place in life. But many times we give in to our fears, remaining docked in our boring but safe harbor instead of traveling toward the life we were created to live.
The distress of feeling we need to cross the ocean to be within sight of our dreams can be enough to crush our resolve, our perseverance, and even our sense of hope. However, if we can endure the turbulence and keep our eyes on the destination, we’ll be empowered to break free from our fears, obstacles, and misconceptions and sail on toward the goal that lies just over the horizon.
Is Something Holding You Back?
In my life and executive coaching practice and throughout one of my earlier books, Listen to Your Life, I strive to help individuals explore their unique path in life–the path that makes the most of their natural gifts and talents, fulfills their life purpose, and leads to extraordinary success in every area of their life. But as I’ve talked with readers, coaching clients, and friends, I’ve learned that even those who know their purpose and recognize their path often appear to be paralyzed, unable to make progress toward their goals. Basically, there is a gap between where they are and where they want to be, and an invisible force seems to be holding them back.
Can you relate to this experience? Is there a gap between where you are in life and where you want to be? Do you feel as if an invisible force is holding you back from reaching your goals and achieving your dreams? The purpose of this book is to help you identify that force, to determine what’s holding you back and then conquer it. It’s time for a breakthrough!
I have found that when we muster up the courage to close an important gap despite our fears or doubts, we gain more than the reward of a goal reached. We gain depth of character and strength of courage. Through the process, we become more of the person God created us to be. Life is about so much more than what we achieve; it’s about who we are and who we are becoming.
So how do you know when something is holding you back? Here are a few signs:
•Despite your passion or desire for something, you do not take steps to attain it.
•Others see more potential in you than you can see for yourself.
•You believe that others have held you back or hindered you in some way.
•You believe in your potential but are afraid to move toward it.
•You feel stuck.
•You are worried about embarrassing yourself.
•You are hiding behind shame or guilt.
•You have given up on certain goals or dreams because of something in your past.
•You allow fear to control your decisions.
•You sidestep issues that need to be addressed in order to avoid conflict or disappointment.
•You have talents you rarely use.
•You do not know your life purpose.
•You think or speak in negative terms about yourself, your abilities, and your goals.
•You are waiting on perfect circumstances before you take a step forward.
Are You Ready to Break Free?
At times we have trouble acknowledging, let alone conquering, the things that are holding us back. Some time ago as I was having dinner with a couple of new friends during a conference in Miami, the conversation turned to our individual goals and aspirations. As I laid out my hopes for the future, both friends listened attentively. They were enthusiastic and encouraging as they acknowledged that they could see the vision I had described to them. Al-though the hopes I shared seemed major to me, clearly they had no problem imagining me accomplishing them. One friend, a business coach named Andrew Morrison, founder of SmallBusinessCamp.com, even seemed perplexed that I had not already accomplished some of the goals I mentioned. Looking directly at me, he said in a matter-of-fact tone, “What’s really holding you back, Val?”
I was taken aback by the question and immediately found myself feeling defensive. In our short conversation, he had not only discerned that I had the talent and ability to turn the vision into reality, he had also sensed that something was holding me back from doing so. “You have everything you need right now to accomplish that vision,” he continued. “It’s not more money or experience that you need. You need to get out of your own way.”
He was absolutely right. I knew something was holding me back, but I didn’t realize it was obvious to anyone else. When I returned to my hotel room that evening, I pondered his question. What’s really holding me back? Why did his question pierce my soul and leave me feeling so defensive?
The explanation was very simple: fear of pain. All of us make decisions based on what we believe will either bring us joy or help us avoid pain. Specifically, I was avoiding the pain of rejection. My vision was too big to be accomplished on my own, which meant I would have to ask others for help. Actually, I perceived it as asking them for help, but in reality my ideas would be mutually beneficial. Nonetheless, there was a risk of being told no. So in order to avoid potential rejection, I had given up the pleasure of fully realizing the vision. Just as significantly, I clung to the illusion that I could do it alone–again out of fear of rejection. If I do everything myself, then I won’t need anyone else’s help, I won’t have to ask for anything, and therefore I’ll avoid any possibility of rejection.
The discussion that day prompted me to admit that not only were my patterns of behavior unhealthy, they were not God’s will for my life. I was living in bondage, held back from reaching my own potential and, more important, from fulfilling God’s purpose for my life at the highest possible level. How could I serve more people if I wasn’t willing to risk being rejected by a few? To truly live out my vision and purpose, I had to move forward despite the fear that frantically screamed, “No! Don’t go forward! People won’t accept you yet! You need more money, more education, a bigger name!”
Have you, like me, found yourself held back by your desire to avoid pain? Perhaps the pain you fear isn’t rejection but failure, worry, embarrassment, disappointment, loneliness, or another fear-based issue.
I believe this book is in your hands for a purpose. It’s time for you to conquer the issues and challenges that are preventing you from living your best possible life. It’s time to discover and break free from what’s really holding you back. I intentionally ask, “What’s really holding you back?” because most people give surface answers when asked what’s keeping them from achieving their full potential. Here are some of the answers I hear most often:
•“I don’t have enough time.”
•“I don’t have enough money.”
•“I have kids. Their needs are holding me back.”
•“I don’t have the right experience or education.”
•“I don’t have the right background.”
•“I don’t have the right connections.”
•“I’m not a good communicator.”
•“I’m just bad at relationships…money…taking care of myself…or whatever!”
Some of these comments may echo your own response, but they do not reveal the deeper reasons behind your stagnancy. To effectively close the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you’ll have to summon the courage to uncover the culprits that are holding you back and then take the necessary steps to break free. Of course, it’s not enough to simply stop doing what isn’t working in your life. You must also make changes so that you can start doing what does work. That’s what I have set out to help you accomplish in this book.
How to Best Use This Book
This book is designed to help you uncover the challenges and invisible obstacles that hold you back and to help you overcome them. The answers are within your reach. My job as your coach is simply to provoke thought and help you explore the truth about yourself.
This book isn’t intended to be read passively. If you want to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be, the words on these pages must be translated into action in your daily life. Each chapter poses a challenge that will bring you closer to overcoming the obstacles, fears, and misconceptions that threaten to hold you back from all that is possible for you. I’ll be helping you identify specific action steps and learn from the results of those actions. This cycle of action and learning will empower you to accelerate the rate of your personal and spiritual growth.
Throughout the book, I will challenge you to take notice of four elements in your daily life that can either hold you back or–when used as God intends–propel you forward. These four elements are your thoughts, words, actions, and energy. You will boost your growth by eliminating the thoughts, words, actions, and energy-draining encounters that make you weak. You will replace those self-defeating habits with practices that place you in a position of strength. At the end of each chapter is a section titled Closing the Gap. This section contains four subsections–Focus Your Thoughts, Use Your Words Wisely, Target Your Actions, and Energize Your Spirit–that will help you immediately apply the principles you’ve learned in each area.
Focus Your Thoughts
Your thoughts are the birthplace of your words, actions, and energy. Throughout the Bible we are told of the importance of our thoughts. Philippians 4:8 states, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” Everything you experience in life begins with a thought, whether the thought is yours or someone else’s. The mind, and how you choose to use it, can answer the question of what’s really holding you back and help you break free from it.
In this section, we will explore, in depth, the types of thoughts that need to be incorporated into your daily life as well as the types of thoughts you need to let go of. This section also offers a meditation point or idea to help focus your thoughts in the right direction. By renewing your mind with the truth of God’s promises, you will be able to conquer whatever is keeping you from attaining your best possible life.
Use Your Words Wisely
Negative thoughts are reinforced when they are expressed verbally. But your own words aren’t the only potential problem. The words of others often initiate thought patterns that can sabotage your success.
In this section we’ll explore how to use your words for positive change and how to appropriately filter the words of others. I’ve also included exercises that will help you reflect on the words you use and equip you to choose your words carefully. As you work through these exercises, you’ll learn how your words can serve as a tool to chip away the obstacles and issues that have held you back.
Target Your Actions
Your actions, or lack thereof, influence the circumstances of your life. If you want to change your life, you must be willing to change what you do on a daily basis. God has given you the power to make significant, positive changes because He has given you the power of choice! By taking consistent actions based on what you learn about yourself, you will transform your life.
One step at a time, you will move forward and break free from the invisible culprits that are holding you back. As you gain momentum, you’ll find it easier to keep going! That’s why I’ve included this section in each chapter, with specific steps to get you started. The key is to get yourself moving, and these exercises will do just that.
Energize Your Spirit
Just as a distance runner won’t win a race by starting off like a sprinter, you also must manage your spiritual, physical, and emotional energy deliberately and for the long haul. As you break free of the restraints that have held you back, you will notice that the journey to complete freedom is a process. Identifying energy drainers is crucial to developing the strength to persevere, the attitude to overcome, and the power to live fully every day.
As we’ll see, your most powerful source of energy is your spiritual connection. Sometimes we work hard to make changes and forget that our reliance on God is absolutely vital to our progress. Or perhaps we aren’t sure how to pray about a particular issue. This section will help you articulate your needs to God and connect with Him in a powerful way.
As you go through each of the steps in this book, you may find it helpful to connect regularly with a partner or a few trusted friends. Some of the issues raised are going to challenge you at the deepest level. An encouraging partner who is working through the same process can help you stay focused.
You may want to pace yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed trying to make multiple changes at once. Consider reading one chapter a day or a few chapters each week, and use this book as a tool to truly transform your life by making lasting changes over time.
In addition, consider this book a resource that you can return to. As you will learn, breaking free from the issues that hold you back takes perseverance and conditioning. Just as you wouldn’t win an Olympic competition by practicing once, you won’t transform your life by doing something different just one time. You must recondition yourself to respond differently than you have in the past, and that will take patience, persistence, and practice! In some areas you may close the gap quickly as you sprint to the other side. In other areas you may crawl and meander, but you will still be moving forward! Any pace is better than remaining stuck and watching your dreams slip away.
I consider it a privilege to join you on your journey of moving from where you are to where you want to be. Let’s get started!
Do You Know Where You’re Going?
Identify Where You Want to Be
From the age of ten through high school, I lived in Denver, Colorado, a city with one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. The picture-perfect backdrop for Denver’s skyscrapers is the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, which stand boldly on the horizon just fifty miles west of downtown. In addition to the great scenery they provide, the Rockies are a functional landmark. When I was a novice driver, the Rocky Mountains gave me a sense of direction. I found it impossible to ever get completely lost because I always knew which way was west! As a teenager I often wondered how people in other parts of the country without such an obvious landmark could figure out which direction they were going. The Rockies are also a popular destination. Hikers, skiers, and nature lovers flock to the Rocky Mountains every year as their vacation destination of choice.
Similarly, a specific destination and a clear sense of direction are critical to the pursuit of your life purpose. Identifying the overall vision for your life paves the way for determining the distance between where you are now and where you want to be, as well as the direction you need to take as you journey toward your goal. By keeping your eyes fixed on a specific goal or landmark, you can more easily maintain your focus and not lose your sense of direction.
What is your destination in life? Do you have a clear vision for where you are headed? Without one, it can be easy to ignore the gaps in your life. After all, if you aren’t going anywhere in particular, why would it ever occur to you that you aren’t where you want to be?
As you begin your journey to identify the things that are holding you back, I want you first to look to the horizon and explore possible destinations for your life. Take a few minutes to write out a paragraph describing your overall vision for the next stage of your life. What were you created to accomplish? What are your areas of passion? How would your life look if all of your skills and talents were being put to use on a regular basis? What would bring you the greatest sense of fulfillment? At this point, focus not so much on what you want to change as where you ultimately want to be.
Next, I want you to carefully observe where you are right now and compare it to where you want to be. Between here and there lies a gap that challenges you, perhaps even frightens you. To help you bridge that gap, let’s look at five key areas of your life and explore how each of these can help you shape and reach your overall vision. What is your most important goal–your intended destination–in each of the following areas?
Your finances and resources:
Your physical health and environments:
Your spiritual life:
Taking the time to notice where you are and to determine where you want to be provides clarity. Lack of clarity can pose a serious stumbling block. As a life coach I often meet with clients who insist they are stuck, but when I ask them a few clarifying questions, I discover that they are stuck because they haven’t taken the time to gain clarity about where they are, where they want to be, and what steps it would take to move from here to there. It sounds simple, but in the hectic pace of life, we can easily rush through our days in an unfocused, hazy state, overlooking key truths about our situation.
The State of Your Life assessment in the following chapter will help you explore this issue further and identify some of the gaps in your life.
Closing the Gap
Focus Your Thoughts
Visualize where you want to be in each of the five key areas of life listed earlier in this chapter. Keep your thoughts focused on the vision rather than on the obstacles that stand in your way.
Use Your Words Wisely
Write down your key goals in each of the five key areas of life, and post them where you will see them often–perhaps on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or desk, or in your appointment book.
Target Your Actions
Identify the landmark that will signal you have arrived where you want to be in your life. Consider some steps you can take to move in that direction.
Energize Your Spirit
God, please give me clarity regarding Your purposes and vision for my life. Help me step boldly into my destiny, trusting in Your wisdom to guide me along the way. Amen.