Stories of ordinary people overcoming enormous obstacles get our attention. We’re inspired by those who find ways to build the personal strength to achieve the impossible.
As an FBI new agent, I spent sixteen weeks at the FBI Academy. While there were several obstacles for me to overcome, the most grueling also happened to be the one that produced the most sweat—pushups.
Surrounded by buff ex-military and former police officers looking for a career change, I began to question whether I fit in among them. I preferred exercising my mental muscles . . .
For me, gutting out fifty pushups seemed an impossible task.
The Smell of Fear
Upon entering the FBI Academy, one understands that fear does have a smell. It lies thick in the corridors and settles into every corner. New agents find their life surrounded with the fear that accompanies uncertainty—and this is carefully built into the curriculum by FBI counselors and instructors. The reason?
Fear throws us off center. When it does, it’s up to us to decide how to land on our feet.
It’s as much about personal strength and preparation as it is about talent and muscles. I quickly learned that achieving the impossible required the courage to do the following:
- Leave the familiar
- Engage uncertainty
- Let go of ego
Achieving the Impossible
Here are three strategies that helped me achieve the impossible:
1. Leave the Familiar
Moving into unknown territory can seem scary because the path is not illuminated. We’re not sure what we might encounter. We might stumble and make mistakes—but our world will never get bigger until we find ways to enlarge it, and this means moving out of the familiar.
As babies, we do not want to leave the comforts of the womb. We come kicking and screaming and often continue these habits any time we enter a new life experience.
New agents spend 16 weeks isolated at the Academy. At first I thought this was to build team spirit. It was, to some degree, but more importantly, it was to prevent us from running away—from ourselves. There was nowhere to go, except inward. Here is what I learned about leaving the familiar:
- Embarking upon uncharted territory means making mistakes – no one is perfect at everything. Embrace mistakes in the company of others doing the same thing and you’ll feel more like taking risks.
- Let go of self-images – our self-perception may not be accurate or it may be based on false assumptions. Once you learn to draw out what is new and challenging, you will know which self-images are accurate and which ones are not.
- Learn to develop strengths and manage weaknesses – too often people focus only on identifying their strengths. Just as important when learning to do the impossible is learning how to manage your weaknesses.
2. Embrace Uncertainty
You don’t have to be a hero to take a risk. Ordinary people accomplish great things every day. And they do it by experiencing the same fears and concerns that you and I do. The key to their success is attitude: they engage uncertainty as a partner rather than the enemy.
At the Academy, new agents come from a variety of backgrounds and experience. Our instructors took us through a series of small steps as we learned our new craft. Each increment made the unknown less intimidating:
- Embark on low risk projects at first to develop the skills to work with higher risk projects
- Give yourself time and space to come up with solutions
- Seize the opportunity to explore multiple layers of talent and skills
- Allow the process to be messy and unstructured as you uncover those new talents and skills
3. Let Go of Ego
This is the most difficult strategy to incorporate. Until you are willing to be a beginner, there is very little you can learn. Achieving the impossible is about learning—from everything about yourself to the situation in which you find yourself. Society has told us that to be successful we must have the answers. The more we know, the more intelligent and competent we are seen to be.
Ego can be a tremendous impediment to achieving the truly difficult things in life because we don’t want to admit we don’t know everything. Here are some ways to let go of ego:
- Resist the temptation to complain – ego strengthens itself by complaining
- Avoid negative reactions – grievances and resentments are a way to punish others
- Forget about being right – the ego loves to be right
I passed the physical test and graduated from the Academy.
Achieving the impossible is not about the right buzz words or the best model for a corporate strategy. It is about facing the unknown and landing on your feet when confronted with the unexpected.
“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”
~Eddie Rickenbacker, American aviator (1890-1973)
How have solutions presented themselves if you gave yourself time? How has your awareness been heightened in times of uncertainty? How have you achieved the impossible? What is the hardest self-image to let go of?
LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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