Where’s Your Next Devil?


Have you ever been really scared?

Recently at a family reunion at Lake Tahoe, we stayed at a retreat center that had a ropes course. I thought signing up to do this with my immediate and extended family would be fun. When my 6-year daughter came back crying in fear from the “little kids” version, I sensed I might have overestimated the “fun” component.

Hours later, after a brief introduction to attaching your ropes correctly so you aren’t ever “unattached,” when 50 ft off the ground, we began our ascent. The ropes course was divided into three levels (Green circle, blue square and black diamond – shapes and colors familiar to all downhill skiers).

I started on the green circle, “Fuzzy Bunny,” aka “Fuzzy Bunny of Death.” (No seriously – that’s what they said they called it.). And I was scared. My legs were shaking uncontrollably as I walked on swinging balance beams. And my arms were sore and exhausted from hanging on for dear life.

And when I zipped lined down to land victorious (and squarely on my rear end), I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done it – I had conquered my fear.

Thankfully it was all over!

Shortly afterwards, an encouraging group leader passed by and I gave him the thumbs-up and told him I had done it. To which he replied, “Now you need to do it one more time!” After squarely rejecting this idea initially – my cousin and I decided after all to do it again together.

Second time round:

  • It went a lot faster – I went a lot faster
  • My legs shook a lot less
  • My fear was much lower
  • I felt almost cocky and experienced.

I don’t think you need to be coach to see the lessons inherent in this experience. So with this new-found confidence, I turned my sights to the blue square intermediate courses (where the rest of my family was, of course).

And I couldn’t do it. I was just too scared.

Someone recently named this quandary for me: “New level – new devil.”

The “new level new devil” concept was true for me on the ropes course and I know it’s true in business.

Just when you think you’ve mastered your job, and you’re ready to up the ante – that’s when all your niggling doubts rear their head. You might remember them – they’re the ones you thought you had conquered the last time around. . .

Perhaps you hear a familiar voice of doubt in your head when you face a daunting new challenge. Perhaps you hear it at least once a day. I don’t know anyone who never hears it. The two most common responses I notice are to either ignore the voice (thus making it come back again later- often louder,) or to succumb to the “wisdom” of the voice and believe you can’t do it.

May I suggest this instead?
The next time(s) you recognize this “new devil” rearing it’s head – take a moment to stop and answer the following questions:

New Level, New Devil Reflection Questions:

  1. What activity am I doing that brings on voices of doubt or hesitation?
  2. What part of it feels familiar, easy, or do I feel comfortable with?
  3. What part feels especially new, worrisome, or scary to me?
  4. What skill or knowledge would be most helpful to me in starting this activity?
  5. Who or where would be the best places to start learning more about this skill or knowledge (could be a colleague, acquaintance, online learning course, leadership coach.)
  6. What time or energy am I willing to invest to acquire this skill?
  7. What will I do next based on what I have learned in this exercise?

And if you’re finding that one inquiry isn’t enough to boost your confidence and launch you into the next level of your work – pick up the phone and call me. We can craft a plan together to confidently fast track you to your next level of impact and effectiveness in your organization.

If you’re looking for other ways to tackle the devil at your next level – please sign up on the form on this page for my complimentary leadership guide with even more ideas of how you can ready yourself for your next leadership stage.

P.S. I’m also covering some great strategies for dealing with your fear of failure on a complimentary webinar hosted by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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