A typical summer run was interrupted when in my peripheral vision a big dog was running toward me and barking. It grabbed my attention and my heart raced at an even higher rate once I realized I was the intended target. With no fence in view to stop the dog, I was totally exposed and begun weighing my options when the unexpected happened. The dog instantly halted. Its bark remained but its movement stagnated. My heart eased but my mind pondered on this “miracle on the curb”. I came to understand it all when I saw two words on a sign at the edge of the front yard of that house, “INVISIBLE FENCE.”
Later, those words prompted this thought; “What are some invisible fences in life? I would like to share four and how to break them:
- Perfection (how I want others to see me): On a recent visit at the local Walmart, my daughter threw a tantrum at the checkout line. It drew the attention of other shoppers, which didn’t bother me until I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time in one of the other lines. Suddenly, the tantrum became a reflection on me as a bad parent. I wanted my friend to see a perfect picture when it came to my parenting and my daughter was muddying the colors. Retaliating by punishing my daughter would have been viable but ill-advised because the discipline wouldn’t have been measured from love but from the fear of losing the image I hoped to create. Through that moment my daughter was teaching me that perfection is not the price of admission for success or significance whether in parenting, business, relationships, career or life in general. Perfection becomes an invisible fence that limits what we are willing to risk to avoid the embarrassment of failure. We choose to remain stuck in an image of perfection we have projected to others while gasping for air as we drown in the very waters we attempt to swim in. Breaking this fence begins when we choose to be present and vulnerable. Don’t try to be so perfect that you miss the opportunities to be present. Don’t pursue perfection, pursue excellence. The latter creates space for failure while the former does not. Live in the moments you have been given and you will be grateful you were present.
- Culture (the way I do things): You’ve probably said or heard someone say it when their actions are questioned, “It’s just the way I (or we) do things. Culture is one of the strongest invisible fences because while it is often camouflaged, it affects every area of our lives. Culture is like air; it is all around us. But remember the type of air we breathe determines our overall health. Breathing polluted air such as second hand smoke is almost as dangerous as the act of smoking itself. The roots of culture run deep and require an intentional plan to disconnect from negative cultural traits which steal, kill and destroy the drive for transformation. Basically, your vision, strategy, enthusiasm, passion, and even structure will be eaten for lunch by culture. Not all culture is bad but it turns toxic when the progress we need is withstood by the culture we hold. We break toxic cultural traits with the question, “Why do I do things the way I do them?” And to take it a step further, “Is there a better way to do it?” This is how innovation works as well. It’s this inquisitiveness that invites insight and creativity that changes the way things are done.
- Mindsets (how I think): Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? This is the question that I have consistently asked myself after perusing Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset based on a simple yet powerful idea. She makes the case that a fixed mindset is wrong to have because it depends solely on attributes like talent and intelligence. This mindset uses these fixed traits as a way to excuse the important ingredient of effort as a proponent to success. People with a fixed mindset default to their level of talent and intelligence when questioned. In contrast, a growth mindset sees cultivation of what has been deposited as key to success. A growth mindset is pliable, willing to learn, and ready to do the hard work required to grow. A growth mindset greatly enhances levels of productivity. A parable is told about a man who went on an extended trip and gave talents to each of his three servants. The number of talents each servant was given differed according to their ability. The one who was given five immediately went and doubled his investment. The one who was given two did like the first. The man who received one talent buried it. The master came back and rewarded the two servants who multiplied what they were given but he took from the one who hid his talent. We can conclude that the two who doubled their investments had a growth mindset but the one who buried his had a fixed mindset. How he thought of his master created an invisible fence making him hide instead of develop what was deposited. We break a fixed mindset by taking advantage of opportunities and aiming to improve what we are given. This happens when we question our current thinking process and make the shift into new paradigms of thought.
- Statistics (what the numbers say): Statistics are a way to predict what could happen in the future based on trends. Statistics are important but should not be taken as absolute Statistics tend to make us throw our hands up and say, “If those are the stats, what’s the use of trying to _____________”. Sometimes the statistics we stare at can become the informants of what we cannot do or accomplish because the “writing is on the wall.” Statistics as an invisible fence can condemn us to the slump of mediocrity but I dare to say that statistics just like records are meant to be broken. Do you look at the unemployment statistics and resign yourself to never finding a job? Or the statistics of failed marriages make you decide not to get married or wonder if there is any hope for yours? Do the number of failed businesses change your mind about starting your own business? Never allow what other people have failed at to become the gauge of failure for your own life. Numbers don’t lie but they do not provide all the answers. Don’t depend on them as the script for the story of your life. You were not born to be a statistic. You were created to be unique, purposeful, and significant. Break the fence of statistics by using them to spark a fire in you to be true to your God given assignment and live it out.
Concluding thought: Whatever your invisible fence is, become aware of it, use the awareness to spark a fire, and remind yourself that the fence can only hold its victim but the victor will always find their freedom from it. Keep on Keeping on!
Waiyaki M. Waiyaki
“Live by Design not by Default”