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Guest Opinion: Embrace your evolution


By Sarah Noll Wilson | Leadership coach

As I participated in a Q&A for the University of Northern Iowa’s Women in Business group a few years ago, a young woman who was just a few months from graduating raised her hand with tears in her eyes. 

“Sarah, I love how passionate you are about what you do,” she said. “You have so much clarity. I want that same kind of clarity because I don’t have that now. But I don’t want it to take 14 years like it did you.” 

I took a deep breath because I knew this could be a shift moment, not just for her, but for others listening. 

My response to this brilliant young woman was: “I love how passionate you are about your future, and I can see how important this is to you. I’d like to offer a perspective. I wouldn’t be who I am standing in front of you or doing what I am doing if it weren’t for every experience leading up to this moment. And it isn’t that after 14 years, suddenly everything turned on for me. Who you are seeing is the result of every little step forward, every failure I’ve learned from, and every risk I took (or didn’t). My advice is to keep moving forward, be curious, try new things, and learn to love failure. When you do that, your path will reveal itself.” 

I could tell that my words had landed heavily, and they may not have been what she was hoping to hear, because there is no quick fix to having it all figured out. As long as we are alive, and we are moving, we will always be discovering, sometimes rediscovering, and evolving. Even when the path seems obvious, something new will reveal itself and open another possibility or two (or 22!). 

I have found myself reflecting frequently on this truth, especially now as I step into the world as a full-time business owner. Because the reality is, I too have had those thoughts of wanting to be at the finish line when I’m just starting to warm up. Yes, I sometimes compare my own success to that of the world’s top speakers, my newly launched website to companies that have been in business for decades, or my writing to the work of tenured researchers. 

I don’t know about you, but when I compare myself to others, one of two things tends to happen:  
I either feel paralyzed because I’m not good enough, or pushed to get better. I wish I could tell you my habit has always been the latter, but it hasn’t. For a long time, if my product wasn’t at the level of the person or company I most admired, or the level I envisioned, then often I would procrastinate or put off entirely what needed to get done. Things changed for me when I heard this sage advice: “When we aim ourselves against someone else’s target we will always miss.”

Take a moment and let that sink in. Go ahead, I’ll wait. It is worth slowing down for. 

Time to find a new target, my friends. Your own. 

Here are three mindsets to hold on to as you work to re-aim and claim your target:

Create Version 1.0 – Your best doesn’t happen on the first try, but to get to your best you must try first. Every time I create a new presentation, video or product, I think to myself, “This is version 1.0, and if I want to get to version 10.0, I have to start here.”

Find One Thing – Every day, find one thing you can do to push you toward your goal. Because it is ultimately this series of small steps that gets us to the finish line. Don’t leave your future to chance by not making intentional choices.

Celebrate the Catch – When you notice you aren’t doing something as well as you would like (thoughts, behaviors etc.), instead of shaming yourself, celebrate that you caught the behavior and that you get to make a new choice next time.

Yes, sometimes our journey takes a bit longer than we would like. Yes, it is so easy to compare our journey to others. But when we keep our aim on our target, eventually we will hit that bullseye. And it will be glorious, even if it takes 14 years.

Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to change the epidemic of bad managers. She helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. Sarah creates a safe but unreservedly honest environment, preparing managers to deal with real-world conflict, have more meaningful conversations, create purposeful relationships and develop innovative and adaptable workplaces. She has a master’s degree in leadership development from Drake University, is certified as a Leadership and Conversational Intelligence Coach, and hosts a biweekly web series for managers called “Manager Minute or Two!”

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