The Story Economy Blog

It’s the Almost that Defines Your Story

girl at fork in roadTwenty-eight years ago, Stacy Burns made my life hell. I had just joined the gymnastics team at the local Y, and Stacy was a tomboy who liked to tease in a gruff, unfriendly way. At the time, I thought she was a bully—although now, of course, I see it was just her defense mechanism against being judged for not being girly enough. But sensitive and shy kid that I was, she scared the cartwheels right out of me.

Even though I couldn’t wait to get on the team, about a week after I joined, I wanted to quit because she intimidated me so much. Instead of going to practice that Monday, I stayed at home and cried. I was embarrassed that I didn’t want to go, and also really disappointed because I loved gymnastics. But stepping foot inside that gym, knowing that I would have to face being teased and picked on was just too scary. Hiding and quitting seemed the better option to my 11-year old self.

The coach didn't want to lose me, so she called to find out what was going on. I don't remember the conversation; I just remember mortification. She asked me to come in and we had a little heart to heart about how we were a team. She had talked to Stacy, she told me, and she was sorry for teasing me. I still remember walking back into the gym and Stacy coming up to me, patting me on the back and saying, "We're good, right?" in her brusque way. I said nodded yes, but remember thinking, “Um, probably not.”

I was never totally comfortable with Stacy, and we never became BFFs. But I learned not to take her so seriously and just be her teammate. She eventually quit about a year later. But I went on to compete in gymnastics for six years (and win a few state titles, not that I’m bragging . . .), coach gymnastics for five years, and judge gymnastics for eight (which I would still do if I wasn’t so busy with little kids). Gymnastics became a huge part of my life. I still have dreams that I’m on the beam.

But I almost quit. Almost.

It’s the Gut-Wrenching More Than the Gut

I've been thinking about Stacy lately. For one, I'm pretty sure this was the exact week this whole thing went down, because I remember it being right after my sister’s wedding, and she celebrated her 28th wedding anniversary this past Saturday.

But also, I’ve been thinking aboutthe things you almost do, but don't. The mistakes you stand in front of and stare down and start to make—and then right yourself. And about how those things often tell a bigger part of your story than the stuff you definitely don't do or the stuff you wholeheartedly embrace. That 28 years ago, I didn’t let fear stop me—but had to struggle like crazy against it: that set up my story way more than the stuff I was naturally inclined to do, like lay on the floor and write stories.

What you almost do, the road you almost follow, the mistakes you dip your toe into because they answer some more immediate need that you don’t know how to deal with: that's the real stuff that cuts to your core.

We have these moments in our personal lives all of the time. I had one recently. I visualized myself making the mistake, and it was everything I could do not to make it. I almost took the path. But something stopped me. The something that stops us is what to pay attention to. It happens in our careers and businesses too, in the form of the deal you almost make with short-term gain but long-term damage, the project you almost take that looks good but feels icky, the service line you almost start carrying that seems to answer a need, but will most likely open up all the wrong doors.

A big part of what I do is work with clients on getting clarity around the WHY that’s behind what they do. I think putting yourself back into the space of the stuff you almost did is yet another way to get to it—but only if you’re honest about how close you were to making the mistake and you can put aside the shame of almost doing it to examine why you didn’t in the end.

Now, I know that “almost” is dangerous psychological territory. We almost had a car wreck. He almost got hurt. I almost lost everything. Constantly playingthat “could have”/”what if” game really isn’t healthy and it will make you unhappy, anxious, and generally terrible to be around. But what I’m talking about isn’t that. It’s not replaying twists of fate. It’s the deliberate process of guiding yourself away from something the loudest voices in your being are yelling at you to do, to heed some other voice.

I know this: I have come close to making some colossal screw ups. I’ve learned way more from the gut-wrenching conversations where I talked myself out of mistakes than I have from the gut decisions that just bubbled up almost effortlessly. We focus on the gut stuff all of the time. It’s much prettier and more marketable, and the adjectives are way better. But I think it’s the effort stuff that truly connects you to your core, and your business to the essence of its brand.

So, the exercise I want you to do (for yourself or your business): if you are trying to wrap your arms around what feels like this illusive prize of knowing your WHY, grab a pen or a keyboard and write about something you almost did—a huge mistake you started to make—but stopped yourself. And then write about what you did to not make it. In your mind’s eye, draw a line to your gut, and see what the connection is. I guarantee you, it’s there.

And Stacy, if, by the power of the Googleverse, you come across this post, I hope you are well.

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