STRETCH! The Way Out Is Through

By Elaine Cercado

Last week, I wrote about stretching and getting out of comfort zone. I echoed Steve Job’s advice to “stay hungry, stay foolish!” The next steps after we step out of our comfort zones can be daunting.  The journey is never smooth.  It is easy to be discouraged and to just come back to the safe and familiar. There are four action steps that helped me stretch through the journey.

PREPARE.  Do the homework.  Research, network and constantly evaluate.  While it is critical to have a burning passion and desire to kickoff, plus the courage and guts to endure, the value of planning and preparation cannot be undermined.  When I shifted to a new industry and put up my own training consultancy, I made a very basic market and business plan even if we were just a very small two-man team.  I reached out and talked with personal and business contacts that were already in the industry to understand and learn from their experiences. We eventually became a four-man team, and covered markets beyond Singapore.  We continuously evaluated and adjusted our plans and strategies, and tried to be as flexible and agile as possible.  Did we prepare enough? I believe we prepared to the point that we were ready with the risks that came with our decisions and actions.  There was always an element of uncertainty but it did not stop us from continuing into our journey.

Be ACCOUNTABLE. To have a strategic and action plan on paper is one thing, to execute and follow through is another.  When I worked in a multinational company, our big team had challenges in executing plans despite our ample resources. Such challenges were magnified with our very small team and limited resources. Being accountable has helped me face these challenges. Accountability is a source of power.  It fuels and drives a person to stretch through up to the finish line.  Last year, I secured a learning and development project in Australia. I held myself accountable to this project, worked hard and stretched myself physically, mentally and emotionally to make it successful.  I didn’t feel the exhaustion, as I was inspired through the whole process. In the Superman movie, the father of Kal-El (Superman) told him “To know how strong you are, test your limits.” Being accountable to achieve success gave me “superwoman” strength and courage to go beyond my limits.

CONQUER Failures.  Frustrations, failures and fear are part of the journey.  What is important is how we react when we face obstacles along the way. As I grew older, I learned the value of pausing and reflecting.  Reflecting helped me conquer my fear of taking another step after a failed attempt. It helped me learn from mistakes and look at broader options and choices.  It gave me confidence to try another path when there was a detour. By reflecting, I connected my experiences with the various aspects of life, which led to better understanding and wisdom. When my partners and I first started offering our training programs to the public, we executed various marketing strategies and none of them seemed to work to the level we desired. There were small successes but not to the scale we aimed for. Then we looked broader and collaborated with established institutions or channels in Singapore and rest of Asia.  We leveraged our first and second layer contacts in our respective spheres of influence. We used social media and posted purposeful content regularly.  The windows of opportunity opened up and led to some of our best and most successful projects and collaborations to-date. The road ahead remains bumpy but we feel victorious because we have conquered our fears and failures.

EXPERIENCE. “The way out is always through” by Robert Frost I believe this and have made it my life motto. Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite writers, has said it perfectly: “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”  Experiences stretch the mind, heart, body and soul.

Nelson Mandela, another inspirational leader, has said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  I was relocated for my first international assignment at the age of 27 to a patriarchal and conservative country.  It seemed impossible for a young woman then to be successful in that environment. The fact that I had a husband whose career was based in another country, and a one-year old son at that time, made the relocation even more challenging.  But those experiences have strengthened and stretched me to realize my potentials.  I discovered my adaptability and resilience.  I learned cross-cultural management and leadership.  I became adept in balancing my professional and personal lives. And above all, it led our family to our current path and mission.

Four actions steps: Prepare. Be Accountable. Conquer Failures. Experience. In short, P.A.C.E!  In this life journey, we should pace through the stretch to come out stronger, wiser and more fulfilled!

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