Whenever I work with individuals or teams, it is my coaching style to be all in or all out. Hanging out in the middle means that you have no commitment to deliver anything. Hanging out in the grey allows you to wait for permission to perform a task or to take the appropriate action now required to get the job done.
I was reminded of the above coaching that I have given to so many when this incident occurred a few months ago.
I was setting up my classroom to conduct a Game Changer Leadership Program for some college students and staff at Texas A&M University. A young woman walked into the classroom about 20 minutes before class was scheduled to start and let out a big gasp. I asked her what was wrong and she asked, "Am I the first person here?" I responded to her question with, “Why do you ask?” When someone asks me a question, and I don’t know the context of the question, I typically ask before assuming I know. Quite often we reply to the questions that others ask us, assuming we know what they are asking. She said, "I never want to be first, and I never want to be last."
I asked her if being first or last was a problem, and she said, “YES!”
When I inquired why it was a problem, she replied, “When you are first or last you always draw attention to yourself, and you never want to do that.” She went on to say that she would rather be invisible by arriving somewhere in the middle.
I made her aware that she was not first. I explained that a few others had arrived before her and stepped out to get coffee.
As she left the room for coffee, I stood in complete shock of her uttering those words so confidently and with so much conviction. I began processing what she was saying and was not shocked by what she said; I was shocked by the conviction that young woman had about living in the grey. She was committed to hanging out in the zone of neutrality. She clearly saw value in "toeing the line" and "sliding in under the radar." She did not realize that what she was committed to was mediocrity, or just doing good enough.
This was a belief that led to behaviors that she learned from the people in her life. These were people she gave value; they were her role models. I also recognized that her attitude about living in the grey represents a large population of humans on the planet. Most people would rather blend in than stand out, whether positively or negatively.
“Toe the line” is an idiom meaning to conform, to follow the rules, to stay within the comfort zone, to follow a universal paradigm, to live in the grey. Many see it as safe; however, you will risk everything if you choose to risk nothing. You risk having an amazing relationship, experiencing happiness from the inside out that you can reproduce, having the career you want, and being fulfilled in life. You risk experiencing greatness and inspiring others to greatness.
I tell my four sons often, “Do something special today.” I assure them that special, meaningful or inspiring things will never be created by living in the grey. Making the choice to be first, to play full out, to do things that others are unwilling to do will be scary; however, the most successful people on the planet are those who are willing to do what others are unwilling to do.
As you push through your fears, there is a chance that you may fall flat on your face, a possible result from playing full out. Falling flat on your face could be a possibility as a result of choosing to be first. Please be aware there is a big difference between living life and just existing. I encourage you to live your life out loud, go for what you want, and when normal, sane, reasonable, live-in-the-grey people see you choosing to be first and taking risks, they will ask, "What are you on?" My coaching to you is to tell them that you are on “purpose.”