As I sat in a recent meeting with my executive team, I realized (happily) that I was in a new comfort zone. I was surrounded by “Gurus” and felt at ease. Proud. One “Guru” was explaining the term ‘Guruism’ and how we were implementing its understanding company-wide.

Comfort Zones are tough. They are so….comfortable, warm and accepting. Moving out of them is, well, uncomfortable – even painful. I have made it a goal to experience fear on a regular basis and to think about what happens when I go into the “fear zone”. I have yet to die there, although I have anticipated that outcome. I have convinced myself (for days on end) that my willingness to go there was good enough and that I didn’t really have to experience the fear. Wrong. I have tried to experience vicariously in hopes that by being personally impressed by someone else’s courage I would somehow reap the benefits. Wrong again. If I don’t go through that door on my own, I get nothing other than a momentary shot of adrenaline and awe.

In my sporting life I decided to overcome my immense fear that, when swimming in the ocean, JAWS would immediately sense when my toe hit the water and make a beeline for me, eating me feet-first.  You know it’s true. He’s there and has one thing on his mind: swimmer snack. I made the decision to work on that fear.

One day out in the very deep blue, I was completely sure he was coming after me, almost there, here go my feet…then nothing. Twenty seconds later the same vision overwhelmed me and I looked back, convinced he would get me head first since I had turned around…again, nothing. The same visions kept coming. As I tried to slow my breathing and focus on the gorgeous shades of blue around me, I imagined it tinted with red from the mess JAWS had just made of me. I fought it and counted. Counting soothes me sometimes. In this case, I began to multiply X3 so that the difficulty level kept my mind occupied. I made it to the thousands and was having trouble remembering what number I was on when I felt a pull on my shoulders.

I realized I had made it to the breakers where the tide was stronger.  Time had passed so quickly since I stopped focusing on my fear and I was already at the turnaround spot in the swim course. Relief swept over me. By making it halfway in once piece, I gained complete confidence I would make it back without incident. I turned and kicked taking time to appreciate how the sand on the ocean looks from 30 feet up. Over the next week I got back in three more times. I would be a liar if I said my fear was gone. It was still there, but each time I began to swim the panic subsided more quickly and I enjoyed the event more.

So, back to my new comfort zone. At our company, we have a lot of experts but have not done a good job getting the word out about the decades of experience we have in a variety of areas. A company goal in 2012 is to ‘enhance the perception others have of us as Gurus in the area of Scholarship, Grant and Tuition Assistance Management.’ We are “Gurus”, so why not advertise?

During that meeting, I realized I am not at all afraid of being around a bunch of people who know a lot more than I do. In fact, I’m strengthened and motivated by it and have been for a long time.  I want to do anything I can to encourage and support my team in becoming better and better at everything they do. I have no fear that they will ‘eat me alive’!

There was a time, however, when I had it in my head that I had to know it all to lead. There was a time I felt insecure if those around me were more capable. Thank goodness that concept went out the door years ago – what a waste of energy! By admitting my fears, they became strengths. By openly discussing strengths and weaknesses, others support you. We can all make light of our weaknesses while supporting and feeding our strengths.

I love being around the “Gurus”. Now I just have to figure out how to use the word ‘Guruism’ in regular conversation. I’ll ask and I’m betting someone on my team will have a great suggestion.


— Becky Sharpe, President & CEO