AFTER THE PUBLICATION of my first book,
I was getting invitations to give speeches and didn't really
know how. It's more difficult than I thought. The organization
of a talk, how much of it to memorize, how to end on time
these are skills I hadn't yet learned not to mention that
it is disconcerting to have all those people giving you their
undivided attention (it often made me lose my train of thought).
So I joined four Toastmasters clubs. This
is a great organization. It is a club designed solely to help
people learn to give speeches.
I was making good progress when I was invited
to the richly-paneled office of an extremely successful man.
He told me my book was fantastic, and that he can now throw away
all the books his salesmen had and just go with mine. He wanted
me to come speak to his executives and he offered me an enormous
amount of money. Of course I accepted.
But the next few days I felt stressed and
under pressure. It came to a head one night when I was practicing
one of my Toastmaster speeches on three friends of mine. When
I was done, I realized it was lousy, and that I didn't really
know much about speaking. I had succumbed to the temptation of
so much money. I was doing something that was too much for me.
I didn't have enough skill yet.
This is an extremely important principle:
Stay within the "flow zone." The researcher Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,
found that when your skills match the challenge you are faced
with, you can reach a state of "flow." In that state,
you have the most pleasure, give the best performance, and your
skills improve the fastest.
If you have a lot of skill and not much
challenge, you sink into boredom. If you have more challenge
than skill, you move up into stress and anxiety. Which is where
I was after agreeing to speak to that man's group of executives.
So I called him up and explained my situation.
"No problem," he said, "I completely understand.
We have this retreat every three months. Maybe you can come speak
to us at the next one."
Immediately, my mood improved, and I continued
to make good progress in learning to speak while staying in that
middle zone: the flow state.
There is a lot said about challenges. And
for those who are afraid of challenges, it is good advice to
increase your challenges - to express your skills, to grow. You'll
be happier because you'll be spending more time in flow.
But if you are highly motivated, you may
have the opposite problem: You pit yourself against challenges
that outpace your skills too much. You will accomplish more
and enjoy it more to back off a little. Be smart about it. Keep
yourself in the flow state, and your gains will be greatest.
When you start to feel bored, look to increase your challenges.
But when you start to feel stressed, either lower your challenge
or increase your skill or both. Increase your challenges gradually.
You'll enjoy your life more and ultimately, you'll accomplish
Take your challenges gradually.