NationBuilder founder and CEO Jim Gilliam offers some advice to people who haven’t yet unlocked their own potential. First, try new things by saying “yes” to things you’re initially inclined to say “no” to. Only by stepping outside your comfort zone can you determine whether said comfort zone actually exists. Second, just as with raising a child, unlocking one’s personal potential requires a village. Find good listeners who are willing to hear your story. Reflect on your life with the aid of another’s ears and you’ll be on your way to introspection and self-realization.
Jim Gilliam: So how do you find what you were meant to create and that’s extremely hard. I talked to a lot of folks who feel lost in understanding what that might be. There’s two things that I found for me that were really helpful. The first is to say yes to all the things that you would normally say no to. And the more uncomfortable it makes you feel, the more you should do it. So when I was struggling with this, I guess it was almost 15 years ago I said, "Okay, I’m just going to do anything ridiculous I could possibly do." So as you could imagine I’m an Internet geek so I don’t go outside all that much. So I’m like, "Okay, I’m going to go to Alaska and I’m going to camping and I’m going to do it with a bunch of strangers." I could not think of anything sort of more terrifying than being around a bunch of people that I don’t know in the middle of the freezing cold with nothing around. So I did that and it was amazing. It was so awesome. It was so great. I went dumpster diving with a bunch of anarchists. That was really awesome. Yeah, I might have gotten sick, but it was totally fine. I modeled for like an entire week and that was horrifyingly awful. I learned very quickly that I hated that. But so that’s one way.
The other way is not obvious at all. I found that in sharing your story with somebody else, someone who doesn’t necessarily have to know you very well or they can — it doesn’t really matter. But if you reflect back with someone else the story of your life — and it can go on for hours and hours and hours they can start to tell you the themes that emerge that you would never sort of see yourself. One of the things that’s challenging when you’re extremely talented at something is that it’s really easy for you. And so you generally don’t value it as much as that thing that’s really hard. And so somebody else can see that in you frequently much better than you can. And what I found is just sharing your story with each other, reflecting back. Oh like in my life community and connection and the Internet and how all that connects together was a really big part of my life and that helped me understand who I was and what I was uniquely meant to create here. So finding one other person to share that with — a good listener — is another great way to find it.