The Lessons of Icarus Did Not Tell The Real Story…
I want to talk to you about Icarus.
You remember the story, right?
In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of a master craftsman, Daedalus.
Daedalus had created a labyrinth on the island of Crete and, as the story goes, he and his son had become imprisoned there.
Ever the inventor, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings from feathers and wax, so the pair of them might make their escape.
DON’T FLY TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN
Here in England, the story is usually remembered and recounted as a teaching tale against complacency and hubris.
Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, for fear of the heat melting the wax.
Of course, Icarus thinks he knows best.
Filled with a sense of pride (and, probably, a little bit of ‘up yours’ towards their captor, King Minos), Icarus soars into the skies.
Sure enough, the sun’s rays melt the wax, his wings fall apart, and the ill-fated lad plunges to his death.
All too often, this story is used as a stick with which to keep us small. Sometimes, when we have big dreams – dreams that feel too huge for the listener to handle – we’re reminded not to try flying too high.
If we’ve achieved some tremendous success and want to shout it from the rooftops, yet again, the fate of Icarus is there, hanging over us like some grim warning to stay small or go home.
And then there are all those other dreadful phrases that are rolled out: self praise is no praise, or there’s no good in blowing your own trumpet.
I’d be the first to agree that ego, arrogance and senseless boasting are not to be encouraged, but here’s the rub…
We’ve lost sight of the difference between ego and confidence, pride and arrogance, acknowledging our successes and boasting.
There is NOTHING wrong with being proud of our achievements, aiming for high levels of success or having total confidence in ourselves, our plans and our dreams. Honestly, I think you folks in the USA understand this far more than us Brits!
Here’s what really gets my goat about the Icarus story: WE’RE ONLY TELLING HALF OF IT!
We’re always so keen to tell our kids not to soar too high, but we forget that Daedalus also warned his son not to fly too low!
Yep, the inventor begged Icarus not to fly too close to the sea, for fear of the water clogging his wings and weighing him down too heavily – a fate that would also have lead to his death.
Why do we miss this part of the story so frequently? Why are we so keen to tell people not to aim for the sun, yet we apparently have no issue with them setting their sights low.
I think we need to work on this one, people. And I think we need to be brave enough to pick up those trumpets of ours and blow with all our hearts!
IMPOSSIBLE: I’M POSSIBLE
You know, sometimes, one of the best things we can do to encourage others – to show them that the things they believe to be impossible might just be within grasp – is to give them very real examples.
Anyone who knows me will know that ego is not part of my make up. Confidence, though? I can rock confidence with the best of them.
In my work as a coach, I frequently find myself working with people who are amazing at what they do and have a real passion for helping people, but are too afraid to put themselves out there and be seen.
They’re terrified of being judged, of people saying they’re full of ego, of allowing their light to shine too brightly. You might say they’ve been bashed by the Icarus stuck!
Thing is, it’s hard to serve people who don’t know we exist. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to help others is to be as visible as we can possibly be. If we can help these people, we need to at least provide a few signposts!
Someone tried to give me an Icarus Bashing on LinkedIn this week.
I wrote about building my coaching practice and training programmes to the point where I have a waiting list and oversubscribed events. I’ve worked hard to get to this point, and I need to keep that effort going and not fall into complacency.
My LinkedIn post talked about the flip side of being pretty much fully booked.
I said that this week I’d had to say ‘no’ to a client who wanted to book in a half day session with me in the next two weeks. I hadn’t been able to fit a full half day into my schedule that quickly, and I felt bad for being unable to help within her desired timeframe. We’d got a shorter appointment in and ended up booking in the half day about six weeks down the line.
At the end of the post, I asked other people if they ever had to say ‘no’ to a client and, if so, how they dealt with it.
The messages I intended to convey in that post were:
– It’s entirely possible to get to the point of being oversubscribed and having a waiting list if you put in the work, if you’re good at what you do and if you’re consistent in showing up and being of service.
– The flip side of reaching that level is not always having the flexibility to give people exactly what they want, when they want it.
– Sometimes we need to say ‘no’.
– If you need to scale your own business up, in terms of visibility and demand, I can probably help you with that.
– I care about my clients. A lot. I coach them fearlessly and passionately. I absolutely want them to succeed. I want the same for you, too.
That LinkedIn post was pretty popular. It received thousands of views and scores of comments. Of course, among them was one dissenter.
Some chap who wasn’t part of my network waded in, clutching his Icarus stick and attempting to bash me with it. I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said my post was boastful, self-serving and of no use to anyone. He said he liked to serve others with his posts, and then told us all that he had four or five times as many followers as connections.
I thanked him for taking the time to comment on my post.
And then something quite unexpected happened.
People who follow me and consume my content regularly, along with some of my clients, started to leap to my defence.
They were (mostly) constructive and polite, reminding this guy of the power of perspective, saying they read something entirely different in my post, telling him how much I care and extolling my virtues as a coach and trainer. I thanked every one of them too.
The point I’m trying to make here is that, when we turn up our volume and shine brightly, there will always be someone complaining that our light hurts their eyes.
There will always be someone who sees confidence and success and calls ego and arrogance.
There will always be someone who tells us to stop flying so close to the sun, but would pay no heed to us trudging along in the depths.
If we follow the Icarus story – as it was originally intended – it’s all about balance.
Aim high – but watch you don’t lose yourself in the sun’s dazzle or get burned. Remember, no matter how close you get to the sun, you cannot BECOME the sun.
On the other hand, please, please, believe in yourself enough to rise up far further than sea level! Don’t hold yourself down so low that you’re constantly at risk of sinking.
And hey, if you *do* feel low, at least cast your eyes towards the sun and start reaching for a brighter future.
Oh… and if someone tries to bash you with an Icarus stick, remind them there are two sides to every story!
Until next time,