5 Audacious Acts to Destroy Complacency and Launch Yourself Skyward
As long as I can remember, I’ve always had to have an obsession with something. As a child, I devoured my entire school libraries; I went through a cryptology phase wherein I taught myself hieroglyphs, Morse code, and Braille (the last, ironically, only by sight, not by touch); I had my wedding fully planned and booked a year before it happened; I discovered the term “capsule wardrobe” and became a diehard minimalist.
It’s a little funny that I’m always looking for my next obsession, because I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. In fact, I’m a fairly cautious person. But I’m determined to never wake up one day and find that I’ve spent the last ten years in a rut. Sure, some things that I try don’t stick—I never learned how to cast off while knitting, can’t stand the feeling of rapid acceleration in a sports car or speedboat, and cracked the top of my left femur while striving to lead the way in Army basic training. But, as the malaphor goes, it’s better to have lived and learned than to have never lived at all.
Do you remember the myth of Icarus you learned about in high school? Imprisoned in the Labyrinth, Icarus’s father Daedalus crafted wings out of branches and wax so that he and his son could escape. As Daedalus taught Icarus to fly, he warned him to stay away from the sun, because the heat would cause the wax to melt and the wings to disintegrate. Yet in flight, young Icarus was swept away by the thrill of flying and freedom, and flew too close to the sun—where, indeed, the wax melted and destroyed his wings. Betrayed by his foolishness and naive disregard of a wiser man’s warning, he fell from the sky.
But maybe Icarus wasn’t simply thoughtless or disobedient. Consider, instead, the idea that he was bold and audacious, taking a risk in pursuit of glory and reaching higher than he had ever imagined he could. Even though he fell, for a magnificent day he owned the sky.
In your career and your life, taking risks can be terrifying. There’s always a chance of failure, and the thought of working hard for something and having it within your grasp, only to lose it at the last second…it’s devastating even to imagine, for most people.
Worse than failure, though, is complacency. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to be said for living a comfortable, safe life wherein you fulfill your responsibilities, work a stable job, raise a happy family, and stay out of danger. That’s completely respectable. But without getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself on the line, it's hard to achieve greatness. Ambition requires audacity—it’s the difference between sitting cramped in seat 34B and flying the jet yourself.
Aiming for Greatness
So how can you shake things up in your career and personal life during your quest to leave a mark? You don’t have to sell everything you own, quit your job, and take an Eat Pray Love tour. Here are five ways that you can challenge yourself to be courageous and aim for greatness right now, where you are:
1. Choose the harder, more interesting project.
In a lot of situations, we go along to get along. Sometimes that means playing the game and doing something banal because it helps the team out, or is a necessary stepping-stone to something more interesting or relevant to your goals. But often, you have a choice between projects—one that’s difficult and risky and requires you to stretch yourself, and one that’s easier, maybe more politically or socially advantageous, and guaranteed to work out. Next time, try choosing the difficult project. See how your capabilities grow. Take a chance on something you can truly engage with—and watch yourself succeed.
2. Reject the idea that busy is better.
Our society has adopted “busy” as a badge of honor. Juggling work, home, kids, extracurriculars, exercise, philanthropy, sports, hobbies, education, social media, personal development, and other responsibilities has turned into the norm. But what’s happened is that we’ve confused “busy” with “productive.” Now, it’s a revolutionary act to simply stop and breathe. So take the leap and insist on making space for yourself. Say no to a few obligations. Decline the extra project that someone asks you to add to your plate. Experiment with unplugging yourself entirely for a weekend, or at least a few hours. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when you aren’t busy being busy.
3. Say yes to something you aren’t sure how to do.
About two years ago, I was asked to design a magazine advertisement to market our brand-new Government Solutions Group. I had never created an ad or used Photoshop before, nor did I have any experience with government technology. But without hesitation, I agreed…and started figuring it out. A few hours and some good feedback later, the ad was prepared and approved. Two months after that, the leader of GovSolutions called me up and offered me a full-time job. Saying yes to an unexpected opportunity that gave me the chance to learn and grow—which is certainly risky—helped me rise to the occasion and resulted in my big break. What could you teach yourself if you weren’t afraid?
4. Refuse to take on anything that doesn’t help you achieve your Why.
Whether it’s a task or position at work, an extracurricular obligation, a marriage proposal, or any other opportunity, keep your eye on the prize. Once you’ve found your Why—your fundamental motivation, your ultimate goal of existence—every decision you make thereafter should be in service of it. Your Why is determined by your core values, so to follow a course that goes against it is to sabotage yourself from reaching your pinnacle. From now on, challenge your reasoning for taking on something new. Demand that your actions reflect your beliefs. Dare to do the right thing.
5. Work for what you want, not for what others expect of you.
We trust a lot of people to know what’s best for us—family, friends, bosses, clergy, financial advisers, etc. But complying with others’ expectations of you can be stifling, and tacitly following a predetermined path can prevent you from seeing hidden trails that lead to unexpected opportunity. Success doesn’t always look like rising through the ranks. If you want to be a writer, for example, you don’t have to go to college, be an assistant, then a writer, then a manager, then a director—seek work as a writer. If you harbor a deep desire to start a business teaching juggling, be brave and take action. What would you choose to do if you weren’t concerned about judgment? Have courage in your ability to discern what the right move is for you.
One of my favorite poems, called “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph,” alludes to the myth of Icarus. It ends with the following lines:
Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.
You could be Daedalus: head down, dependable, and following an expected, linear path. That breeds success, if not passion. Or you could be Icarus: inspired, audacious, reaching for the sun. Yes, you may fail, fall, and brush yourself off having learned valuable lessons for your next step. Triumph comes in many forms.
Or, just maybe, you’ll capture the sun for yourself.
How are you embracing audacity in your life? When has taking a leap paid off for you? Let’s talk: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaitlin and other leaders are sharing their experiences each week for 12 weeks in the Growth Never Stops series.
Read last week's post by Ed Goldman, Sacramento Business Journal: Rick Nelson's as Direct as his company, Direct Technology