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There’s a saying that goes, “If you want to run with the big dogs, you have to get off the porch.” In other words, you must step out of your comfort zone and take a risk to discover your own true talents and abilities. Success in a career or investments is more likely the result of effort and persistence than superior intelligence or natural gifts.
Fear of failure keeps most people from ever realizing their true potential. When they are given an opportunity outside their expertise or experience, they retreat from the challenge. They forget that the most important lessons come from failure. Henry Ford went bankrupt four times before he found market success. Thomas Edison claims to have had 10,000 failures but considered them useful, because he learned what did not work.
Unless you want to spend your life with “ifs” and “buts” (“I could have, if …” or “I would have, but ….”), you have to get out there and take a chance. I’ve learned that nothing is gained by always playing it safe in life.
Prisoners of our past
Psychologists refer to an individual’s “deserve level” as the unconscious acceptance of an arbitrary status or capability. It’s rooted in childhood and defined by mental perceptions accumulated as we mature. Fear, real and/or imagined, reinforce our perception of ourselves and the chances we are willing to take.
The “big dogs,” the movers and shakers of society, have learned to disregard unwarranted fears and constraints in pursuit of their goals, an action that is possible for everyone. Distinguishing between a real or imagined danger is accomplished through a combination of effort, knowledge and experience.
Making the effort
Einstein is attributed to the quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The big dogs of society are always active, constantly seeking to learn by pushing boundaries. Nolan Bushnell invented the first computer game, Pong, and subsequently founded a series of companies, including Atari, Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre and BrainRush. When asked how he had been so lucky, he responded, “If you’re willing to work harder than anyone else, you create your own luck.”
Most of those considered to be giants in their field are not extraordinary, nor do they possess special gifts. They have blemishes, quirks and idiosyncrasies like everyone else. The assets that set them apart are their work habits, persistence and willingness to take calculated risks.
Many movie-goers were thrilled to see Sandra Bullock drive a bus in the movie, Speed, which included jumping a 50-foot gap in an elevated freeway. Bullock did not drive the bus in the scene. A stunt driver, Joffrey Brown, performed the scene, soaring more than 100 feet in the air and demolishing the bus when it landed seconds later. (Bullock drove a replacement bus to complete the scene in the movie).
Brown, with years of experience in hundreds of wrecks and crashes, took a calculated risk after performing extensive analyses, including calculations of weight, distance and aerodynamics. The crew stripped the bus to barebones to reduce weight and installed a special safety harness for the driver. Finally, Brown began the drive over a mile away to gain maximum speed.
Successful leaders and long-term stunt performers share a common aversion to risk, protecting their organization, families and bodies with equal diligence. They manage risk by thoroughly understanding the conditions and the possible outcomes, then taking steps to eliminate the worst results.
Intelligence, knowledge and wisdom
Most people in the world have a similar level of intelligence; less than 2% have an IQ greater than 130. In other words, there is little innate difference between humans’ mental ability. Knowledge, the theoretical or practical understanding of facts, data or skill, is learned and available to everyone through effort. Wisdom, the sound application of knowledge, is gained through trial and error, i.e., experience. Successful people develop the discipline and resilience to progress to their goals by overcoming or minimizing obstacles in their paths. They are not afraid of risk – physical, financial, or social — but learn to manage them through knowledge and experience.
Getting into the game
Given the choice between brains and guts, I’ll take the latter every time. I can hire all the brains I want. The hardest employee to find is the one who steps up when everyone else steps back, the person who says, “I’ve got this.”
Whether excelling at your current job or moving to one with more potential, you must take that calculated risk. This single-handed decision will change the arc of your career. One opportunity after another will follow — chances for bigger jobs, more money, increased security — all will result in correlation to leaving your comfort zone. It’s absolutely crucial that you immediately get off your psychological porch and start to run with the big dogs.