“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one’s better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk, and to act.”– Maxwell Maltz
“To act” is my theme for today, because, just like you, I hear the most amazing dreams and plans and ideas from very capable people who never do anything to make any of it come true.
It has gotten so repetitive with a few of my friends that I really don’t enjoy going out with them, because just like last time, the whole conversation is about their new building, new program, new book idea. And yet, year after year, they are still talking with nothing being done about it.
Oh, a few of them have drawings on a napkin that they can sketch out to show you that they are working on the said project, but I have come to believe that is just a Band-Aid to cover for the nitty-gritty work that never gets done because of a million excuses they use to cover for the work they are not willing to do. Yes, they are still talking, but talking doesn’t build the building, write the book or interest others enough to join with their campaign.
Rare is the person who actually does the work and finds and takes the extra hours to create an opportunity for their success. So rare actually, that when they complete their project, they are already on to the next phase of their dreams. They forgo the fanfare of the first completion, because successful people know taking a calculated risk and acting on their idea is the key to success in a long list of achievements they have sketched out for themselves.
To Act. Tell me, what is it that you are still talking about but not doing? What action is next on your to-do list?
I write about this topic a lot, but the truth is most everyone I know has a problem with the “to act” completion part of the equation. We all have ideas, concepts and even drawings, and for the most part, they sit neatly organized in our to-do piles, and they are still collecting dust months, years, and in some cases, decades later.
Listen, it is hard to move mountains until that is all you have to do because you’ve lost everything else. I remember the first time I read the quote from J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Her quote stuck with me, because although I probably don’t know many people who are truly at rock bottom, I have seen a few begin to slip, but due to the kindness of strangers and community, they have been given a lifeline.
I have never hit rock bottom (thankfully). Perhaps I felt like I was close a time or two, but to truly be alone with nothing and no one and no options is not a place most of us have been in our lifetime. Granted there are many of our friends and even family members who have experienced that depth of pain, but for the most part, if we are honest, many people have a place to go (whether they want to go is another matter). I am not here to discuss semantics on this issue. My point is this, that even at rock bottom when you have “the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk, and to act” you are still in the game of life. And since the game is afoot, stop worrying, stop bellyaching; set aside your fear and take a look around, get your bearings and dust off that dream or opportunity; begin again for the first, second or sixteenth time.
Let me do a quick rabbit trail that changed my mind about physical poverty and action. I was in Bangladesh as an election observer a few years ago, and I was in a hotel that had limited water and occasional electricity, and where the “lock” on my hotel door was a hook and eye. We were in the boondocks, as we say in America. My Bangladeshi guide, who himself seemed taken aback that we were so far in the countryside, warned me that the “black things in the shower were leaches so be careful,” i.e., wear your shower shoes.
Every morning when I would walk down the stairs to meet my team for breakfast, on the landing of the third-floor stairway was a window that looked out onto a community pond that was used for everything and was slowly draining due to evaporation and use. I happened to notice that early every morning a young man was there washing in this shrinking muddy pond that was used by the villagers for bathing, brushing teeth and whatever else. Most mornings I would watch as he stepped into the water and with his hand did a circular motion that would within a minute or two push the water lilies away from the edge of the water so he and others could use the spot for personal care before they went to work daily.
I was transfixed by the surreal nature of what I was witnessing while I watched him early every morning–the poverty, the overgrown organic beauty, the filthy water, and the loveliness of the lilies. Between the marketplace where we bought some bedding (because I swear a camel had slept in my “executive third floor room”) and where sewage leaked down the wall to the women who were bent over with the weight of hemp stalks they were walking to market, to finding a few things we could eat (since it had to be peeled, bagged, fried or bottled), I saw poverty as I had rarely seen, and I have been everywhere around the world. And yet I also saw the courageous actions these amazing people displayed by pressing on daily because life offered no other choices.
In the midst of what I would consider rock bottom, I also saw the joy of the Bangladeshi people upon seeing their thumb painted purple to show they had voted, (many for the first time in their life). They stood in line for hours to make a difference in their county; this was life-changing for me to observe. They truly embody the heart of my theme today that “often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one’s better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk, and to act.”
On my worst day, I am rich beyond measure, I have opportunity, I have or can find all I need to pull myself up by my bootstraps and so do you, my friend. And it has nothing to do with our abilities or ideas; it has everything to do with our courage, our calculated risk and our will to act.
Let me tell you a story. Growing up, we had a housekeeper who I loved named Annie Bell. Each week when I would drive her home, she would joke with me how “poor” she was, and yet I dropped her off at a cute home with running water, furniture, a roof, a vegetable garden and a giant TV. She had a refrigerator filled with food, an air conditioner for the heat and a heater for the winter. She didn’t know poor. She only thought she did, and when I would show her pictures of people living in cemeteries in Egypt (because they had no home) and children sleeping under the stars in hammocks in Sri Lanka, she could not comprehend the photos. While she had all kinds earthly goods that her family had provided for her, and a good job that gave her good pay, she would look at my photos and simply hum in amazement that people lived that way.
I meet people who think it might be easier if everything were taken off their plate so they could “focus on being successful.” Friend, if you can’t do it within the time you already have, I am not sure being given the freedom of nothingness you would be successful then. Within time, no doubt there would be a new excuse as to why you didn’t get your dream, project or purpose finished in a timely manner. You see, it is not about always about time. It is about action.
Recently, I wrote about cleaning out our lives from the junk that we’re hoarding mentally and physically in the attic or garage or spare bedroom. Many of my readers wrote that just the act of a Saturday cleanup made them feel better, lighter and a bit less daunted to clean up another place within their home and life. Just acting on the idea that had been planted in their mind and then working through to success gave them a new chance to fix an old nagging problem that had been waiting for action.
There is something about making new or renewing a space that was once cluttered that now allows the light to shine, which then allows for a lift of one’s spirit, and all because you took the time to act. I am sure someone has written a great book about how small or large change influences the outlook for the next project. For me, I just know that it works, so I am a believer in living lighter, and then I have space (and peace) for my next calculated risky grand adventure.