“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
Do you dream of quitting your current job and striking out on your own? Of starting some new business? Something meaningful and engaging and . . . well . . . hell . . . why not downright enriching?
I used to. I remember those days. Waking at the crack of dawn, dreading the workdays, falling asleep at my desk, and hating my boss. It’s no way to live a working life. And there is no reason for anyone, anywhere, to live that way.
Maybe you feel that way. Maybe you are a smart, ambitious person whose true goodness and value and talents have not yet been fully realized. Do you sometimes wonder if that’s so? Maybe you have an idea about something you’d like to do . . . an invention or way to provide the world with a new service.
If so, you are not alone. So what’s holding you back? You often have ideas, and you can sometimes feel the heat of them. Sometimes, they smolder and even spark. But they never quite ignite. You’ve been having great ideas for years, and your life is still pretty much the same. Where’s the fire?
There’s a memorable scene in the film “The Accidental Tourist,” an adaptation of Anne Tyler’s award-winning book. Macon Leary and his adult siblings, a family of reclusive eccentrics, are entertaining a guest in their home. They are in the middle of a conversation when the telephone rings.
No one moves.
It rings again.
No one gets up to answer it.
The phone keeps ringing, but the quirky Leary family doesn’t acknowledge it; nobody even appears to hear it.
The guest is baffled.
The Learys ignore the phone because, in their minutely scripted lives, it represents a threat. Something new. Something unknown. Rather than unplug the phone or have it disconnected, they’ve chosen to simply pretend it’s not there.
If you talk about change but haven’t done anything about it yet (whether because of fear of the unknown, confusion about how to start, or lack of a certain contact or bit of knowledge), you might be able to get yourself going by reading about how other people — stuck just as you are — were able to break free of the psychological restraints holding them back.
One such example is Kevin Plank, who, eight years ago, was a college football player. He was bothered by the fact that the T-shirts he wore under his uniform left him with “a wet, heavy, slowed-down, lethargic feeling.” He found a “sweat-wicking” fabric and had a local tailor make up some sample undershirts that he distributed to his teammates for feedback. Encouraged by their positive comments, he headed to New York’s garment district and arranged to have the shirts manufactured. The popular product is now used by a dozen NFL teams — and Plank’s company, Under Armour, racked up $121 million in revenue last year.
Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot, makes robots for industrial and consumer markets. Greiner wanted to make robots since she was a child. She took ETR’s “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach to starting her company. Luckily, her first customers were “very forgiving” about minor glitches. Slowly, Greiner and her team formed strategic partnerships and learned how to navigate through the marketplace. IRobot just signed a $32 million contract with the U.S. Army.
Attendees at the 2003 Entrepreneurship Conference at Harvard Business School were encouraged by Plank, Greiner, and other successful entrepreneurs to take the plunge and start moving forward, despite their fear of failure. “If you have no doubts, you are kidding yourself,” said Dallin Anderson, CEO of the nascent pharmaceutical company Montigen. Still, as Nate Quigley pointed out, “If you want to start a business, you have to start a business.”
Toward the end of “The Accidental Tourist,” a somber Macon Leary contemplates his safe but mediocre life: “Steps should have been taken,” he admits.
What about you? Are you, like the fictional Learys, addicted to your routine? Or are you ready to take steps — and transform your life? Do it now and maybe, like Kevin Plank with his real-life success, you’ll have a $121 million company in a few years.