What it’s like jumping off the cliff (and building your parachute on the way down…)

Deciding to venture out on your own and start a business is very exciting. It can also be a little daunting, especially if you’re walking away from the safety net of a good job to make it happen.

What eventually pushed me over the edge (and continues to give me great inspiration) was the following passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in the Republic” speech given in Paris, France on April 23, 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

You can find the full text of this speech from theodore-roosevelt.com here.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

The message here is simple: anyone can sit back and watch someone else take a risk, or speculate as to their own ability to succeed in a bold situation – but it is the strong man/woman who actually thrusts himself into the arena and gives it a shot. The strong man may stumble, err, and encounter many shortcomings in his quest for victory, but at least he “does actually strive to do the deeds.” Even if he fails, he does so as an enlightened individual who was ambitious enough to pursue his true vision.

To me, this was incredibly powerful to internalize.

We all read inspirational quotes, and if you’re anything like me, most of the time you probably fail to apply the lesson learned even though the logic is clear. After all, it’s not always easy to reprogram ourselves every time we come across helpful advice (especially these days, when social media feeds and technology bombard us from all directions with explicit and implicit advice).

Something was different for me, though, when I last read this quote. Already on the verge of opening my own business, this “Man in the Arena” excerpt of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech really struck a chord with me. It gave me that final push that I needed to accelerate the process and make it happen.

For you, the goal may be something else (besides starting a business). It might be getting a new job, finding a relationship, or making amends with an old friend. It could be yet something different still. Regardless, the lesson is the same – even though it might be a little scary at first, you can achieve tremendous personal growth simply by committing to the process. In particular, commit seriously to the core process involved and make an honest effort to succeed.

No matter the outcome, no matter what may be lost or what embarrassment may be anticipated or actually felt, you will have achieved something great. Your growth as an individual and the value of the experience will strengthen you, and perhaps most importantly, by putting yourself on the line you’ll have a chance to meet yourself for the first time. You will see what you’re capable of, learn where you are strong and weak, and be more prepared for what comes next in life or business.

These are lessons that cannot be learned by holding back from what you feel is your true and correct path.

Commit and Follow Through

This is my challenge to you: ask yourself, what goal have you always wanted to achieve but been too afraid to try? Think long and hard on this, and when you’ve narrowed it down to one big thing in your life, commit to doing it. 

Then, even if you need some time to prepare for action, make sure you follow through. This could be tomorrow or it could be next year, but be sure you make yourself a promise to make this happen. Commitment and follow-through are not only prerequisites for success, but they are often the only things separating success from failure.

As for me, yesterday was my last day of full-time employment, and this coming Monday will be my first day running my own company on a full-time basis. Now it’s your turn – what will you do?

When you’ve figured out your path, I’d love to hear from you.

Let this be the time you internalize the core message, and let it fuel you to do great things because of it. Let Teddy Roosevelt inspire, lead, and guide you as he did me.

Realize that your success will never be guaranteed, but with vision and dedication you’ll have a fighting chance – and that’s a heck of a lot better than having no chance at all.

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