Last week, I had a delightful lunch with a client I will call John. I asked him afterwards if I could share our conversation in my weekly blog, and he graciously approved. John is a senior executive with direct responsibility for the largest of six business units at his company. He has done a remarkable job over the years building relationships, making good business decisions, and has done so being very healthy (runs 20 miles every week) and having a wonderful family. John is an avid reader. He reads 2-3 books a week. John has an intelligent opinion and grounded perspective on just about any topic. So why is he talking to me?
Almost 60 now, he has come to realize that most of what he knows is based on other people’s experiences, writings, stories, and is troubled that “life has been too easy for me.” He confided that he never has taken a true “risk” in his life…you know… the kind where serious consequences were in play. He said he thought he was being smart as he measured his risks, but now feels regret at not having taken many of them.
My advice to him was to go make his own mistakes. The truth is that no matter how intelligent and compassionate you are, you can never make someone else’s experience and learning your own. There is a difference between being in the audience and being on stage. In the audience, there is no risk, no heart rate, no anxiety, no fear of failure, no ridicule, and no rejection on your part.
He asked me if I had any ideas on what to go do. I told him to find someone or something that he genuinely cared about and to go figure out ways to change it and make it better. There can be little substantive growth without the genuine and intentional attempt to improve the human condition, making mistakes and rubbing people the wrong way in the process, and even failing miserably afterwards. But this is where the experience becomes yours and only yours.
This week, go take a risk. It’s only a risk if you really have something to lose. Take a chance. Attempt to change someone or something. You might succeed and you might fail in the change, but either way, you will learn, and you will grow from it. And you will do so in a way that pales in comparison to reading about someone else doing it in a book.