You can accomplish remarkable things, if you’ll only dare.
This past September and October, I accomplished something that I think is remarkable. I ventured way (way) out of my comfort zone and headed out on a solo motorcycle trip across America—from Miami to Los Angeles and back, in 19 days!
It was quite a feat, especially for a guy who just a year prior had no clue about the basic operation of a motorcycle, and even less of a clue about how to take it 7,000 miles, across 12 state lines, and the continental divide!
Yet there I was, doing just that, grinning from ear to ear.
On many morning rides, I experienced a deep sense of joy and wellbeing. It all felt so right. All the previous months of work and preparation had paid off and led to something that I would remember for the rest of my life.
Have you had a similar experience in your life?
The experience of meaning and satisfaction that comes with acting in accordance with deeply-held values or a deep sense of purpose? This is perhaps what Maslow called self-actualization—a sense that you’re doing what you should be doing and that you’re engaged with an activity that resonates deeply with you.
In other words, if your soul had a GPS unit it would be blurting, “Yay! You are approaching your destination. It will be on the left.”
Give yourself permission to dream bigger
Sadly though, we don’t often give ourselves the permission or space to imagine the wonderful things we can accomplish or experience, though they may seem far off and beyond our grasp at the present moment. Or sadder still, even if we dare to dream, fear keeps us from leaping to explore possibilities, draft plans and draw the maps necessary to reach our dream.
Case in point, when I told an older friend of mine, an avid lover of doo-wop, 50s era Cadillacs and motorcycles, about my upcoming trip, he seemed to look up with a sort of forlorn look on his face as he recalled and old longing.
“You know,” he said, “that’s something I always wanted to do but just didn’t get around to it.”
I felt his pain in that moment.
I think we all have.
The pain of thinking that it’s too late for us to pursue something that’s been calling to us for a long time, or the regret of knowing that many meaningful things are being left undone in our lives.
I truly believe we all have, in our own special way, a measure of greatness and genius in us. A gift to give to others. A voice beckoning us to be audacious and to do remarkable things!
Your genius is often revealed to you ephemerally, as an image of greatness flashes in your head. Or you hear a voice say “I think I can [insert audacious goal here]”. But though we have genius in us, sometimes we don’t see it, understand it, or know how to manifest it.
It’s no wonder, though, you’ve been trained not to.
Where have all the geniuses gone?
In 1998, Gordon MacKenzie wrote an interesting book in titled, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, in which he asked, “Where have all the geniuses gone?”
Gordon, an artist at Hallmark, goes on to tell us about his experience visiting elementary schools where he shared his unique craft with the kids.
“Hi! My name is Gordon Mackenzie,” he would start, “among other things, I am an artist. I’ll bet there are other artists here, too…How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands?”
In first grade, the kids raised their hands ‘en masse’.
In second grade, half the kids raised their hands.
In third grade, it was only a third who raised their hands.
And by sixth grade? Take a guess.
Just one or two, nervously brave souls, dared to confess the truth.
Our training has taught us to suppress our genius, that’s what happened. “We don’t need you to be audacious, bold, creative or particularly great,” the message went, “we need you be quiet, follow instructions and stay out of trouble.”
Standing out, exercising creativity, thinking audaciously about shaking up the status quo became risqué, dangerous, and disreputable. Basically, it was to be avoided by all good boys and girls.
Blend in. Fit in. Conform. Don’t get too big for your britches. Or else?
Since our ancient brain has a prodigious talent for understanding that kind of talk, and the social pressure that accompanies it, we comply.
That’s why when a flash of greatness pops into our head, we quickly and ferociously suppress it.
We also make excuses like:
I’m not good enough, talented enough, smart enough, strong enough, educated enough, knowledgeable enough, skilled enough, young enough, good-looking enough, or financially stable enough, and to top it all off, I don’t have enough time.
Then we get back to being busy with ‘real life’ or binge watching Netflix.
We get caught up in our busy-ness and passivity because that’s just easier. Safer.
No need to think about what we really want, or to do the hard work needed to make it come true. Why risk failure?
So we play it safe and hold our dreams close to our vests, or we become cynical about ourselves and others.
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
As the poet Adelaide Anne Procter tells us, the pursuit of a ‘noble life’, the one that beckons you to move audaciously towards what you truly desire, is possible at any time:
Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,
Some pure ideal of a noble life
That once seemed possible? Did we not hear
The flutter of its wings, and feel it near,
And just within our reach? It was. And yet
We lost it in this daily jar and fret,
And now live idle in a vague regret;
But still our place is kept, and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late.
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
Since good, tho’ only thought, has life and breath,
God’s life—can always be redeemed from death;
And evil, in its nature, is decay,
And any hour can blot it all away;
The hopes that, lost, in some far distance seem.
May be the truer life, and this the dream.
The interesting thing is that no one, oftentimes not even yourself, can really know what sort of noble life is truly possible. We are pathetically bad at predicting what may be. We are equally pathetic at understanding what we or others are capable of. If you don’t believe me, look around. The world and the history books are fool of examples of people whose achievements stand in dramatic contrast to what others thought was realistic, or what they themselves thought was possible in their lives.
You just don’t know what you are truly capable of and that’s why it behooves you to push forward and try to find out.
It starts with getting clear on what you want
So what do you really (really) want?
- To change careers
- Start a business
- Take your existing business to a new level
- Work as a freelancer from home
- Go on an African Safari
- Learn to play the guitar and join a band
- Go back to school or earn an advanced degree
- Write your first book
- Become an artist, musician or chef
Look, whatever it is you want who’s to say that you can’t have it? Conversely, I can’t say that you can, but I can say that you have genius in you and that if you follow it: (a) the journey will itself enrich your life and (b) you will accomplish more than you think is possible.
What it takes is the courage to decide to act, even if you’re unsure.
At any moment, you can blot away all doubts and feelings of insufficiency by taking one small step in the direction of your dream. One. Small. Step. And then another and another. Every day. Small steps.
You don’t have to turn your whole world upside down, by pivoting you can stay committed to what you’re working on now, while creating a tiny bit of space to pursue a new direction.
Pivot in the direction of your dream
Back to my motorcycle trip. Pivoting is what I did 15 months ago when I made the decision to become a motorcyclist for the purpose of travel. I got clear on what I wanted.
Then I bought my first motorcycle, a used, blacked-out 1995 Honda Magna 750 with an attitude. I paid very little money for it since it was going to be a learner bike.
I didn’t even know how to start the thing so I asked for help. A buddy of mine was kind enough to ride it home for me (a little embarassing, I have to admit, but who cares).
Then I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class and passed the test.
Then, on a rainy night before an international business trip, I got over-exuberant on a roundabout and low-sided. I was okay, since I was wearing all my protective gear like I had been taught (my pride, however, was badly cut and required many stitches). Even so, I didn’t quit.
I bought books and videos on how to ride safely and studied them pretty voraciously. Then I took another class. I kept practicing. As I slowly became skilled enough, I started planning to take the plunge.
Then, I finally took the risk and headed out for the open road.
Intentionality—working with a clear purpose—can help you accomplish remarkable things. If I showed grit during the whole process, it was because I was clear and acting in accordance to my values. This is something I really, really wanted to do and as Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
And it all started with a pivot and took 15 months.
But enough about me, it’s time to get started on launching your own adventure.
What have you been wanting to do for years but haven’t gotten intentional about achieving?
Why is this important to you? Does it align with your deepest values?
And if so, can you make a brief list of what needs to happen in order to make your dream come true?
How can you pivot in that direction, right now?