Do What Makes You Nervous

Not all of us are born with the “daredevil gene.” Some people thrive on adventure, boldly going where no man has gone before.  The thrill of adventure and even the sense of danger energizes them. Others, not so much. But whether you are a thrill seeker or avoider, it’s often the places that make you nervous, the situations that stretch you and pull you beyond your area of comfort, where growth happens.

My wife and I just returned from a wonderful family vacation with our three sons and their families. Sure, it was loud and chaotic, but it was an absolute blessing and a blast to be together with family for a week. We rented a house on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. The house had a dock, so we also rented a pontoon boat and spent days exploring, swimming, and hanging out on the water.

On one of our excursions, we discovered an uninhabited place along the wooded shoreline where rock formations jutted out from the shore about 12-15 feet above the waterline. Naturally, my sons were quick to jump out of the boat and considered jumping off those rocks.  A little way up the shoreline, we also found a rope hanging from a very tall tree by a steep bank. The rope was knotted at the end so that you could swing out and drop into the water below. Not to be outdone, I, of course, felt the need to follow my sons. Part of me said, “C’mon Dave, you‘re not a spring chicken anymore, be content to hang back and just celebrate their achievements.” But the bigger part of me had to give it a go.

The thing is, sometimes you have to press yourself to step out on the edge and take that leap off the ledge. Why? Because if you only jump where you can see the bottom and if you only swim where your toes can touch the bottom, you don’t grow.

Now I’m not knocking safety and making wise choices. I’m not promoting that you be a reckless leader. But life comes with risk. We need to teach our children how to manage risk, live with danger and uncertainty, and develop discernment about when the risk is reasonable and when it’s not. Sometimes we need to push ourselves to that nervous place that lies beyond the familiar.

You can’t lead others where you are not willing to go. Maybe you are not a natural risk-taker. That’s OK. Some people thrive on that exhilaration —most work to avoid it. But regardless of your wiring, you must allow yourself to be challenged, pressed into places of discomfort, places that make you nervous. Discomfort is a critical aspect of effective leadership. Innovation, breakthroughs, and discovery often come when you push yourself beyond where you have been before, beyond your place of safety and comfort.

For the record, I jumped off that high outcrop of rocks – a piece of cake. But swinging out on the rope, not so much. I lost my grip and did an ugly belly-flop. But I survived.  There will be “belly-flops” that you will endure and survive as well in decision-making in relationships and business.  😊 Step out onto the ledge and take the leap!

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