Millions of people across America are doing something remarkable. These people can’t read or write. They don’t work, can’t drive, have no income, and are totally dependent on the support of others for their well being. Despite these disadvantages, they’re taking an extraordinary leap of faith to begin an awesome journey that will change their lives.
These daring individuals are kindergartners setting off on their first day of school. This year’s crop includes my son, and marveling at him makes me realize that in their leap lies a lesson for us all.
We’re all equipped with an inner compass pointing us toward our unique self – our true north. As kids we navigate by that compass, our every step a willing leap of faith, following our hearts and chasing our bliss down dazzling paths of discovery. Careening through the world with boundless optimism and wide-eyed wonderment comes naturally when we’re children.
Somewhere along the way we grow up – and grow insecure. Life gives us reason to doubt. Wonder and optimism are reined in by reality. Venturing down new paths becomes scary. We fear failure. We start to conform. We leap less.
Wordsworth put it this way:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
We’re born extraordinary. Our job is to steer by our true compass, to keep our bearings, and not fade into the light of common day – to not conform to the world’s expectations, but to configure the world to our own. From the start, convention conspires against us.
Life is relentless. It comes at you every minute of every day, and it doesn’t give a damn about your race, your gender, your politics, your economic situation or what you think is fair. You can either leap forward or lie down. Sometimes, when you leap, you’re going to fail, and your going to fail spectacularly. Failure isn’t the problem. Letting failure stop you is the problem.
Recently, I overheard my son tell a friend, “Cowboys never give up, and you shouldn’t either.” I have no idea how he came up with that, but hearing it made me smile. He’s right. As soon as we stop trying, we start dying.
Van Gogh famously said, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” What if you never attempt to write that novel? What if you never attempt to start that business? What if you never attempt to steer toward your true north? In the end, you might regret some of the failed leaps, but you’ll surely regret all of the times you failed to even try.
Goethe encourages us: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Leap and let the naysayers nitpick – because they will. Conventional thinkers will always find excuses to stand still. Mediocrity loves company. Don’t let other people’s insecurities get in your way. Creativity scares the hell out of people who find it hard to be creative.
In my line of work I’m fortunate to collaborate with creative people, from all walks of life, following their true compass. They are entrepreneurs, businesspeople, architects, dreamers, healers, filmmakers, inventors, parents, writers, teachers and artists – among other things. They each offer unique gifts to the world, and they are each inspiring because they have taken – and continue to take – extraordinary leaps of faith.
Every leap of faith is a hero’s journey. In his study of comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, scholar Joseph Campbell frames the archetypal hero’s journey: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Can there be a more fitting metaphor for children entering kindergarten, or the painter placing the first strokes on a blank canvas, or the scientist testing a hypothesis, or the entrepreneur launching a new venture? Decisive victory is never certain, but if you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance. You just have to have faith.
As I watch my son and his peers in the future class of 2023 leap into their journey I’m inspired by children everywhere. They remind us that we are all born extraordinary, with unique gifts and a unique purpose, and that we each must faithfully follow our own true compass – that we must keep leaping, no matter what. After all, cowboys never give up, and you shouldn’t either. My son taught me that.
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