One of our greatest sources of authentic power in life comes from our willingness and ability to act – especially in the face of obstacles and fear. To be truly successful and fulfilled, we must challenge ourselves to take bold and courageous actions and to go for what we want. Legendary author Ray Bradbury said, “First you jump off the cliff and then you build your wings on the way down.”
In the summer of 1998 I was in the midst of a major life transition. I’d blown out my pitching arm a little over a year earlier and had gotten released by the Kansas City Royals that March. I was home in Oakland, CA collecting workers comp insurance (and not working), recovering from simultaneous elbow and shoulder surgery that I’d had at the start of that summer, reeling from what was sure to be the end of my dream of becoming a Major League baseball player (even after my arm rehab was completed), and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Throughout that spring and summer, I read numerous self help books that inspired me – both by what I learned from them personally and also by the idea of being able to write books like that and help people myself. I would wander into bookstores and find myself drawn to the personal development section – both to look for new books for me to read and also because I had a deep yearning to be involved in that world myself.
Given my age at the time, twenty-four, my lack of experience, and the fact that I had no idea how one would even begin a career as a self-help author and motivational speaker, I felt discouraged, scared, and confused. Being an author and a speaker one day seemed like a pipe-dream. And, in the weeks and months ahead I knew I’d need to make some important decisions about what to do and what specific steps to take as I ventured out into the “real world” for the very first time.
On July 11th, 1998 I had a conversation on the phone with my Uncle Steve that as I look back on it now, was a pivotal moment in the course of my life and my work. That day on the phone, I shared with him some of my deepest fears, dreams, confusion, and desires for my life and my future. I told him that I thought I wanted to be an author and speaker who could help and inspire people, but that I didn’t know how to do that, where to start, or what I could do in my life right away that would lead me in that direction.
Steve challenged me and said, “For you to do this Mike, you’re going to have to ‘step out’ and be bold in your life. It’s not a one-time thing; it’s a day-by-day process. The question to ask yourself today and every day is, ‘What am I willing to do today to step out in life’?”
This question that Steve asked me, while simple to understand, challenged me to my core – both inspiring me and scaring me at the same time. I wasn’t sure how to answer that question at the time, but thought about it quite a bit.
I got a job that fall working for a dot-com, but my dream of writing, speaking, leading workshops, and coaching people stayed with me. Over those next few years, Steve would send me notes and post cards from time to time with just the words “Step Out” on them. It became a mantra for me.
Even though I knew the job I had selling internet advertising was not my “calling,” I chose to be grateful for what I was learning and the money I was making. At the same time I began to look outside of my current job for places where I could “step out” towards my deeper passion and dream of helping people. I did this in as many ways as I could – taking workshops, volunteering, reaching out to established authors, speakers, and coaches, talking to people about my goals and dreams, reading books, and much more.
When I got laid off from my dot-com in the middle of 2000 – Steve’s question reverberated within me deeply. I knew that the bold thing for me to do at that point, even though I still didn’t have a clue about how to go about it, was to “step out” of my “box,” take a huge leap, and do what I could to become a speaker, coach, and author.
It wasn’t easy and there were many times I wanted to quit – but I kept challenging myself to be bold and to go for it, even when I didn’t think I could. It took me six months from the time I got laid off to launch my speaking and coaching business, another two or three years before I was able to establish myself in any significant way, and seven years before I published my first book.
Stepping out of our own “box” is essential to living an authentic and fulfilled life. We often don’t think we’re “ready,” we may not know exactly what we’re supposed to do, and we almost never have a guarantee that things will work out.
Will we get scared? Of course. Will we fail? Most likely, especially at first. As the cliche says, “no risk, no reward.” When we’re willing to put ourselves at risk and go for what we truly want in a bold way, amazing things can happen.
Stepping out of our box in life doesn’t always involve something big like changing careers, moving to a new place, starting a business, ending a relationship, or traveling around the world (although it could). It simply means we’re willing to do, say, or act in a way that is new, different, and/or vulnerable. When we choose to push past our perceived limits and go for it in life – we always grow and learn, regardless of the outcome.
As you do this, make sure to get support, have compassion, and be gentle with yourself in the process. While it can be scary and often counter-intuitive – we’re here to grow, expand, and evolve and one of the most important things we can do in this regard to is to step out of our box in a conscious and bold way!