Standing on the edge. That fragile line between messing it up and nailing it.
“Yes, but you’re good at going to strange places and doing weird things,” my wife told me.
I was 24 hours away from delivering a workshop.
Going somewhere I’d never been before (in more ways than one).
The stakes were high.
And I’d never done this before.
At times like this it feels like I’m standing on the edge of a precipice. When you’re standing up there, you don’t know how the story will end.
Will you ace it? Will everyone love it? Will your client be happy?
It’s hard when it’s the first time.
My professional life seems to be full of moments like that. Going in at the deep end. Trying new things. Going to Davos to work backstage for the World Economic Forum’s digital media team. Delivering my first storytelling workshop for the BBC. Doing my first radio interview for Monocle 24. Writing my first article for the Financial Times. Taking my first ever client on a Fuel Safari. Writing my first book. And one of the biggest moments: quitting my job to take the leap to work for myself.
Because for all of the above there were no dry runs, there was no how-to manual, no-one to hold my hand. I had to jump. And until I jumped I had no idea whether I would land on my feet or fall flat on my face.
In my hotel room the night before I ran my first workshop for the BBC I did think to myself, can I actually pull this off? And the thing is, you never know until you try. There are no guarantees. You just have to jump.
It’s scary, precarious. But the truth is, I love it. Some people get their thrills abseiling down a cliff or snowboarding down a mountain. Me? I love the thrill of the new, pushing myself to master new things. I love the sense of being the pioneer. So I try to embrace the fear.
Of course, you don’t always nail it when you try something new. I remember my first big speaking gig, the first I’d done on that scale. And I messed up. It was tough. But I just chalked it up to needing more experience, dusted myself down and got back up again.
It’s a fact of life that none of us know what we’re doing until we do it. Whether you’re quitting your job, starting a new role, launching a side project, adding a new string to your bow — there’ll always be this tension between success and failure.
So your best bet is to acknowledge that tension. Because the feeling of achievement and success comes from overcoming the difficulty of the challenge. And if it wasn’t challenging, you wouldn’t get the sense of “yes, I did it!”
When you stand on the precipice, first there’s the fear.
Then that sense that yes, you can do it.
The switch from fear to excitement.
The realisation that you are good at this, the confidence that it will be okay.
But if I didn’t have the fear?
If I was comfortable?
If I wasn’t on the precipice?
If I wasn’t standing on that fragile line between messing it up and nailing it, then I would be comfortable. And being comfortable wouldn’t produce a game changing result.
It can be scary standing on the edge, but sometimes it’s the only place to stand.
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