Escape Velocity

The force required to change must be greater than the pull of habits and systems which have formed previous success.

At some point in our lives, we all wake up with the same feeling. The desire to cast off constraints and repetitions, leave the mundane behind, and head out to discover something new. Adventure awaits, along with a hopeful expectation that what we find will be better than what we knew before. With this risk, we expect a reward.

What does it take to escape the pull of routines, and when should we abandon things that have worked?

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” 
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Often, however, even as the idea is forming, we know it’s unlikely to be realized. As we age, our lives become more interwoven with things we can’t easily separate from, and responsibilities win out over the desire for adventure and discovery.

I find myself appreciating the little things much more as I get older. My “routine” is one of those little things that gives me comfort, much more so than I would have expected 15 years ago.

We might blame the trappings of adult life or the necessary structure of professional achievement, yet we are still products of our genetics, and we are a species that seeks to survive.

Survival sometimes involves casting out into the unknown, embracing fear and challenge, and seeing what is on the other side of the mountains. But survival more often than not requires repetition and routine. This cave hasn’t collapsed yet, so it’s still a good shelter. The fish are plentiful in that river, so we shall keep fishing in it. That fruit didn’t kill you, so you can eat it again. You are unlikely to abandon the cave, river or fruits, until something bad happens and forces you to consider the necessary risks to find survival once again.

How do you initiate change when it’s not being spurred by a failure? Initiating this kind of change goes against our genetic makeup, and requires a tremendous amount of force and conviction.

In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to “break free” from the gravitational attraction of a massive body. The escape velocity from Earth is about 40,270 km/h (25,020 mph).

More particularly, escape velocity is the speed at which the sum of an object’s kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy is equal to zero. If given escape velocity, the object will move away forever from the massive body, slowing forever and approaching but never quite reaching zero speed. Once escape velocity is achieved, no further impulse need be applied for it to continue in its escape. —

Science tells us once we’ve achieved escape velocity, we are in the clear. We won’t have to worry about getting pulled back to the thing we’ve sought to escape from.

Impactful growth or evolution, typically requires several periods of significant and turbulent change.

If we look back to the Great Oxygenation Event, about 2.3 billion years ago, we can see that a massive shift in how the Earth managed oxygen changed, and was most likely a necessary precursor for life as we know it.

Another period of radical tranformation occurred during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, when it is estimated that 75% of the lifeforms (including all non-avian dinosaurs) on the planet went extinct when an asteroid hit the earth.

Yet the devastation caused by the extinction also provided evolutionary opportunities. In the wake of the extinction, many groups underwent remarkable adaptive radiations — a sudden and prolific divergence into new forms and species within the disrupted and emptied ecological niches resulting from the event. Mammals in particular diversified in the Paleogene,[18] producing new forms such as horses, whales, bats, and primates. Birds,[19] fish[20] and perhaps lizards[12] also radiated. —–Paleogene_extinction_event
Radical transformation both destroys and creates.

If we apply this concept to our lives or professional pursuits, it’s safe to say that if you create enough change and disruption, and create enough new things to replace old things, you will never return to the previous ways of being. However, if you don’t achieve the required velocity of “x”, you risk being pulled back to that which you seek to escape.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” 
― Albert Einstein

If you want significant change, incremental shifts and slow growth are NOT the best approaches. Be prepared to see some things die off as you strive to unearth and give birth to new ideas or ways of operating. Be prepared for moments of extreme pressure and force to be felt as you undergo the rapid transformation.

One could make the case that to proactively choose to change or evolve, we are getting a jump on what is going to inevitably happen. One could also argue that if we aren’t changing, we are becoming complacent, and complacency often results in eventual destruction.

“You will never be entirely comfortable. This is the truth behind the champion — he is always fighting something. To do otherwise is to settle.” 
Julien Smith, The Flinch

I personally believe that there is always room for growth and change, and I also have a persistent curiosity and compulsion to examine problems and look for new solutions. This is probably why I am an entrepreneur, a business owner, and a painter.

What are you hoping to get out of all this change?

There are a few times I can recall reaching for something equivalent to escape velocity in my own life, both personally and professionally.

In 1985 I was in my freshman year of high school. I was painfully awkward and insecure, and most days I would sit at the back of the class and watch all the other kids crack jokes and interact. It seemed so easy for them, why was I having such a hard time joining in? At that moment, sitting in that classroom, I decided to change. The only way I was going to find out what kind of person I was capable of becoming was going to require some drastic action. I started giving myself daily tasks to train myself to feel confident; talking to someone outside my sphere of friends, asking more questions when I was in a group setting, trying on different attitudes and approaches to see what fit, and what didn’t. Every day a new challenge, every night, I went to sleep with a growing collection of experiences that began to drown out the insecurities, and create new behaviors.

My social experiments and observations became more interesting than my feelings of not fitting in, of not being “normal.” I realized people would only judge me as harshly as I judged myself, and my intellect and humor were far more powerful than if I had the right outfit on (which I NEVER did) or wanted to chug MadDog behind the bleachers (I didn’t care for drinking or sports). I went exploring my universe and found my circles, my planets, my people, and my passions. Suddenly a confident, engaging and free-spirited human being emerged, something I desperately wanted but could never have achieved if I hadn’t decided to hit the launch button.

Much more recently, about four years ago, I realized my company was on auto-pilot.

We were doing good work, were relatively successful in our industry, and saw a slowly growing base of happy clients and long-term employees. I was questioning what this effort was going towards? We needed to push past our current horizon lines and see what was possible. This required taking some big risks. It required a questioning of the very core of the company, and reaching out to many more mentors and people whose input I respected so I could gain perspective. It required me to push my team into new roles, and help them learn new skills.

It meant literally changing every facet of what had been working just fine. This was not well-recieved by everyone.

The end result was the emergence of a company with a focused mission and spirit. We had quite literally, grown up.

Everything is in a constant state of change and evolution. Nothing is completely still, or stagnant. Even the new systems we create will produce their own kind of gravitational pulls and trappings, from which we may one day need to escape.

How will you know when you’ve reached escape velocity?

Everything will feel effortless, and you may even forget you’re sitting in the driver’s seat. You will find yourself in a place of endless possibilities, with little in the form of obstruction standing in your way. You will feel your view is far reaching and clear, and that the people who are with you are standing beside you, not behind you, free to explore this new “place” you’ve reached.

The artist Robert Henri writes in The Art Spirit:

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

When you find yourself in a state where great things are inevitable, you’ve reached escape velocity. You are free to create new things. You have changed.

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