One day I was walking my dog Yodie in the suburb where I live and saw my neighbor scurrying up the street to catch an early train to Chicago. As he went by I yelled out, “Turn the world on its head today.” He smiled in return. The next morning I ran into him again, and he stopped to speak with me. He told me his dad used to say the same thing to him when the two of them got together. He told me that every day when he goes to work he tries to follow his father’s advice – by giving his all. I told him to keep doing it.
It is an increasingly rare quality. Too often I meet young people who seem to have lost their spark amid life’s everyday trials. They think they can’t make a difference; that the system is just the way it is and they are powerless to influence things. They just try to make it through the day.
I can see that happening if you are unemployed, and God knows enough people are unemployed today. But this lack of will predates the recession. Too many people can’t see that there are still opportunities for success if you have the skills, education and tenacity to pursue them. There are new businesses to start, other businesses to reinvigorate with energy and positive attitude.
Success often means taking risks, and if there is one thing that marks our country today it is a pervasive fear of risk. I also see a lack of willingness to sacrifice short-term gains for longer-term success.
The trouble with this kind of thinking is that you may wake up later on with a world of regret for not having tried harder.
Back in 1980 a bunch of young hockey players won the Olympic gold medal after defeating the team from the Soviet Union, considered the most powerful hockey team in the history of the sport. The victory was much-needed dose of inspiration for the U.S., which was mired in a recession. Iranian radicals had taken over the United States embassy, holding employees hostage for months on end, an act that seemed to symbolize a national sense of powerlessness.
Who can ever forget Al Michaels, the sports announcer, asking as the final horn sounded, “Do you believe in miracles? … Yes!” The young men who played on the American team were just a bunch of young college players. But they had a great coach by the name of Herb Brooks who instilled in them what it meant to strive for success and to fulfill dreams. It wasn't easy by any means. Brooks was a taskmaster, and he turned the group of young hockey players into a disciplined, cohesive unit through hard training and attention to detail – the keys to all successful sports teams. It was said that before the game against the Soviets in 1980 Brooks told his team to go out and win the game because if they didn't they would carry the defeat to their graves. I wonder how many people have gone to their graves regretting they didn’t give everything they had to every day to fulfill their dreams. Too many, I’m afraid.
I submit to you that many people accept mediocrity in their lives because they don’t realize their own potential. The great English poet Robert Browning once wrote that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” but that takes courage to be who you are, to stand up and be counted and to realize you can accomplish so much more if you truly want to.
Maybe the words of the writer Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love, say it best:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
By being who you are and striving for excellence and meaning you give others the willingness to strive for excellence in their own lives. Touching others’ lives and giving them hope is really the grandest of gestures that any of us can make.
So go ahead, turn the world on its head every day.