How to step up and have anything but a normal career

You know, I get that change is hard. But it’s also inevitable. The world in which today’s young “will make choices and compose lives is one of disruption rather than certainty,” argues this report.

Indeed, when I started my current job, there was much disruption. In the beginning, it was the challenge of transitioning from being an employee to running an organization. Of being lonely. Of complete work/life distortion.

And when I say challenge, I am being polite, because what I really mean is not all unlike the walk of shame after a particularly rowdy and untoward night of college drinking. That is, what exactly did I get myself in to?

Lately, it’s been an entirely different type of challenge – that of being in limbo because the responsibility and possibility of it all paralyzes me more than I’m willing to admit.

Because, really, given the opportunity to change the world, would you take it? We all think we would, but it is so very hard to look in the face of what you truly want and take it. It is so very hard to fight the war of what really matters.

So Generation Y isn’t always stepping up. And those that do, often think about stepping right back down. Because unless you’re in the fight to make change, it’s difficult to know how ridiculously hard it is. I thought that this might have just been me, that maybe I’m just not cut out for all this leadership change stuff. But I recently met with a thirty-one year old vice-president. She told me no, we’re all neurotic. Really. Neurotic was her word.

“This next year will probably be one of your hardest,” she said. “But you know and I know, once you’ve tasted this, you can’t turn back.”

I think about her words on the days that I don’t want to strategize, or build encampments, or be so obsessed with seeing a CEO or colleague or client on the street that I spend fifteen minutes trying to look vaguely presentable before going to Walgreens just to buy some toilet paper. Really. Some days, I just want to buy toilet paper in peace. Some days, I just want to be normal.

“Being normal,” Hercules replied, “gets you a middle-class life in the suburbs. It’s fifth place, and you know you want to be in first.” All successful people then are understandably eccentric. They take risks that normal people wouldn’t.

There’s this thing about risks though. It’s easy to sign up, but it’s the follow-through that’s hard, the follow-through that decides your character.

Like when I went skydiving two weeks ago (here and here). I wasn’t nervous. Honestly. They tell you to get nervous because if you’re not, you’ll freak out when the door opens at twelve thousand feet. So I was trying to be nervous, but I just wasn’t.

But in skydiving, eventually the plane does fly up to twelve thousand feet, and the door does open. When that happened, my tandem instructor put my hand out into the wind. “That’s not so bad, is it?” he asked. No, I nodded; it wasn’t so bad. I was a rockstar, invincible to anything and everything. I was a rockstar, that is, until we moved to the edge of the plane and I had to put one foot out into the air. It was then that I thought oh, holy crap, I can’t do this. What have I gotten myself into?

That’s the moment, see. Where you have to muster strength from somewhere you didn’t know you had. The moment where you face all your fears. It’s only a split-second in skydiving. Literally. A split-second where you decide if you’re going to smile or cry. Move forward or turn back. Jump or freak out.

When you’re pushing adulthood, however, it can last months. It’s easy to say you’re going to do something. It’s easy to be eager with words. Actions are much harder. That pesky day in and day out stuff.

Like putting down the potato chips and going to the gym. Or not taking things personally when it would be so easy to join the fray. Or putting down your guard, opening yourself up, and then – and this may be even more difficult – letting someone else in.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world, to do what we want,” this character says. “And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want. Because it’s such a big responsibility – really to want something.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering… I jumped. With a smile on my face.

Risk normalcy.