When starting something–anything–most of us think we need more than we have. More information. More permission. More resources. But that’s not true. We have everything we need to begin.
Recently, I was in Florida and Chicago for a series of speaking and consulting gigs (thanks for everyone who came out!), and on these trips, I ran into a number of extraordinary individuals whose names you probably wouldn’t know but who are, nonetheless, changing their corners of the world for the better.
I am constantly amazed by the caliber of people I encounter while traveling–like the college administrator trying to elevate the arts in the public consciousness of his city of 100,000 people. Or the young woman who is revitalizing small businesses in her economically depressed town. Or the myriad of artists, entrepreneurs, and creatives who are using their gifts on the Internet to make the world a better and more interesting space.
Do you want to known what all these people had in common? It wasn’t an Ivy League degree or a certain IQ level. It wasn’t an abundance of wealth or skill. In fact, none of them had all their stuff together. They each had their idiosyncrasies and peccadillos, their own quirks and hangups. They struggled with something. In a word, they were human. But they all had something else in common: At some point, they all decided to start, in spite of feeling like they didn’t have enough.
Starting is the easiest thing in the world; anyone can do it. And yet, most of us don’t. We wait for someone else to go first. We wait for the ever-evasive clarity or confirmation of what we should do next. We hold out hope for more money, more time, more people. And we miss our chance.
The world is changed not by those who have it figured out, but by those willing to begin. I’ve learned this in my own journey as a writer and entrepreneur. Any time I’ve started something–a business, a blog, a book–I have never felt like I had enough. The challenge always exceeded the resources available. And yet, each time I stepped out, I always had enough.
Today, I want to share three key lessons I’ve learned from this process of starting things over the years, many of which failed and some that succeeded. To start anything, you have to begin where you are, with what you have, trusting that it’s enough.
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Clarity comes with action
You don’t need more information. You don’t need to “just know” to make the right choice. Waiting for clarity before you act is what timid and foolish people, too. That’s the perfect formula to be a laggard, someone behind the curve of evolution. You don’t wait for clarity before taking action; you act your way into clarity.
This is harder than it sounds, though. The challenging choices facing all of us require a great deal of risk on either side. For example:
- Do I quit my job or not?
- Do we make the big move across the country or stay put for another year?
- Do you risk it all, going after what you want, or is that selfish?
How do we know what the next step is? The wisest people I’ve met have all said the same thing: You don’t know. You may have an intuition, a sense, maybe even a gut feeling of the next step. But nobody has all of life spelled out for them. We are all taking chances and moving in the direction of where we feel led, if we’re lucky. For some of us, life feels more like a crapshoot than a perfectly orchestrated. No matter what, there is not absolute clarity for any of us. All our journeys are filled with uncertainty.
As soon as you get moving, you start to see what’s ahead. The path become clear as you start walking down it. And with each brave foot forward, you grow in courage and competence. The struggle is always strongest before that first step.
And if you find yourself wondering what you’re even doing, unsure of what’s next, take heart. You are in good company. As I wrote in a popular post on Medium, “When your calling seems vague and unclear, you’re on the right track,” we all want to be told, “this is the way to go; walk in it and all will be find.” But life doesn’t work that way. If you’re feeling directionless, this means you are in the midst of an incredible story called your life. Get ready. Something exciting is about to happen.
We follow those who go first
You don’t need to wait for permission. If you see a need, meet it. If you know the answer, raise your hand. It doesn’t matter if people look at you funny or if you end up standing out there all alone with the world watching you. The truth is that we are waiting for you.
This is all leadership is: the willingness to take the first step. You don’t need to be the best or the smartest or even the most unique. You just need to go first—like this random guy on a park bench—who started belting out Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and got an entire park to sing along. All he did was start singing. Maybe you and I can do the same.
Leadership is the art of going first. In fact, in branding, often the company that is the first to market ends up owning the category. For example, you don’t say “Pass the facial tissue.” You say, “Pass the Kleenex.” Being first means stepping up and standing out before anyone else was willing to do. This kind of move can greatly expose you, leaving you vulnerable. But it also means that others are watching you and paying attention to your every move.
When we step out like this, we never just know what to do. But as clarity comes with each step we take, we begin taking more decisive action. The path becomes clear, and pretty, we see others following in our footsteps.
Focus beats attention
You don’t need a lot of people paying attention to you. To start anything, you often need a lot less than you think, provided you know what you want. In our work, we don’t need the whole world to listen to our message. We just need a tribe of true fans on whom we can focus and who in turn will respond to our message.
In a recent interview with Brian Clark on his podcast “7-figure Small,” I shared how my belief that I needed millions of fans to make an impact was wrong. It turns out I only needed a hundred. When we get clear on what we really want, we realize we don’t need much to get there. This is the gift of intention and focus.
This is why I decided to experiment with what I call “The 100-person Rule,” where I have committed to personally working with no more than 100 people this year, in hopes of going deeper with a smaller group of people, helping them achieve true and lasting transformation in their creative work. So far, it’s going great. I’m loving the focus and what the constraints are allowing me to do.
(I’m still looking for a few more people, by the way, who want to go deeper, whether that’s helping grow an online audience, start a message-based business, or publish a book. If you’re interested, let me know by sending your idea to me via email. Meanwhile, I’ll be sharing a few upcoming projects including registration for a writing program I’m teaching later this month.)
It’s not a huge audience that helps your work spread. It’s your intention and willingness to focus on the people for which the work was intended, trusting that as they “get” it, more people will, too. You don’t need to build an empire. You just need to find a few friends who care.