Positive actions and stepping into the arena

One blog I read regularly is Get Rich Slowly, a personal finance blog written by JD Roth. I was (for reasons I can’t remember) looking at a couple of his old posts and I found an awesome post called The Power of Yes: A Simple Way to Get More Out of Life. JD describes how, when reading a book about improv acting, he came across a passage that described how improv actors always have to accept what is happening on stage and then react to this.

“Once you learn to accept offers, then accidents can no longer interrupt the action. […] This attitude makes for something really amazing in the theater. The actor who will accept anything that happens seems supernatural; it’s the most marvelous thing about improvisation: you are suddenly in contact with people who are unbounded, whose imagination seems to function without limit.
[…]
These ‘offer-block-accept’ games have a use quite apart from actor training. People with dull lives often think that their lives are dull by chance. In reality everyone chooses more or less what kind of events will happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking and yielding.

This is a great idea. One of the books I love is Yes Man by Danny Wallace, where Danny decides, on the advice of a strange man on a bus, to say yes to everything. It’s a fantastic book (that has recently been made into a film) and it demonstrates how radically your life can change when you just start accepting offers and doing more things. Don’t focus on the positive, don’t think about what could go wrong, just do it and see what happens. I think this is especially relevant for students: you have large portions of your day when you might not have anything definitively timetabled. Rather than sit at home watching Jeremy Kyle and Top Gear, just go out and do something. Expose yourself to randomness.

The flipside of this is that if you do step outside of your comfort zone, if you do something different or new or difficult, you might fail. In fact, you probably will. That’s great. This old Nike advert with Michael Jordan explains it better than I ever could.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Here’s a couple more quotes that I love. First, Tucker Max:

“You know how many times in my life I have gotten something or achieved something because I tried where others begged off, because I threw my hat in the ring when others kept theirs on their head? You know how many hot girls I have gotten because I went up and talked to them, while everyone else was scared of them? Yes I have game, but my game is worthless sitting alone at a table. It takes balls to approach a hot girl or to put your life on the internet, and friends, I have two huge ones, and this is why I am a winner and will always be a winner.”

And finally, a quote that I have stuck to my wall above my desk. I read this two or three times a day.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

All of this adds up to say that you shouldn’t be afraid of doing anything. Incredible things can happen if you just take a chance and do something rather than sit on the sidelines. Get out there and step into the arena.

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