George Bernard Shaw
“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”
Pete Campbell: “What if I come up short?”
Don Draper: “It’s not an option.”
Vincent Kartheiser and Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”)
Do you ever feel like you’re going to burst if something doesn’t change in your life?
Like a soda bottle dropped, picked back up and put on a table. Tiny bubbles creeping up your insides with nowhere to go. The pressure increases, stretching you to your maximum capacity. Your blood is boiling with a desire for something different. Every ounce of your being is screaming for a release.
Its okay though, if you take a deep breath and wait long enough the pressure will slowly go down. Or, you can carefully twist off the bottle cap to relieve the tension. Just be sure you don’t make a mess. Once the bubbles dissolve, things will go back to normal…until the bottle gets dropped again.
This is how many people live. Something external (good or bad) pushes them over the table edge and stirs them up internally. Then, this discombobulation – this pattern interrupt – reconnects them to their deepest desires. No matter what those desires are; a new career, a new relationship, a new way of life, something needs to change. But nothing changes, so a kind of internal tension builds. A force rises up on the inside and pushes out fiercely in every direction.
This force is a good thing. It is your motive force; the force that enables you to make things happen on your own.
The problem is that most people wait for something external to generate this force. They wait for someone to come along and knock their soda bottle off of the table. Or worse, they resist it being knocked off altogether. They guard its equilibrium; its status quo.
A second problem is that as soon as the bottle gets shaken up and the bubbles start to rise, these people get uncomfortable and desperately try to get things back to normal. No bubbles for me please. No pressure. No conflict. Shhhhh.
If you want something to change in your life you are going to have to stop suffocating your motive force. If you want something new…something different…something drastic, then you are going to have to stir up that force on your own and release it ferociously. Don’t wait for someone or something to do it for you. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Grab hold of the soda bottle, shake it up, and smash it against the wall.
Understand: thinking about the changes you want to initiate will not, in itself, initiate change. You have to grab the bottle by the label. You have to shake. You have to smash. You have to instigate.
That’s what this article is about: instigating. Using your influence to make something happen. The word “instigate” literally means “bring about” or “initiate”. Think of instigating as using your motor force to generate a positive and productive change in your life. But thinking about it is the easy part. Starting it is the hard part. It’s time to get really good at “starting”.
Everyone wants to make something happen. Instigating is encoded in our DNA. Humanity’s search for purpose and meaning are all tied to our ability to exert some level of control, no matter how minute, over the universe. Yet, after enough failed attempts and social conditioning, many of us shut down our motors. The good news is, as long as you have a breath in your body, your motor can be restarted. Its never too later to start really enjoying life.
All great accomplishments, creations and connections began as internal ideas and desires. Tiny kernals and cravings lodged in unknown places. Unfortunately, most of these seedlings never get a chance to grow. For every ten million ideas, there is only one creation. One change. Why? Because starting is hard. Instigating is messy.
So how can you reboot your motor force and start cranking out some bubbles? The following is a list of 4 things that will help you shake things up and instigate some dynamic changes in your life:
1. Just Show Up
“I just showed up.” This sentence baffled my wrestling friends and I when Mike Parziale blurted it out. Mike was a squirrely kid, very tightly wound, but a very good wrestler. We wrestled in college together for 3 years but I could never quite put my finger on his personality or what he was thinking. But I knew this: he was really good at taking initiative.
In high school, Mike was an incredibly successful wrestler, breaking several Massechusette records. I was always envious of a picture that he kept posted in his room of him with Dan Gable (wrestling’s Babe Ruth), who his family knew personally. In high school, many wrestlers compete in what’s called Olympic-style wrestling (i.e. Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling) after the normal high school season is over. There are a number of large tournaments, most of which are organized by U.S.A Wrestling, that these wrestlers compete in during the spring and summer months. Mike was one of those wrestlers. If you are one of the absolute best Olympic-style wrestlers in the country, you may even get invited to the U.S.A. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, CO. Mike was not one of those wrestlers. But Mike showed up anyway.
I couldn’t believe it. He packed his bags, then took a plane, train and taxi to the Olympic training center – uninvited. At the time, I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. In fact, I was embarrassed for him. But now, almost ten years later, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t do it. It’s one of the coolest stories I have ever heard. If I remember the anecdote correctly, Mike showed up, wandered into the practice center, Lincoln McIlravy (an Olympic bronze medalist) asked him what he was doing, Mike said, “Uh, I’m here to train”, then, after 30 seconds of bewildered, awkward silence, McIlravy told him to put his wrestling shoes on.
Have you ever just showed up? When you’re trying to get a new job do you send out fancy “targeted” resumes and make a few calls, or do you show up on site and ask to talk to anyone that will listen? If not, why?
If you call just showing up crazy or stupid (like I did), you’re just displacing the fact that you’re too afraid or too insecure to do something so bold. After all, you might look stupid. You might have to deal with 30 seconds of awkward silence.
2. Don’t Take “No” For An Answer
There’s a scene in the popular 1995 movie Tommy Boy, starring Chris Farely and David Spade, where Richard (played by Spade) is mentoring Tommy (played by Farely) on how to be a good salesman. “We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer”, Richard instructs Tommy. Next, a series of short clips show Tommy giving up on several sales immediately after his potential clients say “no”.
This is how most people respond to the word “no”, especially when its uttered from someone in a position of authority. The word “no” disarms us because its an immediate shot to our egos: “Wait, you’re not going to blindly go along with my plans the first time you hear them? Fine, never mind.”
Of course “no means no” in certain situations, but when it comes to making a positive and productive change in your own life, “no” is only temporary. Instead of reacting against it or letting it bruise your ego, simply dismiss it. Watch the word “no” go floating by as you keep moving forward. At times, the word “no” might require that you adjust course, but you should proceed toward your goal nonetheless.
Refusing to take “no” for an answer is not arrogance, its dedication to an outcome. The average person accepts the word “no” like a baby accepts a pacifier because it relieves them of any responsibility for their failure.
“I would have started that new project but my boss said, ‘no, we don’t have the resources’.”
“I’m keeping my great idea on the back burner for now because my friends and family told me, ‘no, you’re not ready yet’.”
Guess what, the buck still stops with you. Only you can bring your ideas to fruition. Only you can fulfill your desires. The cardinal rule of “starting” is to rely on your own arms first. Sure, connections and relationships are critical to making big things happen, but your individual motive force is the source of the change.
Instigating anything worthwhile takes commitment. You have to make a real decision. Not the little pseudo-decisions we spend our lives making and changing, like where to eat, which shirt to buy, and who to vote off of American Idol. I mean a real decision. Where you cut yourself off from any other possibility, forever. Where failure or coming up short is not an option. Where you don’t recognize “no” as an answer. That’s a real decision.
3. Stop Waiting To Be Picked
In the book, Poke The Box, author Seth Godin asks the following questions: Are you still waiting to be called on by a teacher? Are you still waiting to be picked by one of your playmates on the schoolyard? Are you waiting to be picked for a promotion? If so, Godin suggests you try this: pick yourself. Picking yourself might sound absurd, but do you know what’s more absurd, waiting for permission to do the things you want in life. Enjoying life does not require permission.
Thanks to the internet, its easier than ever to pick yourself. Instead of waiting to be picked by a record label, music artists can upload their songs on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon and hundreds of other sites without asking permission. In fact, they can create their own websites and sell their music on it. Similarly, authors don’t have to wait to be picked by publishing companies anymore. Instead, they can write lifestyle blogs and publish eBooks.
When I started looking at career options during my last year of Graduate School, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to work with people, travel, speak in public, and do something in science, but that was all. It was 2010, the job market was atrocious, and I had been in school for the last 25 years of my life.
First, I sent out 200 generic resumes using Monster and other career-finder websites. Results: nothing.
Second, I sent out 35 “targeted” resumes, where each resume was written specifically for the job I was interested in. I was sure to include the appropriate keywords mentioned in each company’s online job description. Results: nada.
Third, I started cold calling companies. I found phone numbers to a couple dozen corporate headquarters and started making calls before 8AM to avoid Human Resources. Results: 3-4 leads that crapped out.
Fourth, I started attending company-endorsed seminars held at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. I waited through the questions at the end each seminar and then asked the presenter if I could buy him or her lunch. Results: bingo, this lead to several crucial contacts, many of which I still have today.
Fifth, I started flying myself to the biggest biomedical conferences I could find. No matter what field you’re interested in, some organization, somewhere, is holding a conference for it. And most of these conferences have large vendor displays where companies in your field set up booths to promote themselves. So I found a conference, printed out some business-sized cards that listed a mini-version of my resume on the back, and started shaking hands. In other words, I just showed up.
Most people looked at me like I was nuts or a terrorist but one company took notice and hired me on the spot, in the conference hall. Meanwhile, the majority of my peers were sitting at their computers in the lab waiting to be picked.
4. Cause A Ruckus
Human beings spend most of their lives trying to control chaos. We like to organize the uncertainty of the universe. And this is a good thing. If it wasn’t for our need to align our environments to our purposes, we would still be sleeping in caves and dying of small pox. But chaos is not always our antagonist. Chaos can sometimes be used to initiate big changes and find better ways to enjoy life.
This is because chaos shakes things loose; it uncovers new possibilities. A myriad of ancient adages articulate this very fact:
“Beat the grass to startle the snakes.”
“Stir up waters to catch fish.”
“Don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers.”
The general message of these proverbs is that sometimes creating a little chaos in your life can be beneficial. Sometimes you provoking people and things can be productive. This is because “rocking the boat” and “mixing things up” have a way of shaking loose new possibilities and unseen obstructions.
So how should you start creating a ruckus? The best way is to start asking different kinds of questions. For example, instead of asking:
“How can I do what I’ve been doing better, faster and easier?”
“What happens if I do the exact opposite of what I’m doing?”
“What happens if I go completely against the status quo?”
“What happens if I don’t do what I’m told?”
Creating a ruckus doesn’t mean that you run through the office naked with syringes sticking out of your arms, slapping people in the face just to see what happens. It simply means that you do something constructive in a fresh and bold way. Make a drastic change and see what happens. The key is to be strategic. Your goal is to use chaos as a tool, not let chaos use you.
Understand: there will be a ruckus any time you try to instigate dynamic changes in your life. The herd will resist it. And this is what holds so many people back from fulfilling their deepest desires. But life is short, if you don’t start causing a ruckus and making big changes, again and again, then you’ll look back one day and wonder what the hell happened.
So instead of fearing the ruckus, embrace it. Cause it. Start that new project at work without asking permission. Show up on the doorstep of your dream job. Take that wild vacation you’ve been dreaming about for the last five years.
Smash the soda bottle against the wall and see what comes out.