The difference between courageous and crazy is oftenArts
“Unless you are willing to take risks, you will suffer paralyzing inhibitions, and you will never do what you are capable of doing. Mistakes – missteps – are necessary for actualizing your vision, and necessary steps toward success.”
Warren Bennis: On Becoming a Leader
I had my nose broken twice when I was in high school. The first time was when the school bully – who was quite a bit bigger and stronger than me – challenged me to a fight. When we got to the alley after school, there was already a crowd waiting for the spectacle – including some of the prettiest girls in the school. I had psyched myself up – it was going to be Rocky versus Apollo Creed, the Wild Hogs taking on the outlaw motorcycle gang. Of course scenes like that usually only happen in the movies. I never saw the hard straight right that connected with the tip of my nose, but was later told that it made a memorable sound.
Two years later I was working out at the gym of the military base where my Dad was stationed. I’d gotten pretty good at working the speed bag. If you’re not familiar with how such things work, you hit them but they don’t hit back. I’d gotten sufficiently proficient that I thought I was ready for something that would. I should have known it was a mistake when the midshipman I entered the ring with was wearing real boxing shorts instead of the high school issue grey gym shorts I had on. This time it was a stiff left jab that did the trick on my nose. (A left jab! Can you imagine the humiliation of being knocked out by a left jab? It was only later than I learned my “sparring partner” was the base welterweight boxing champ that year.)
Before each fight I had people comment on how courageous I was, but in retrospect I was crazy to have accepted either challenge (the word stupid also comes to mind).
After graduation from the Stanford business school in 1985, most of my classmates when on to lucrative careers in business, consulting, and banking. With no money in the bank and a mountain of debt, I started a nonprofit organization called STAT (Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco) to take on the white collar drug pusher of Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. It was a lost cause, and everyone thought I was crazy for doing it (including me). But, as Jimmy Stewart memorably said in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.
Over the next ten years, STAT made important contributions to preventing the illegal sale of tobacco to minors and outlawing cigarette vending machines, and to the demise of the Marlboro Man and Camel Joe and to surreptitious paid cigarette advertising in movies made for kids.
I am now proud to have been one of a small group of men and women who took on a lost cause and brought about one of the most profound societal changes in the history of this country – the eradication of toxic cigarette smoke from public places and outlawing of the tobacco industry’s most egregious efforts to recruit children to be their next generation of addicted customers.
The Difference between Crazy and Courageous
Anyone who has ever quit a day job to start their own business has heard the word “crazy” applied to their decision. You often hear the figure that 8 of every 10 new businesses fail within five years. Even if that figure were accurate (it’s not), it’s not true. Businesses do not fail, owners quit. The difference between crazy and courageous is often evident only in retrospect. Win the fight and you were courageous, lose the fight and you were crazy. Close the doors of your new business and you were crazy to have quit the day job.
Make one more call, work one more late night, do whatever it takes to make I through one more day so you can try again tomorrow, endure one more sleepless night worried about how you will survive what marketing guru Seth Godin calls “the dip” in his book of that name, and someday they will remark on your courage. Courage isn’t stepping through the ropes into the ring so much as it is getting back up after you’ve been knocked down. Courage is working your way through the slump, and finding a way over or through the brick wall if you can’t smash through it.