By Tom Peterson
The meek have never changed the world.
If you want to make the world better, give yourself permission to be bold, learn to be audacious. Daring and audacity for their own sake make no sense. But to address today’s urgent challenges half-hearted actions are not enough. Move toward bold goals and seize the opportunities that unexpectedly present themselves. This combination of audacity and world change will also transform your life.
The King of audacity
I once visited the compound in New Delhi where Mahatma Gandhi had lived. I looked into his roped-off room, almost empty, with a spinning wheel, a sleeping mat. It was inspiring just to be there. Later I learned that in 1959 Martin Luther King, Jr. had gone there, too. But his visit was a bit different, as described by historian Vijay Prashad:
He was moved by the space where Gandhi sat, now cordoned off from the public. King wanted to go and sit in the room, among Gandhi’s remaining objects. The Museum’s curator was hesitant, but could not refuse a State guest. King meditated on the floor, where Gandhi once did. Hours went by. The curator asked King’s companions when they planned to leave, since he had to close the Bhavan. King asked if he could stay the night, by himself, and sleep where Gandhi had slept. The curator, once more, had to allow his guest this privilege. King did so, to the discomfort of his friends.
The next morning, King wrote in the guest book, “To have the opportunity of sleeping in the house where Gandhiji slept is an experience that I will never forget.”
King’s audacious request took his experience to a different level — just like the rest of his life. He embodied audacity in what he dreamt and in how he lived.
10 ways to be audacious
Most of us aren’t naturally bold. Fortunately, audacity is an attitude to be nurtured and a skill that can be learned. Audacity for its own sake is not the point. It’s not about being loud and wearing a large yellow hat to stand out in the crowd (although if you want to do that have fun). But to accomplish anything worth accomplishing you’ll need some audacity. And, as Eudora Welty observed, “All serious daring starts from within.”
- Start with a goal and move toward it step by step. Identify how you’d like to be more daring and think of a few steps to begin. To become a powerful speaker, commit to making a presentation that’s beyond your comfort level, even if it’s to just a half-dozen people. Invite that person you admire or would like to meet to join you for a cup of coffee. Send a bold email. These actions may not sound daring but boldness is a skill and an attitude that grows with practice.
- Move past hesitation. You find yourself thinking, this is what want to do but then you hesitate and don’t act. Those microseconds of indecision occur throughout our day and, while small, they can define us. When moments of hesitation arise, seize the opportunity, flex your muscles and do that thing that moves you toward your goals.
- Break the Rules. The Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” King knew he wasn’t allowed in that room and certainly wasn’t allowed to sleep there overnight. Enjoy the playfulness and freedom of coloring outside the lines. It’s more fun, more exciting, more alive. It’s also where most growth and discovery happen.
- Act as if you’re already like how you’d like to be. Invent yourself. Name your dream and claim it by showing up. Live into a bolder way by pretending. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an activist, go to the marches. If you want to make a statement, don’t wait until you have the perfect words (you never will), just make it. Yes, it will feel awkward, do it anyway. Create a story with your life. Anais Nin said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
- Master that area you want to learn about. It will be hard at first, like learning a new instrument, and may feel awkward until you’ve got some practice behind you. Lean in intellectually, do the research, learn the skill. “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination,” said John Dewey.
- Talk with strangers. What’s their story? Make the effort to meet the people you’d like to know, listen to anyone, get out there to mingle.
- Do something, anything! Don’t wait for an invitation, jump in and be daring. “Fortune favors the bold,” says the old Latin proverb. The bold are constantly moving, and the more you do, the more opportunities present themselves.
- Question authority! If the establishment had its act together we wouldn’t have these problems, right? Reacting to a sense that Apple was getting too bureaucratic, Steve Jobs led the Macintosh team to an off-campus skunkworks workspace where they flew a Jolly Roger flag. Their motto: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy!”
- Have fun! While much of world change activity is serious, having some fun can bring energy to the cause. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
- Reframe your thinking. Meek and mild, half-hearted actions will got get us where we need to go. Boldness is a skill or attitude that can be developed, learned. Shift from “boldness is scary and dangerous” to “boldness is a life-affirming adventure.”
To meet the urgent needs of our time, we will need to be audacious, daring. Rosa Parks didn’t have tired feet; she had audacity. So did Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Mead, and pretty much anyone who’s ever made a difference, big or small.
You may also like: Courage Can Change the World
Mahatma Gandhi’s room at Sabarmati Ashram., Raaveesh Vyas, Wikimedia Commons