“Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.” —French Novelist Antoine St. Exupery
Be willing to incur danger.
When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning.
We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap.
The Value of Living Dangerously
What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your artistic potential free, and you will not do that without being bold.
For most people the problem is not being too audacious and bold, but not being bold enough. After serving as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower returned to civilian life speaking of the value of “living dangerously,” and that resonates with artists and serious writers; that resonates with everyone.
Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, your art is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently, even if you don’t feel up to it.
I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our personal life or our artistic life, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”
People want to know more about boldness. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever.
Boldness and Success
The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life, and that it is a quality of greatness in every field of human endeavor, possibly especially in the arts where courage is not a luxury, but a necessity. The great names in the arts could not have attained great success had they not taken great risks. Boldness is part and parcel of writers’ and artists’ lives. Even becoming one carries risks. What if Ernest Hemingway had decided he was more likely to be successful if he played it safe and wrote the way everyone else of his era wrote and did not risk failure with a writing style no one had ever seen before? You must be bold to tell the truth in your work and reveal your authentic self to an audience.
It could be that right now you are hanging back from making a decision and taking decisive action because you’re afraid of taking the chance. But success often resides in one place: on the other side of those risks. You were never happy in your career, but you could have remained in it and led a secure and good enough life. But the career wasn’t you at your best. You wanted more than good enough, so you took a chance on a different career. Now you’re happier.
In kendo–Japanese swordsmanship–there is a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent scares the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foes’ blade. Your future success in writing and the world of the arts may lie close to the blade.
Psychologist Gordon Allport said, “To be able to make your life a wager is man’s crowning achievement.”
Strategies: Take the Necessary Chances
- Realize that every important choice involves risk. You make a choice. Your hopes are high, but the choice could always be a bad one. Nevertheless, you take your chances, overcoming self-doubt, and coming close to the blade and risking defeat, you succeed. In your life you’ve had your share of close calls. By the slimmest margin things worked out for you. They could have been disastrous, but they weren’t. And now, even in hindsight, you know that you would make the same choice again, your eyes wide open. We must make honest choices without illusion, with the full awareness of the consequences–either way.
- Take a chance of failing. What better way is there to learn to succeed than by failing? If you never fail you’re aiming too low. You take the chance and try, but you fail. You take another chance and try again, but you fail. But you’re learning all along. Then you make corrections, take a chance again, and try again. This time you succeed. But you wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t failed and taken a second or third chance. Or maybe it was your hundredth chance. You were wise: you found out what would succeed by finding out what wouldn’t. Fainter hearts would have given up, but you didn’t. You didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to make one. You were like a bulldog. You sank your teeth in and wouldn’t let go.
- Be willing to incur danger. If your life consisted merely in avoiding risks, it would be extremely mediocre. Being courageous even in the midst of uncertainty brings a new intensity and sets you apart.
- Be strong in the face of criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground.
- Plan ahead–as well as you can. Plans are representations of possible reality, but are not in themselves reality. We look ahead and what do we see? We see that half of the factors on which our decisions are made and our actions are taken are obscured by a kind of fog. Some things will always be ambiguous. We will never see the lay of the land exactly as it really is. Nevertheless, those decisions have to be made and those actions have to be taken. You can’t stand around hoping to be totally sure, or go around asking people, “What should I do next?” Whatever important action you are contemplating now, you have no choice but to live in uncertainty as to whether it will be the right one.
- When the situation is unclear, but the outcome is important, have courage. There is no greater courage than the courage to risk being wrong.
- From time to time in our life, a moment of great opportunity opens up before us and invites us to take hold. Often we’re too cautious, or too preoccupied, or just too lazy or stupid to pluck it. The maxim goes, “Opportunity knocks but once.” Why is that such a popular saying when there’s no truth to it? Opportunity knocks constantly if we listen closely enough. It’s knocking all the time. Sometimes it’s knocking so hard it’s deafening.
- When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning. An opportunity will present itself to you–today, tomorrow, another day. All life long you have to be on your toes, being alert to great opportunities, and recognizing that here it is—your special moment. Then you must grasp it despite knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
- Have high expectations, but be prepared for anything. A study was done of “failure prone” people. They had two noticeable traits. One was the illusion that they were immune to bad luck. The other was the illusion that they could control life’s events. When events that they had no control over struck they were thrown off balance and they failed. The more consistently successful people took the unexpected into account. They prepared themselves for it. When it struck, they were ready. Knowing that at times the unexpected will appear and challenge your goals, you should prepare yourself. You must make the unexpected expected. You must have options in mind and be bold with them. What major goals are you pursuing? When the unexpected arrives, what are your options? What will you do?
- Never be rash. Boldness stops at the outer edge of the impossible. There is one great disease we should be forever vigilant of–egotism. We should guard ourselves against self-infatuation and the notion that we’re invincible. We aren’t fit for everything. We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap. We should be willing to incur danger, but must never underestimate it. We should never undertake actions without sufficient means to support them, and should always obey our sober judgment.
- Move forward if it’s to your advantage. If it isn’t, stay put. You’ll win a struggle when you know when to struggle and when not to struggle. Some courses of action should not be followed, some opportunities should not be pursued, and some decisions should not be made.
- If you have to worry, do it beforehand, never after. In his book Psycho-cybernetics Maxwell Maltz told the story of a woman who while playing roulette observed players who were totally at ease before they placed their bets. The odds seemed not to matter to them. But when the wheel began to spin they became agitated and worried. She thought how ridiculous that was. If they were going to worry, they should worry before they placed the bet. After the wheel was turning, they might just as well forget their worries, relax, and enjoy the game. It came to her that she did the same thing in her life. She made many personal decisions without considering the risks, and after making them she second-guessed herself and worried endlessly if she had done the right thing. From the roulette experience she learned to work hard to make intelligent decisions and to do whatever worrying she was going to do beforehand. Her decisions improved; her life improved. Making better decisions, she started worrying less.
- Maintain a strong mind. However risky, even dangerous your choice, and however excited you are, maintain a serenity under that excitement so that your judgment remains untouched and free. Show courage, decisiveness, strength of determination, and coolness under pressure even when you’re deepest in trouble or the most discouraged.
- Lead a lifestyle of painstaking preparation combined with bold, sweeping action. Calculate what you can. But once your calculations are done, take action. Like a swordsman, develop your talents to the highest possible level and meticulously prepare yourself for the great event; then edge in close to the opportunity before you.
- Be great at the critical moment. Most of the time life places no great demands on you. But at certain times the consequences are great, and the pressure on you is extreme. It is then that you must rise up and be equally great or all will be lost. It’s when you come through then that you’re at your finest. It is precisely when you are in dire straits and your prospects seem dimmest that you should be at your best. Then you must rejuvenate yourself with a limitless courage. You will never be as great as you are at that critical moment.
What will be your critical moments in your artistic career?
Will you be great?
© 2015 David J. Rogers
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