Exiles

Outrageous Ambition

Some ideas are practical. Manageable. You can fit them in your pocket and tote them around all day, barely feeling the burden. These ideas are great because you can act upon them whenever you like and they’ll still be likely to succeed.

Some ideas are a bit more unwieldy. They pop up in your mind at the most awkward times until you finally find the opportunity to act on them, and as a result they need to be acted upon sooner rather than later if you’re going to make them happen.

And then there are the ideas that are so big, you can’t help but feel ridiculous for having them. The ideas that seep into your consciousness and bleed out from your pores and are so crazy cumbersome you can’t get anything else done, you’re so distracted by this idea. This crazy, stilly, stupid, amazing, everything-changing idea.

You’re both fortunate and unfortunate to have one of the latter species of ideas — it will dominate your life and keep you from getting sleep, but it will also tap into energy reserves you never knew you had and make you very aware of just how strong you can be.

Big ideas are a triathlon. They’re an awkward kind of Olympics where all of the contests are being made up on the spot, and you have to fashion your own equipment as you go along. They’re a chain mail gauntlet to the face — a challenge to step up and prove your worth.

It requires outrageous ambition and at least a little bit of crazy to acknowledge such ideas when we have them, because to acknowledge them is to make them real, and to make them real is to not be able to back down. Like a cartoon character walking off a cliff, once you look down and notice the drop, you can’t help but fall. Much easier to just keep on walking, never peeking at the empty air beneath your feet. This is what most people do when they are mind-slapped by a big idea, and you can’t really blame them. To fall is to lose control of your trajectory for a while — to be forced to act quickly, if you want to have a chance of climbing back up to your former status quo.

If successful, however, you’ll figure out a way to turn that fall into flight, and soar higher than you ever have before. If you’d never pulled loose from your comfortable walk, you’d never have achieved the velocity necessary to swoop back up, higher and higher, until you can look down at the safety of your former cliff and think, “Holy wow, what a ride.”

This piece was originally published in Exiles, a twice-monthly collection of essays you can subscribe to if you’re interested.