Taking the Leap

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2013

As the 20th century poet E.E. Cummings once reflected, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

If only courage were all it took to launch a new venture and become the achiever you’re destined to be. Bravery may be the big red button you have to push to get started, but it alone won’t sustain you.

What separates the gutsy from the gutsy-and-successful is a set of traits that allows them to imagine a new pursuit, put it in orbit, and then force it to climb to new heights.

Do you have courage? Good. That’s a start. Now, do you have the traits to see your dreams to fruition? Ask yourself the following questions to find out:

1. Are you passionate?

You have to love what you do. You’ve got to lie in bed dreaming about it and wake up ready to throw yourself into it.

Passion pairs well with courage. You need both at the starting point of your journey—passion to find the idea, courage to hit “Start.” But passion also gives you staying power, and that’s critical because sustaining is usually more difficult than starting.

Passion also helps you to become an effective promoter of your business. It makes your voice gush with excitement, eyes blaze with enthusiasm, and hands gesture with emphasis. As a leader, you must believe in your business so much that you feel compelled to talk about it. That passion will spill into your words and convince listeners to become clients.

2. Can you handle stress?

It’s inevitable, even in a job you love. You must face the stress of taking risks. You must handle the stress that arises when you struggle to meet the demands placed on you. You must withstand the pressure of financial challenges, staff challenges, limited resources, time constraints and problem-solving. And, of course, you must be able to weather criticism.

In my early years of leadership, I didn’t handle the pain of criticism very well. I sometimes cared more about it than I did about making the right leadership decisions. I had to grow through that. These days I find affirmation in the words of Albert Einstein: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Criticism is inevitable. In fact, there’s a tenet you ought to know, The Rule of 5 Percent, which says that, no matter what you do, 5 percent of people will not like it. Save yourself some anxiety now and know you’ll never satisfy everyone.

Another thing about stress: To handle it well, you need to be healthy. I learned this the hard way in my early 50s when I had a heart attack. Now I exercise daily and try to eat better. I came to understand that the healthier you are, the better situated you are to handle whatever your bold venture throws at you.

3. Do you have good people skills?

Let’s face it, if you don’t, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. People go along with people they get along with.

“Between 70 percent and 90 percent of decisions not to repeat a purchase of anything are not about product or price. They are about some dimension of service,” author and former Burger King CEO Barry J. Gibbons once noted. Yikes! If that doesn’t force you to put a smile on your face and some warmth in your handshake, I don’t know what will.

To make a new venture successful, you must analyze your interpersonal skills and determine how to best use them.

Your understanding of people will help you build your business. Your treatment of people will help you build your business. If you can build relationships, your reputation will help you build your business.

4. How do you solve problems?

The best problem-solvers, I think, possess two attributes: creativity and decisiveness. It takes a lot of creativity to deal with reality and the knockdown punches it fires at us. Then once we hit on a solution, we need to act decisively.

Biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi said, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” OK, well, once you see a solution, you also need to take action.

One of my favorite stories about decision-making, told by some of my fellow preachers, involves a young Ronald Reagan. When his aunt offered to have a pair of shoes custom-made for the boy, the shoemaker asked whether he wanted them with round or square toes. The boy hemmed and hawed, so the shoemaker asked him to return in a day or two to give him an answer.

A few days later the shoemaker saw The Not-Quite-Yet Great Communicator on the street and asked what he had decided about the shoes.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” the boy answered.

“Very well,” said the shoemaker. “Your shoes will be ready tomorrow.”

When Reagan picked up the shoes, one had a round toe and the other a square toe. That taught the future president that if you don’t make your own decisions, somebody else will make them for you. Now, I don’t know how much of that tale is myth and how much is fact, but it does illustrate the importance of firm decision-making.

5. Are you optimistic?

Optimism + Entrepreneurship = Success. Now that’s a little math to chew on. When you believe in yourself and are optimistic about your business, others are more likely to be optimistic about it, too. Think about that the next time you face your investors, clients or employees. Nowhere is optimism more important than in the face of failure. Did you know that, on average, an entrepreneur fails at more than three ventures before finally finding success? If you remain optimistic, you’ll keep trying. If you keep trying, you’ll reach that upper echelon of achievers—the ones who have plucked success out of their fiascos.

What if you didn’t answer yes to all five of those questions? Don’t lose heart.

Search your soul and you’ll find your passion. Know that you can develop stress-management techniques, people skills and problem-solving abilities. Understand that your attitude—your sense of optimism and potential—is a choice. And choices are something we can control every day.

Good luck and Godspeed, then, on your bold new venture.