There are plenty of platitudes I could reference about this topic. Nike’s most famous of all, “Just Do It,” or maybe Mark Twain’s “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” Or Stephen Covey’s first habit of highly effective people: be proactive. The point in all of them is that we linger too often in decision paralysis, we hesitate too much, or we think the moment must be perfect, or that it’s someone else’s responsibility to act.
Pat Parelli, maybe a lesser-known figure to most, but very important in the horse training world, might have put it best in his Classic Cowboy Wisdom,
“no matter where you stand in your business, career, or life, and no matter what challenges you now face, when you make the conscious decision to become a person of action, you instantly turn the tide of life in your favor. Action has a way of increasing opportunity, while procrastination and inaction always inhibit success … After analyzing the situation to the best of your ability, considering the options carefully, and selecting your best option, eventually you have to take a leap of faith and just do it.”
I agree fully. Taking action is not about making hasty decisions or acting impulsively, but, as Parelli puts it, it’s about looking “first for small actions that will get you into motion. Once the motion has started, then other actions will become easier to take.”
I see people in my work too often who not only don’t take that first step, but actually stop actions-in-motion that might have otherwise helped them progress toward their goals. Recently, I watched two different colleagues in the midst of job losses both quite their volunteer work to focus on applying for jobs. But what if their next boss was a volunteer working alongside them or serving on the nonprofit board with them? They stripped away some high potential opportunities. And that happens incredibly often.
In organizations that I coach, everyone is usually doing their job, but also spending time stressing out about email overload or projects hanging over their heads. Often times, the easiest thing for them to do is open their email account or that document they need to draft, and begin writing. Instead, we all spend time worrying about not getting everything done, complaining to others how busy we are, and carrying the weight of the work as opposed to just removing it from our shoulders by doing it.
Parelli writes, “Cowboys have a sense of urgency, a sense that time is not on their side, a sense that opportunity lost today may never be recovered. Therefore, they act decisively at all times. They know the power of a single person and that in life every action counts.” Often times, the people that eventually lead organizations are simply those willing to step up and get the hard work done, because they know, “that only action creates opportunity.”
I want to close by carefully contextualizing the concept of just doing it once more. It is about taking action. It’s also about knowing and understanding what actions are most essential, what action matters, and what action is meaningful to you.
This is not about doing more and more, or acting impulsively. This is about taking essential and decisive action more often.