I’ve had this dream for a while that one day, I might get to give a TED Talk. I don’t know when I got the idea into my head; I just know that at some point, I realized it was there, and it had been there.
This is probably a manifestation of something we all secretly want—to be able to say our piece, to impact some part of the world with a truth we’ve discovered. What we have to say is ever-changing, I expect, but if I was asked today to give a TED Talk, this is what I would want to say:
A great life is a series of bold decisions.
That’s it. A great life is a series of bold decisions. It’s the simplest idea, but enormous to comprehend. Because what is “great”? The definition changes as many times as there are people in the world. Some of us think a great life would be having closer relationships with our children than our parents had with us. Some of us think greatness comes from being a face for social change. Others still believe that greatness would come from making a discovery, or leaving behind a masterpiece of some kind that alters others’ perception of humanity—a book or piece of music or other form of art.
But no matter the definition of greatness, it never comes about from a complacent lifestyle. It comes from taking bold risks.
And what is “bold”?
Bold is being different. Not for the sake of being different, but as a natural result of engaging with life.
It is bold to be kind when you want to be unkind. It is bold to persevere when you want to give up. It is bold to speak up when you want to stay silent—just as it is bold to listen when you want to argue. It is bold to give when you have little yourself, but what you have is something you know someone else needs more.
It is bold to look at the heart and not the face, or the body. Is is bold to be still, when being frantic distracts you from the things you cannot change. It is bold to fight when you want to flee. It’s bold to choose every moment to be aware of what is what is better in the big picture, and what is easy in the short-term, and decide accordingly.
This idea did not come to me fully-formed. It came to me the way a puzzle comes together as you turn over all the upside-down pieces, and rotate them this way and that, knowing that there’s a picture you’re trying to form, even when you don’t know what it is yet.
As a web designer, I’ve learned to make bold decisions with colors, fonts, and shapes. I’ve found that almost always the bigger fonts, greater spans of white space or solid color, simpler designs, and shorter statements make for greater impact for the viewer and the brand. It was hard to accept this reality as a designer, since as an artist, I tend to want to do what hasn’t been done before, to hide secrets in the details.
As a writer, I’ve learned to cut large spans of text from my final drafts, even though they may have been a tremendous labor of love, because they distract from my main point, or lose the attention of my reader. “Killing my darlings,” it’s called. It’s bold to slice up one’s own work like that, but it’s the better of two things.
When I think of the role models I’ve had in my life—personally, spiritually, creatively, professionally—not one of them was on a conveyor belt. My college roommate Kayna changed my life when she demonstrated before my eyes how simple the choice was not to give in to peer pressure. The Reverend David Wilkerson showed me through his life’s work that everyone’s journey is unique, and if your convictions are fiercely opposed to what the masses would tell you, you might still be right. Promise Tangeman and Michael Bierut, both designers, made bold decisions in the simplicity of their work that caused me to question my own methods and eventually invert them. And every business leader I look up to is someone who tried many business ideas that weren’t quite right, and who failed a lot, before learning all the lessons that would bring about success; but boldly continued their pursuits, even though it would have been easy to give in to failure.
When I realized that there was a pattern in all the people and stories that were shaping my life, the pattern I saw was risk. It was focus. It was commitment. And one day, it came together in a simple sentence: A great life is a series of bold decisions.
I could think of no great life that this did not apply to. Mother Theresa. Anne Frank. Abraham Lincoln. The Apostle Paul. My mother’s father. Corrie Ten Boom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Albert Einstein.
I could think of no great parent, no great artist, no great leader who did not make bold decisions, who did not take risks. It shifted my perception of reality. Of this moment. Of how much of my struggle was my own fault.
From the day that sentence came to me, I’ve repeated it to myself over and over, a subconscious meditation that is woven into every breath. I have since left a job that did not fulfill me in order to pursue a creative passion that brings me joy. I went from being single to being taken. I’ve changed the way I dress, the time I get up, how I react in stressful situations, how I manage guilt and anxiety. I’ve learned to ask myself, moment to moment, “What are my choices? Which one is better?”
My responses might be different if I had different priorities, but that’s not really the point. The point is that what is easy is always the easier decision—which sometimes means not making a decision at all—and that the majority of us for the majority of our lives will make the easier decisions by default. Very few of us live by design, which is why so few of us live great lives.
What would a great life look like for you? What bold decision do you have to make to change?
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