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An Essential Skill for Success

Updated on April 05, 2013

Two key words: curiosity and courage

When it came to taking chances, I was the last horse out of the gate. For years I hesitated, always unsure of myself, not wanted to be wrong. In classes, I'd seldom raise a hand or volunteer a comment or answer. I'd feel guilty if a mechanic found a problem with my car (worn breaks, bad timing), thinking it was my fault. I wouldn't initiate a conversation with strangers, but wait instead for them to make the first move.

Then all that changed. Not at once, but the seismic change did come. It started with a son who called home a week and a half into his first 10 week term as a freshman in college. "Mom," he said to my wife, "either I get a computer or I have to quit school." When asked to explain, he told her, "I have 18 papers, 5 book reports and 2 outlines to present in class with handouts -- all in the next 7.5 weeks! If they were already written and I could type without ever making an error, I'd never get them done on time . . . so I either get a computer or I quit school."

That was in 1987. He came home and I went shopping with him for his new machine. I suggested we shop around, but he knew exactly which one he wanted - and so we bought it for him. Back at the house, we unpacked this new gadget - but that's where the togetherness stopped.

You see, I'm the type that wants to memorize the manual before I touch the machine, so while I was reading through the "getting started" section, our son had the computer hooked up, plugged in and turned on. I'll never forget his first comment: "Let's hit this key and see what happens!" He did and fell off his chair (literally!) with excitement as the computer did something marvelous in his eyes.

I wasn't 'there' yet, by a long shot, but that experience taught me something: don't be afraid to take a chance, to try something out and see if it works. Other lessons came along over the years, and finally I got up the nerve to try things a different way.

Let me put this as simply as I can. Remember the old adage about men not wanting to ask directions when they're lost? I was that proverbial male: I never wanted to ask directions, because in my mind that would be admitting that I was dumb, wrong,and stupid! How stupid of me! I was wrong, all right, but not for the reasons I thought. I was dumb because being full of curiosity and having the courage to ask questions are positive traits.

Even in graduate school, I seldom talked in class. Why? Because everything I was thinking was soon vocalized by other classmates. So I concluded that my thoughts were so ordinary that everyone else already knew them. It took me a long time to realize that I was actually bright enough to come up with all those comments, and then some.

So now, after decades of fear and trembling, I find myself in entirely new and (until recently) unfamiliar territory: I make phone calls, ask lots of questions, and freely admit what I don't know. And guess what?

You get help when you do that. You learn new things. You discover that what a speaker told an audience long ago is true: "Life by the mile is a trial, by the yard is yard -- but by the inch it's a cinch."

None of us has to know it all before we take the first step. We don't have to fear being criticized and 'put-down' because we don't know something. We can be brash and bold about what we don't know, and act courageously -- taking risks and chances at trying and investigating new things.

Recently I published a novel on-line. I'd studied a book on the POD business, read dozens of articles, talked with representatives of three difference firms, and worried over a thousand points of trouble that other writers had encountered in trying to get a book in print. (Yes, I still am cautious at times).

But I plunged in anyway, and with help in two minor areas, pulled it off without a single mistake. I still haven't mastered the art of getting an e-book version up and running that looks right, so yesterday I made the call to have someone else do it for me.

All this boils down to a simple bit of advice: DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS AND REQUEST HELP. When you take a chance and risk going into unfamiliar places, wonderful things can and will happen. All it takes is one small step, as Neil Armstrong once said.

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