I’ll never forget a certain dinner with my business mentor. We were discussing some big decisions that were looming over me. I told him I was afraid to make the wrong decision: the consequences of choosing the wrong thing felt overwhelming. He looked at me with kindness and said “Me Ra, not falling is still not flying.”
That was my first response because when I tried to say it back to him, it felt like a tongue twister coming out of my mouth. With patience, he continued. “When a business first launches, there is this incredible thrill and adrenaline pumping through them. Will they survive? Will they leap from the nest of security and not crash? After some time goes by, the business owner starts to realize they haven’t crashed yet. They think they are flying, when all they are really doing is focusing on not falling.
There is a big difference between not falling and the freedom of flight.”
This man, my mentor, has worked with me for almost seven years. Every minute with him has been a honor. For years, his specialty was helping companies go from one million in value to forty million plus. And then he says the company must become more corporate in nature so he exits out. Can you imagine the sheer experience of taking companies through this growth cycle? His advice is so valuable because I know he won’t just tell me what I want to hear. That day he looked at me and said, “You need to embrace risk Me Ra. Every successful company has risked losing everything at least once, if not more times. Not falling is not the same thing as flying.”
I want to fly.
At first, I thought risk would demand one big leap from my nest of security.
Now I have come to find that risk demands jump after jump after jump.
Last summer, we were having dinner in the backyard with friends. There was a whole lot of cheep-cheeping coming from our apple tree that hangs over our table and chairs. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a Robin’s nest in the tree with three little babies poking their heads out. Wow. We all marveled at our discovery like there was no tomorrow. To see how small, frail and sweet these baby birds were…it just took my breath away.
Now you aren’t going to believe this! But as we were starting our meal, one of the baby birds climbed out of the nest. For the first time, he pulled his wobbly body up and out of the nest and sat on the limb. His siblings were squawking in protest behind him. His hair was matted, and he looked so skinny, especially his little, toothpick-looking legs. In my opinion, he didn’t look strong enough to fly at all.
And then he did it! Despite my opinion, he took flight for the first time. We dropped our forks in disbelief! This little guy decided to go for it, with this brother and sister chirping like crazy in the background. You should have seen it. He jumped off the branch and flapped his little wings so hard. As he flew, he went down, down, down. He wasn’t soaring like his mom, but the fact is he did it! He actually flew from the tree limb to the hedge down below. It was amazing!
This little guy was going to have many more jumps. And we all knew that the more he jumped, the stronger his wings would get. The less scary it would be. The more control and precision he would gain. But it all takes time. And even more importantly, it requires him to jump multiple times.
There is this deep desire within me to know that embracing risk only takes one courageous jump.
And yet, those first handful of jumps are all about building up strength–working as hard as possible to not fall. True flying, flying with ease and fearlessness, has yet to come. I watch the trailer for Disney’s Wings of Life, and I am speechless at how the hummingbird rolls, dances, even does flips through the air–in flight–as it follows the bumble bee. I am in awe. Deep down, I know that this small, powerful hummingbird did not fly like that on her first, second or third flight. This is a dance in midair that has come with time and practice.
Will I not allow myself the same time and room to practice?
You know how you can have those unexpected conversations with the most unexpected people? I had one of those with a postwoman the other day. She was in the middle of her mail route, and I was walking my dog. We talked about nothing at first, and then she started sharing bits and pieces of her life. Picture a small, beautiful, older Chinese woman that has perfect skin and a smile that glows. She has been doing the same route for 27 years. She told me how she watches the birds in the early morning. How the bird must fly into the wind’s force if it wants to climb higher.
And then she paused. She seemed to look right through me, this precious mail woman with thick, raven black hair. She leaned in and said, “I can tell you are like the bird, unsure of how long you can withstand the winds. Yet, even though you feel afraid, you are still pressing into the wind. Just remember to open your eyes and see how high you are flying.”
I stood there on a street I’d walked a hundred times and let her unexpected words sink in to my spirit.
I think I had it all backwards.
I had once understood success to be based on the fact that I jumped once and didn’t crash.
But I want the freedom and grace of what Wings of Life calls “air born dancers”. I want to see the wind’s resistance no longer as a threat but the powerful tool that takes me to greater heights. And when all the challenges of learning how to not fall, learning how to fly into the wind willingly, learning how to climb higher–when all the challenges are familiar and done–I wonder if I might find myself rolling through the air, dancing alongside the hummingbird, as we follow the bumble bee’s path together.