In show biz, particularly theater they always say “break a leg,” which means, “good luck.” The origins of the phrase are not certain. However, this week for the first time in my life I figured out perhaps a new reason that “break a leg” is truly a wish for success. And to found out I did just that… broke my leg.
My family and I went skiing at Brian Head, UT for a couple of days last week. This was our first time and my kids – 8-yr old Zachary, and 11 -yr old Seneca – LOVED IT! They’re both somewhat speed freaks and just want to tuck and go. My wife has taken two classes, is a bit more cautious but on this trip she truly found her “snow legs,” as it were. I am a decent intermediate level skier and can manage the blue slopes just fine, though on this trip I spent all my time on the beginner slope with the family.
Once the kids got going and were comfortable on the slopes, as always I was itching to try something new, to push myself even on this easier slope. After a while I spotted just the thing: a ski jump! It wasn’t huge, but having never jumped I figured it was just right. Next run, there I was, headed for the jump. I thought through what would likely happen, figured as always I needed to lean forward, and boom! I hit it! I flew for a second, my landing was awkward, then upright, then I fell. But, I got the feel and proceeded to jump a total of 5 times with 2 upright landings. Cool.
The next day, our last, I decided to hit the jump one more time. I hit it just as before but this time for some reason my landing was bad… very bad. I hit, my legs twisted in opposite directions, and crack! Oh, no, I knew it immediately. Something was terribly wrong with my left leg. I could barely get the ski back on let alone coast painfully the rest of the way down the mountain. And it HURT! To cut to the chase I broke my left fibula in two places all the way through, creating three loose pieces of bone at the bottom. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary but as I lay here typing I have it iced, elevated, and immobilized in a boot.
So, here’s the point. After mentioning this on my Facebook page one person suggested that maybe I should take fewer chances and have a little more discretion. While this comment was loving and completely well-meaning, it was dead wrong.
The trait that causes me or anyone to search out new challenges, to squeeze the marrow out of every situation, to push one’s limits, to always seek opportunity where it doesn’t appear to exist, and yes… to risk breaking a leg – or a bank account, or an ego – is exactly the trait that makes for success in everything. Virtuosos are risk takers and always will be. There’s really no on-off switch. The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
I used to be a whitewater kayaker and my mentor, Bill Clarke once said “if you’re not flipping you’re not learning.” He meant that if you’re pushing yourself to improve, you’re going to flip upside down once in a while. Or in this case, fall… and even break a leg.
But here’s the coolest thing about virtuosos. They find the opportunity even in the “failures” or “setbacks.” I mean, I’ve never been relegated to crutches and forced to sit still with my foot in the air. So, as per my keynote I asked myself, “What if there’s something good about this, what would it be, where’s the opportunity? Aha! I have an extraordinary chance to write! To practice, plan, connect with clients, and do so many of the things I “didn’t have (or make) time for.” And believe me, I’m using it.
So, virtuosos… those who rise to the top 1% of their field, are risk takers. Period. They just are. And the best thing is that it’s a trait which, though it may come naturally, it doesn’t have to. You can develop it.
Last point. Risk taking does not necessarily mean STUPID risk taking. I didn’t head on up to the double black diamond slope. I took a calculated risk. And ironically, it is my failure that reinforced this awesome point about success. Become a risk taker. Or, as they say… break a leg!