Walk out into the unknown

My dad was brought up in 1950s Australia. It was an era where children were seen and not heard. If you ever were to say to your parents “hey look what I did!” you were scolded, “don’t be a showoff!” Achievement was not to be celebrated. You were nothing special. The moment you acquired a skill, it lost all of its value. Hell, if you could do it, then anyone could.

Fortunately, despite following his father’s advice and ‘taking a trade’ for a few years, Dad soon discovered what he really wanted to do was take beautiful photographs. And so he did. Without any idea how he could earn a crust, he followed a blind desire to create.

I often think about what gave him the strength to take such a risk and follow his passion in a society so obsessed with security. After all, his own parents had grown up in the Depression and his father (my grandfather) was sent away at 14 years old to work in the saw mills. Doing “the right thing” meant only dealing with known quantities and familiar outcomes.

The odds of failure were high. Yet walking out into the unknown Dad has gone on to lead a remarkable cinematography career, starting his own production company and now standing as President of the ACS.

How do you begin to depart from the world you have known for so many years?

One of the first lessons Dad teaches in his photography classes (he tutors first year students) is not about lenses, aperture or composition. It is to accept failure.

Here is his explanation to me this afternoon:

‘We are all born in the womb, not knowing how to Yammer or take a good photograph. At some point, we all have to learn. There should be no shame in not knowing something, in trying and failing.’

(Yes, he really said Yammer!)

Nobody starts something with the hope of failing. Dad didn’t hope to take terrible photos, but he did know that if he failed, he’d be alright. The way I see it, if you’ve got the confidence to fail, you’ve got enough confidence to make stuff happen.

Cat Lee, Partner Engineer at Facebook summed it up in this awesome video released today:

“It’s very easy to look around you and feel intimidated because you don’t know anything about the subject and there aren’t a lot of people that look like you.….but the most important thing is to believe in yourself and to just not be afraid to do something that you have no idea how to do.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, growing up around parents who were risk-takers and open to fail, I saw an abundance of reward in the pursuit of the unknown. For that, I am thankful.

“Unless you walk out into the unknown, the odds of making a profound difference in your life are pretty low.” – Tom Peters

3 thoughts on “Walk out into the unknown

  1. This is excellent substance. I plan to repost on FB.

    Here’s my story. I have a systems engineering and computing background. I expanded my career into business and found myself working for a mechanical engineer but our job was to negotiate with a large outsourcing partner a services contract for I.T. My manager was the best negotiator, but was not an I.T. guy. The outsourcing company tried to keep the talks about technical issues. I watched my manager use negotiating tactics to perform his job. He made the discussions stay on charges & costs, overruns, SLA’s and level-of-effort. He was successful. I realised afterwards that he was not the best qualified for the role based upon his I.T. knowledge. But he “knew” how to negotiate contracts. If my manager had been intimidated by “all that he didn’t know about I.T.” he would have been a weak negotiator. But he didn’t allow his lack of knowledge to prevent him from doing what he DID know how to do – “negotiate contracts”. It was about keeping the talks “on parts of the field where he held advantage” and not allowing “talks” to drift into areas he did not understand. That one negotiation and how he manoeuvred to keep the talks where he was strongest was a great example of 1) Not being intimidated by the unknown and 2) Sticking to your knitting to achieve the outcomes you want. The negotiations were successful for both sides in the end.- Robert

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Robert. I love the idea of ‘sticking to your knitting.’ I have been thinking more and more about focus at the moment, and designing a life that helps amplify and develop strengths, rather than trying to focus on fixing areas of weakness. ‘You don’t have to be great at everything, but you have to be great at something’. I think that’s a great philosophy to live by.

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