I used to jokingly say that inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. Often our own fear creates that inertia: we are afraid of failure, afraid of losing a comfortable situation, or afraid that what we want to do doesn't have merit. But there is a simple way to overcome this fear. You can overcome the power of inertia by tapping into your own intuition. I am coming to believe that the most powerful force in the world is actually your own intuition. If you can tap into your intuition, free from moments of raging emotion or disempowering fear, I think you will find the secret to your own success.
As example, let's examine the struggles and success of one of my personal heroes, Richard Feynman. Today Feynman is considered one of the ten greatest physicists of all time, having won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work on subatomic particles and introducing the concepts of quantum computing and nanotechnology. What few people really appreciate about Feynman are the doubts he held about himself and how he overcame them.
After working at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb, Feynman felt fortunate to land his first academic position, but he soon discovered how burnt out he felt after the effort at Los Alamos. In academics, research is the currency of success and promotion, but no matter what he did, Feynman couldn't bring himself to focus on research. Occasionally he would receive job offers from other universities (theoretical physicists were rare and in demand after the war), and in his autobiography recalls his disbelief at the offers: if they really understood his capabilities they wouldn't be making him the offer.
Feynman recalls how discouraged he felt as everyone around him was focusing on "important" research and "important" problems. One night, as the discouragement overwhelmed him, he decided, "I'm NOT going to work on important problems. I'm going to work on what interests me." As he sat in the Cornell dining hall, someone fooling around threw a plate in the air, and Feynman noticed that the red logo at the center of the plate wobbled at a different rate than the outer rim of the plate. He was curious about this and since he had decided to NOT do work that was important, he sat down and calculated the difference in wobble rates. When he showed his calculations to a mentor, the mentor replied that it was an interesting curiosity but it wasn't very important. However, Feynman just kept following his curiosity. In fact, those early calculations lay at the foundation of his work on the wobble of electrons in orbit, for which he won the Nobel Prize!
I'm inspired by Feynman's story and the power of following your intuition, rather than the voices of those around you telling you what you should do. Nor do I believe that Feynman's story is an isolated case. In other disciplines, I hear discussion about the importance of following your intuition. One of my favorite writers, and a friend, William Stafford, used to quote English poet William Blake, who wrote:
I give you then end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate,
Built in Jerusalem's wall...
It took me a little while to understand that the golden string is your intuition. Following it means neither pulling to hard nor too soft, but gently winding it into a ball. It will lead you to the thing you are meant to do, and whether that means a Nobel Prize or the simple satisfaction of a life well spent, I believe it will be more rewarding than following the voices around you.
How do you discover it? Look at the core of what motivates you ... what really inspires you? For me, tapping into my curiosity about the world motivates me much more than playing a game to achieve an "important" outcome. For Feynman it was following what interested him, regardless of how "important" it was. In other words, find the means that make you happy and then don't worry so much about the outcome. Of course, I'm not suggesting you quit your job and open a surf shop on the beach today (see my prior post about taking risks) unless that is really what your intuition is calling you to do. If your intuition is calling you to do it, then ask, how would I feel if I tried and failed? If you can answer that it would be worth it, then you should go for it.
If you allow me to get a bit more personal, I recently wrote a book about innovation, published by Harvard Business Review Press. Although this might seem like a very positive outcome, many of my academic colleagues chided for me for working on the book because it isn't the currency of the academic realm: a journal publication. I do love my academic research and believe it is important to create new knowledge, so at first I felt confused. Should I take the time out to write the book. I went on a walk in the canyon near my home and asked myself an important question: would I write this book if it could never be published (in other words, would I pursue the means regardless of the outcome). By the end of the walk, I had discovered that not only was my answer "yes," but I had thirteen other books I would like to write, even if no one published them. It was clear to me, I would take the risk and be okay if I failed because I was following what interested me. I was following my intuition.
My wish for you is that you will discover what you really want to do ... and do it. Give yourself time to find the answer for yourself to find the "means" that inspire you, regardless of the outcome. Then follow that golden thread. You will find heaven's gate ... your heaven.