Don't Settle For the Status Quo

 -  12/27/12

Columnist Marshall Goldsmith says to consider this untapped power that's within your grasp.

Some years ago a friend lost the use of his vocal cords to throat cancer. It made me wonder what I would do if I could no longer speak. I jotted down as many alternative careers as I could imagine. They ran the gamut from researcher to aid worker, but my list was neither expansive nor imaginative. I was engaging in a hypothetical exercise, not something real.

To my voiceless friend, however, the decision was real and immediate. He was a salesman, he needed another career and he preferred to engage in something he loved. Since he and his wife were avid golfers, they started an online business buying and selling used golf equipment. The couple’s timing was exquisite. They caught the late 1990s upsurge in both golf technology, which increased the trade-in activity in golf clubs, and Internet e-commerce. Within two months they were making a profit.

None of this would have happened without cancer and golf — two words you don’t usually see together as part of a happy story. But the key here is the element of subtraction. It creates need and direction. Losing the use of his voice created a need in my friend for a new path — and directed him to golf.

Most of us don’t employ the power of subtraction in our lives until it’s too late. We don’t change unless we’re compelled to. Until then, most of us are trapped in the status quo, rarely questioning our choices.

I’m not just talking about subtracting daily rituals or habits like going on a “media diet,” no TV, no radio, no Internet for a month. I’m talking about subtracting something that is a big deal.

In a world where addition is the customary method of rewarding ourselves — more money, more things, more friends, more productivity, more fun — subtraction is not the most obvious success strategy, or the first tool we reach for. But it can reshape our world.

Consider the career of the football broadcaster John Madden. He was a successful NFL coach who gave up the coach’s whistle for the broadcaster’s microphone at age 42. This was not a slam-dunk career switch in 1979. Former coaches were not common in the broadcast booth. Plus, Madden’s extra-large, bull-in-a-china-shop personality was a radical departure from the usual smooth, soothing announcer voices coming from our TV sets.

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