“So I thought I would explain to you how you make a career out of three chords,” the late great Lou Reed jokes during the opening of “Sweet Jane” at a 2003 Los Angeles concert.
He then demonstrates that there’s actually a fourth chord tucked into the end of the progression, adding “as with most things in life, it’s that little hop at the end.”
Lou reminds us that it’s rare for any artist, social innovator, entrepreneur or all around linchpin to make their dent in the universe simply by following the tried and true. It’s precisely the unexpected addition, the radical deconstructing or the subtly subversive twist that allows us to see problems in a new light or to embrace a whole new approach.
Contrast this way of thinking to the world of gymnastics. In world-class competition the goal is to achieve technical perfection. There is a gold standard of performing a particular routine that aspiring Olympians train endlessly to mimic. To stick a landing means to come as close to the model of established proficiency as possible. That little hop at the end is what keeps you from winning a medal.
In reality, of course, today’s top gymnasts endure many less than stellar landings as they push themselves to do more and more challenging and complex moves. For many, that little hop at the end is THE sign that they are pushing themselves to new heights, not an indication of incompetence.
At one level, there are fundamentally two types of people in the world: those content to paint by numbers, who take great care to avoid mistakes or be seen as too edgy (or perhaps just plain weird). For them, that little hop at the end represents failure or the potential to feel shame.
The other type understands that the magic happens around the edges, that growth comes from pushing through our fear, by leaning forward, from being vulnerable. That little hop at the end often means we’re on to something. It represents progress and gives us the energy to push through the inevitable self-doubt and the harsh criticism inherent to pursuing a life of innovation and broader purpose.
Seems like there’s choice to be made.