In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy stood before a packed Rice University stadium and pledged to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before the decade was out. “We choose to go to the Moon,” he said, “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”
At the time, this pledge was a moonshot — literally and figuratively. The Americans were lagging severely behind the Soviets in the space race. Much of the technology required for the Moon landing didn’t exist. JFK admitted as much: The giant rocket to take the astronauts to the Moon, he explained, would be “made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch … on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body.”
Yes, even the metals required to build the rocket hadn’t been invented.
We jumped into the cosmic void and hoped we’d grow wings on the way up. And grow those wings, we did. In 1969, less than seven years after Kennedy’s pledge, Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind.
As astronaut, and later commander of Apollo 13, Jim Lovell put it, “It wasn’t a miracle. We just decided to go.”
In our personal lives, we equate moonshots with miracles. We pause to launch a new business because we think we don’t have what it takes. We hesitate to apply for a promotion, assuming that someone far more competent will get it. We don’t ask someone on a date if they seem out of our league.
If Kennedy were doing the same thing — if he were looking to stay within his league — his pledge would have been very different (and far more boring): “We choose,” he may have said, “to put humans in Earth orbit and make them circle round and round — not because it’s easy — but because it’s doable given what we have.”
I get it: There’s far more uncertainty in moonshots than in small bets. Once you decide to abandon the comfort of the center and the warmth of the crowds, once you decide to explore the edges, you might fail. You might make a fool out of yourself. People might even point at you and laugh.
Do it anyway.
Take comfort in Rumi’s wisdom that the path will appear once you start to walk out on the path. Once you pursue the extraordinary, you’ll rise above the stale neural pathways that dominate ordinary thinking. If you persist — and learn from the inevitable failures that will follow — you’ll eventually grow the wings you need to soar.
All moonshots are miracles. Until you decide to go.
Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned law professor and bestselling author. Click here to download a free copy of his e-book, The Contrarian Handbook: 8 Principles for Innovating Your Thinking. Along with your free e-book, you’ll get the Weekly Contrarian — a newsletter that challenges conventional wisdom and changes the way we look at the world (plus access to exclusive content for subscribers only).
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