Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journals on March 16, 2020
Recently, a friend told me about her son, a police officer, with whom she shared a copy of my book “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He told her that my book gave him the courage to leave his job and switch to another police department to advance his career in law enforcement. What she told me made my day.
It reminded me of a foundational pillar of Judaism. It can be found in the Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a), which translates as, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
If what we do can make a positive difference in a person’s life, we are fulfilling the teaching of this ancient text. As leaders, one of our prime responsibilities is to encourage others to get outside of their comfort zone, to take a risk, to try new things, so that they grow as individuals. I am glad that my book had this effect on my friend’s son.
As the former chairman of the board of Drexel University’s College of Medicine, and as the current vice chairman of the board of Drexel, I have the honor each year of addressing the university’s College of Medicine graduates. I always try to share some advice that may help them navigate their careers. At each commencement, I deliver the following message:
The best advice I can share with you as you pursue your careers is to embrace change – the only constant in life. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way and create your own opportunities.
Failure happens. It is not the end of the world. Learn to mitigate risks. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Get outside of your comfort zone. You never know where the future may take you.
The story of Icarus, a character in Greek mythology, is a great metaphor for how one should manage their career. According to legend, Icarus flew too high, too close to the sun. The wax holding the wings to his back melted and he crashed into the sea.
Should Icarus have played it safe and flown lower, avoiding the risk presented by the sun? Seth Godin, the author of “The Icarus Deception: How high will you fly?” writes, “It is far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low. We settle for low expectations and small dreams, and guarantee ourselves less than what we are capable of. By flying too low, we shortchange not only ourselves, but also those who depend on us, or might benefit from our work.”
If you fly too low, you will not be prepared for the possible day when you find yourself unemployed and need to start a new career. You will not have the experience of pursuing different interests, occasionally failing and starting anew. You will not have broadened your experience base and track record of success, which is what a future employer will look for. You will not have built a network of individuals who are necessary to help you land your next position.
During your career, be sure you don’t fly too low. Take risks and fly high, and if you crash, you will pick yourself up and fly again.
There is no better way to grow personally and professionally than by getting outside of our comfort zone. As leaders, we should encourage others to do the same.