Wanna make progress? Move like a turtle.

Ha! You probably thought this was going to be some lecture on that old tortoise and the hare fable. Wrong, try again. While the “slow and steady wins the race” adage is admirable and sometimes practical, there is another aspect of turtle movement that deserves just as much attention.

First, let’s start with a little context. A turtle lives in its shell. It’s home is literally on it’s back. Protection from the outside world is readily accessible at all times. However, when it’s time for the turtle to move it must forgo its protection and leave the shell. The turtle has to point his head forward, stick his neck out, and plod ahead.

“Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out” – James Bryant Conant

If you stay inside the mental shell that humans know as a “comfort zone,” your journey towards your fullest potential will come to a grinding halt. Yes, you will avoid the terror of having to face your fears, but you will be relegated to a fate far worse. You’ll never know what blessings lie on the outside of that shell. Everything you ever wanted could be out there, but you’ll never see it because you were too scared. As Steve Harvey puts it, the parachute containing your God-given gifts will never open if you decide not to jump. You have to jump to be able to soar.

So, if you want to make progress you have to move like a turtle. You have to fix your mind on where you want to go. You have to steer yourself in that direction. And then once your path is determined, you must pop your head out of your shell, stick out your neck, and face the world.

Ask yourself: Do I know my path? Am I willing to stick my neck out? Are my fears of the unknown world worth more than the blessings that might be in store for me?

Here’s my quick “stick your neck” out story. I went to law school. It wasn’t because I wanted to become a hardcore criminal defense attorney, or a judge or anything. I chose law school because I want to work at the front-office level either pro or college sports. Before graduating college last May, I asked myself “what would be the coolest job in the world?” I came up with being an NBA General Manager.

For my senior research paper, I researched each of the current general managers in the four major North American sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL). I looked at their paths to the front office. I found that there are many different ways to get there, and highlighted seven of the most common ones.

Of the seven paths I highlighted, the legal path stuck out to me. There is at least one GM in each league who is a lawyer. Back when he was in the San Diego Padres’ public relations department, Theo Epstein’s mentor Larry Lucchino told him to go to law school. Then I looked at alumni from my alma mater, Hampton University. Sashi Brown, who was GM of the Cleveland Browns at the time took a remarkably similar path to me; he grew up in Boston, came to Hampton for undergrad, studied communications, and went to law school. Even old-school figures that I grew up reading about like Branch Rickey had legal backgrounds. Plus, I figured that I could at least pass the LSAT and get into law school.

So I stuck my neck out. I took the test. I got into a bunch of great schools. I picked one. Now I’m two years and a passed bar exam away from being a licensed attorney. I decided that I’ll do what it takes; move to a new city, take out loans, spend three years learning the law, even stray away a bit from my undergraduate major (journalism) if it meant that I had a crack at the dream.

There’s no guarantee that any of this works out. The road to where I want to get to is long and narrow. Only a few make it. The important thing for me is that I decided to take it. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m ready for the challenge. And even if it doesn’t work out the way I’m planning it I’ll be 100% sure that the path I chose wasn’t worth it, instead of wondering “what if.”

That’s the way I’d rather have it. I’d rather take the opportunity and know exactly what’s up than back out and speculate.

A piece of closing advice: If there is something your spirit is nudging you toward, go after it. Stick your neck out of the shell. The world is vast and opportunities are out there. You should go see them.

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