Driven, achievement-oriented people are often particularly uncomfortable with the risk of failure. At the same time, complacency is a sure-fire recipe for personal and professional atrophy; if we’re not moving forward, we’re regressing.
The only way that individuals change is to do something new, which by definition means you’ll do it poorly, and for the high-need-for-achievement personality the challenge is they don’t want to look bad. They don’t want to look foolish. They often don’t trust the organization to support them if they take a risk and try something different.
I remember as if it were yesterday a 43 year-old headmaster of a school. Now a headmaster or principal of the school, this was a gentleman who had 1,600 customers, or students, between the ages of 14 ½ and 17 years of age, and after I had given a speech this gentleman came back, and I appreciate his candor, but what he said to me, he says, “Professor Delong,” he says, “I need to confess something to you.” He said, “You told me that I need to try and do something different and that I needed to go through this path of agenda-setting and getting help from someone else. But,” he said, “I just need to confess to you, but I hate what I do. Thank goodness I only have 12 years to retirement." Twelve years. And so in some ways this great man has given up, and you can thank yourself, if you’re listening to this, that none of you have children that are going to that school because those 1,600 kids need a file leader, need an inspiration, and this young man at 43 has given up. He is basically halfway through life and he has stopped growing and he has stopped developing, and I'm naïve enough to believe that individuals can change at 40 and at 50 and at 60, and it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world, and it’s frightening, and you can’t do it alone, but you can fly without a net. I promise you, you can. It will, I promise you, put you back on the road to what I would call, in a very basic form, put you back on the road to life.