Busy people walking

Keep Your Options Closed

1998 was the year.

I had made the move to NYC to start “earning my PhD in advertising” as MVBMS co-founder Ron Berger once forecasted.

He wasn’t wrong. Looking back, it wasn’t just the ability to learn on household brands like Universal Studios, Subway, Volvo Cars and evian . It was gaining access to 700 elite thinkers, strategists and makers who roamed the agency halls each day. Each responsible in their own way for making clear “on brand” stories that had that special something to break through the everyday.

Over the course of gaining this unofficial diploma, it taught me the importance of picking a lane. The brands we adore do just this. They know what they stand for. They hammer home their unique POV. They do so over and over again. Saying (or showing) what they mean — the same idea — articulated differently — over a panoply of mediums over a period of time.

Enter us humans.

Imperfect messy creatures, we are.

At the core of each of us is an outdated system that’s calling most of the shots in our lives. This system is known as our, “Central Nervous System”.  When you deconstruct this system, you can break it into 3: Central: At the core of you…Nervous: Rooted in nervousness. System:…your “OS” (your operating system).

Don’t tell a client “no”. Don’t suggest that idea in a room full of people. Don’t go hard at that promotion you deserve. Don’t move to that new city.

Your Central Nervous System is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do; calling out all the places that may bring a threat. Really, it’s an antiquated system that worked well when bears were chasing us for berries as Cavemen. Today? Our CNS keeps fear at its core.

When humans are on autopilot, just “living our lives”, often we forget that while our CNS is just trying to do its job, it doesn’t mean we should always listen to it.

Enter the blasphemy of the “Keep Your Options Closed” title.

As mentioned above, my experience in NYC catapulted my now 25+ year career in the narrative business. Where brands are fairly proficient at staying locked in on that one thing that makes their brand special, as humans, we are often too afraid to commit to our one thing.

That one thing for me is helping others be more courageous. Whether it’s counseling a courageous leader, working on a courageous idea or assisting a business through courageous reinvention — if it takes courage, I want in.

I also remember a time just days before I was to launch my new business when I was at a conference full of other professional speakers. One of the speakers who I deeply admired asked me what I was up to. When I shared the premise of Courageous I was met with, “that’s a stupid idea. It’s too hard for people to get.”

Imagine my CNS in that moment and all the signals my fear-making machine was telling me. Is this a terrible idea? Will I soon be at my crash and burn moment? Can I just go crawling back — tail between my legs — to my old life?

The answer had to be…no. While it was hard, I had to keep focus and take action on what I truly believed in and wanted.

Now a truth that may be hard to read:

If you find yourself in a scenario where you’ve said to yourself, “I need to keep my options open”, you are, in fact, 1) unclear of what you want, or 2) surrendering what you really want. Both of these scenarios happen throughout our lives! From my lens, part of this human experiment is to understand, 1) that’s ok when we’re in the hunt for what matters, and, 2) to also hone in and go for what you truly want.

I was talking to a work friend the other day (looking at you Nick Jezarian) when my personal life mantra bubbled to the surface: staying “Patiently Relentless”.

In order to have a mantra like that you need to be willing to a ride a turbulent journey that has ups, downs and in-betweens. It also comes with a deep understanding of your purpose:

At Courageous, we always say we’re on a fear-fighting mission to help clients:

1) “brave what’s hard”…

2)  so they can move forward, and,

3) do the best work of their lives.

Every single time I’ve lost focus on this…I’ve lost.

I’ve lost time. I’ve lost momentum. And I’ve lost a little bit of what I wanted most.  When I’ve lost focus, fear found its way into the conversation.

When you keep your options closed, you don’t waiver from the dream. When I’ve stayed committed to the cause and stayed focused on pushing through “the hard”, good things always seem to manifest themselves.

By no means do I mean you should put on your stubborn blinders by suggesting we shouldn’t be flexible along the journey. I recently shared this “keep your options closed” concept with the soulful Kirk Souder. Kirk has this knowing-meets-glowingsmirk he wears when he is about to drop a profound wisdom bomb. He reminded me that while we should stay “closed” on remaining committed to our purpose; we should also stay open to the form as to which one might bring their purpose to life.

This resonated with me. Courageous has taken many shapes since its launch. Courageous Leadership wasn’t part of the original business idea. Today, it’s a big part of what we do and it takes form as keynotes, workshops, coaching and Summits.

Know what you want? Then Stay “closed” on your options. I find that people surrender far too early on their dream scenario. The commitment to staying “closed” (and focused) manifests because you have the belief and the consistent repetitions to win the journey you’re embarking on.

More often than not, you’re closer than you think.

Ryan Berman
Ryan Berman
Ryan is an author, keynote speaker, and the founder of Courageous. His book, Return on Courage, shows how during these courage deficient times, courage is a competitive advantage for those leaders who choose to unlock it.
Twitter @ryanberman | LinkedIn @ryanberman

Your weekly dose of Courage.

From courageous action to inspiration. Delivered to your inbox every Thursday.