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The impact of action

by HARVEY MACKAY
| February 11, 2024 1:00 AM

I learned about the significance of taking action at a very young age. Being from the wintry wonderland of Minnesota provided ample opportunity for any youngster willing to work. After a heavy snowfall, we would grab our shovels and go in search of adults discouraged by nature's actions. We came across a lot of half-shoveled walks and driveways, and discouraged adults willing to pay us to finish the job.

We were mostly looking for a little extra spending money. Along the way we learned a life lesson that would make the difference between mediocrity and success.

American businessman and politician Ross Perot hated bureaucracy. In an interview with Forbes magazine in 1988, he said: "I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM (General Motors, where he was a director), if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes and then you discuss it for a couple of years. The most likely course of action is — nothing. You figure the snake hasn't bitten anybody yet, so you just let him crawl around the factory floor. We need to build an environment where the first guy who sees the snake kills it."

T. Boone Pickens, the highly successful entrepreneur and corporate raider, said in his commencement remarks at George Washington University, "Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader. Don't fall victim to what I call the 'ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome.' You must be willing to fire."

Taking action is the cornerstone of success because without it, ideas, dreams and goals remain dormant. It is one thing to have a vision or a plan, but it is the execution of that plan that turns it into reality. Success is not a spectator sport; it is an active pursuit. It requires not just thought, but also effort, determination and often a bit of courage.

Here is why action matters:

It transforms ideas into reality. Every great achievement starts with an idea. Without action, ideas are just that — ideas. Action breathes life into them.

It builds momentum. Once you start taking action, even in small ways, you build momentum that can propel you forward, making it easier to take further steps toward your goals.

It creates opportunities. People notice your efforts and chances come your way that wouldn't otherwise have if you had remained inactive.

It overcomes procrastination. Taking action is the antidote to procrastination. It is easy to put things off until someday, but action demands the now and pushes past the inertia of delay.

It fosters learning and growth. Through action, you learn what works and what doesn't, allowing you to adapt and grow. Success often comes after a series of actions, adjustments and improvements.

It demonstrates commitment. Action shows that you are serious about your goals. It is a clear indicator of your commitment, not just to others, but to yourself as well.

Remember the story of the five birds on a wire? If three decide to fly but don't, all five remain. Deciding isn't enough; action is required to make something happen. 

Here's a final story to illustrate my point. A group of animals and insects decided to organize a football game. Somehow, the teams were organized according to size with all the big animals, such as bears, lions and elephants, on one team. Rabbits, squirrels, gophers and insects formed the second team. The score after the first half was 56-0 for the big animals.

The second half began, and the lion was tackled at the 20-yard line after the kickoff. Then the bear ran up the middle for only a few yards. The cheetah attempted to run around the end and was tackled for a loss. The cheetah then looked at the bottom of the pile and noticed a centipede smiling. He asked, "Did you tackle me? This is the first time I've been tackled all day."

"I sure did," the gutsy, multi-legged critter replied. "I also tackled the lion and the bear."

One of his rabbit teammates asked, "Where were you in the first half?

The centipede replied, "I was tying my shoes!"

Nothing is accomplished on the sidelines.

Mackay's Moral: "I must do something" will always solve more problems than "Something must be done."

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.