Trailblazers

By Scott Westerman

Listen to an audio version of this message.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

Think about this: Everything that has been accomplished was first envisioned and attempted by a single individual with a dream. We like to credit the great teams who coalesce to create things, but every idea was first fired out into our consciousness by a trailblazer.

This was on my mind on Friday night when I got a text from my colleague Sue Petrisin. She had just been elected to become the first woman to ascend to the presidency of a major international service club. Kiwanis, Rotary, the Lions, all have been lead by men, until Sue blazed the trail.

In our own lifetime, Sally Ride, Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama became trailblazers who entered the arenas formerly inhabited only by white men. The incandescent light bulb, alternating current, the can opener, the automobile, the smart phone, the eradication of polio and apartheid; all of these achievements began as ideas in the mind of a trailblazer.

What  traits do trailblazers share?

They had the courage to be disruptors. Remember that, at one time, nobody believed that any of these things were possible. At some point a trailblazer had the crazy notion that they were possible and envisioned how they, themselves might make it so.

They rallied support for their ideas, recruiting fellow travelers who helped bring the goal into clearer focus.

The were open to innovation. What started out as one dream often morphed into something different, something bigger and more important than the seed of the original idea.

They understood that there would be obstacles, some of them huge, that would have to be overcome. And they blazed the trail anyway, with an iron constitution and an immovable faith in the ultimate outcome.

And finally, trailblazers finish the job, they take the ball over the goal line, inspiring other to follow in their footsteps, creating more trailblazers along the way.

Do you have to be a Thomas Edison or a Sally Ride to be a trailblazer? Nope. Somewhere within your mind right now, there is an idea waiting to be expressed. It might be as simple as a minor change to a work process that makes your operation more productive and rewarding. It might be a career idea that you have quietly been contemplating for some time. Or it might be a moment when you decide to stand up and be counted in the face of possibly strong opposition.

Each of us has the potential to be a trailblazer. All it takes is the discipline to articulate an idea and the tenacity to stay with it until it becomes a reality. There is no greater gift you can give to mankind than to be the change you wish to see in the world. And the ultimate compliment a trailblazer can receive is the question that inevitably comes after innovation becomes conventional wisdom:

Why didn’t I think of that?

Have a great holiday week!

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