« Think globally, laugh locally | Main | Don't give in to feature demands! »

Do something scary


Eleanor Roosevelt said "Do one thing every day that scares you."
I don't know about the every day thing, but taking risks takes practice, and if we keep doing the same things we already know, in the same way, our willingness to dare to be different atrophies. Each day, week, month, year that goes by without doing at least one thing we weren't sure we could do, we lose more of our ability to Just Try S***.

Most of us don't want to be labeled "risk averse". We don't want to take stupid risks, but we don't want to be all Who Moved My Blackberry either. So consider this my quarterly reminder (to myself, more than anyone else) to--as Eleanor Roosevelt also said:

You must do the things you think you cannot do.

Just for practice. Just for the confidence you get from knowing that you still can do something you weren't sure you could do. Think about it... think about a time when you did something that really scared you whether it was ski your first black diamond or your first solo flight or your first public speech or the first time you asked someone out on a date or the first time you...

Think about the first time you rode a bike (after the training wheels came off). Talk about a "high".... Unfortunately, this just gets harder every year. The more things we are good at, the fewer new things we feel compelled to try.

HalfmarathonThis picture is me, three four years ago, in the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon. Because the picture is so small (that's the only one I found), you don't see the true look on my face. It is the dictionary definition of pure pain. Because until that run of 13.1 miles (19+ kilometers), my longest run had been HALF that distance. I did it for two reasons:

1) I felt that I needed to push myself into doing something much harder than I thought I could do, and knew it would give me a huge boost of confidence if I could do it.

2) You got a killer t-shirt at the finish.

OK, three reasons:
3) I'm an idiot.

I did manage to run the entire thing, and it did exactly what I hoped it would do--acted as a big metaphor--a motivation for doing other things I didn't think I could do. Like speaking in front of more than 10 people. Like buying and training a horse. Like believing in my book series that was being slammed without mercy (this morning, four of the top 20 tech books on Amazon are from that series-everybody-knew-would-fail).

I am not, by nature, a risk-taker. Even on the little things: I already love my favorite Indian restaurant (Tandoori Grill in Boulder. Yum), so why try another? But virtually everything that's been deeply meaningful to me--from having a child to leaving the security of a job to go it alone and do what I love--has come from doing something I didn't think I could do.

And this is not just a problem for us... we cannot have passionate users unless we can get our users to take risks. At the very least, we're hoping our users (or potential users) are willing to try something new and then--more importantly--to keep getting better at it! Remember, nobody is passionate about something they suck at. I doubt anyone is really passionate about something they're mediocre at, unless they have a motivation to get better. Part of what defines "passion" is the desire to keep learning, practicing, pushing, doing, growing around the object of our passion. It's only when our users are willing to take some risks--to try something they might suck at--that we have a chance of having passionate users.

So, how can we keep pushing ourselves to take risks--to do things we might fail or at least suck at (and be hopelessly embarrased by the attempt)? And how can we encourage our users to try something scary?

Posted by Kathy on May 8, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Do something scary:

» Doing Scary Things at Microsoft from ianmcallister
Doing Scary Things at Microsoft [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2006 6:41:32 PM

» You must do the things you think you cannot do from made to praise him
Kathy Sierra writes: virtually everything that's been deeply meaningful to me--from having a child to leaving the security of a job to go it alone and do what I love--has come from doing something... [Read More]

Tracked on May 9, 2006 4:40:21 AM

» Taking Risks from RickMahn.com
Kathy Sierra has a great post called Do Something Scary.  She quotes Eleanor Roosevelt who said Do one thing every day that scares you, and continues talking about trying new things (taking risks) and expanding your experiences.  This i... [Read More]

Tracked on May 9, 2006 8:31:38 AM

» Interesting Finds from Jason Haley
[Read More]

Tracked on May 9, 2006 1:13:15 PM

» Do the Things You Cannot Do from Do or Do Not.
In the last twenty minutes, I’ve read two articles that both boiled down to the same basic premise: Sometimes you’ve got to do the scary, you’ve got to push yourself farther than you think you can, you’ve got to do that thing you think you cannot do. [Read More]

Tracked on May 10, 2006 9:08:28 AM

» http://sciamachy.typepad.com/geekmatic/2006/05/another_excelle.html from GeekMatic
Another excellent article from Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt Do one thing every day that scares you. I'd just like to add my 2p's worth here - I think it's a good idea, I've written [Read More]

Tracked on May 15, 2006 5:12:49 AM

» Do The Things You Cannot Do from AllenHolt.com
One of those Messages from the Universe Id talked about on Sunday arrived in my mental inbox a few minutes ago, and this time it was pretty easy to decypher the messages meaning. In the last twenty minutes, Ive read two articles (... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 26, 2006 2:07:50 PM


AWESOME book excerpt ("Who moved my Blackberry!")! And yes, I know coaches like the one in the excerpt! (http://tinyurl.com/qeu8c)

You said it well: do something you think you cannot do. I jumped out of an airplane - am afraid of heights. (Btw, it's not really 'high' from that thin-atmosphere distance; the brain cannot make a 'heights' determination). I mountain-biked trails, when I hate that stuff. Heck, I am even dating an old boyfriend from 20 years ago! (If THAT's not scary, what is?)

I'm not really a risk-taker either. Someone gave some great advice about 20 years ago, when I was "on the road" working:

"If someone asks you to do something -- say YES, unless you are morally opposed to it. You may get an amazing experience."

Amazing what you will learn while on the journey - and in reflection.

Posted by: Lauren Muney | May 8, 2006 12:39:14 PM

For me that would be rollercoasters.

I don't enjoy them, they just terrify me. But whenever I'm in the U.S. or Canada and I see one, I go on one as a matter of religious observance. Just to do it. It helps a lot to close your eyes and not be afraid to scream out loud (low pitched scream works best for me).


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 8, 2006 12:51:02 PM

Thanks so much, Kathy! You are an inspiration. Although I think that picture was from "four" years ago at the “2002” Idaho Spring Half. (Sorry I had to check the results to see your time. :)) Good Job on a 2:34! and running negative splits, no doubt! Well done!

Choosing something scary and unfamiliar for me: the two biggest things were
a) Quitting smoking and becoming a marathon runner (here is a picture of me at the 2001 Sacramento Half Marathon http://www.theteamrules.com/ ). Running is just way of life for me now. Most of my friends are endurance athletes, and
b) Deciding, after being in non-development roles my entire career, setting aside huge chunks of my own valuable, personal time for studying to become a Java Developer. Since purchasing yours and Bert’s famous books, I have become an SCJP and I have recently submitted my SCJD project and taken the related essay exam. While I am waiting for the results, I am so loving the Head First Servlets and JSP book!!! Dare I see the SCWCD certification as being in my reach some day? Scary!

You are so right! We all must continue to venture out and try the things that may seem scary and unfamiliar, but what freedom remains on the other side!!

Posted by: Bob Rowden | May 8, 2006 1:07:47 PM

Wow, I was very impressed with this post. I thank everyone involved in the creation of such motivational conversations.

Have a beautiful day. :)

Posted by: Gerardo | May 8, 2006 1:29:32 PM

Actually, once in a while even a really stupid risk can be life-changingly good. I'd had the day from hell this one time, and finally when I thought it was over, this guy picked a fight with me, and I just went for it - not something I normally do (normally I'm passive to the point of almost not being there). Fair enough, I got the snot beaten out of me, and lost about a pint of blood, but it changed me in many ways - for a start, previously I'd been gut-knottingly, teeth-crackingly scared by roller-coasters. I learned to commit myself to an action and damn the consequences, get on the roller-coaster and just enjoy it - or get on my motorbike and go as fast as it can go, tucking down into a racing crouch & enjoying the roar of the wind. It didn't make me into the sort of guy who starts fights or takes a mindbogglingly stupid risk for the hell of it, but it stopped me being afraid of what might happen so if I have to take a risk I have no problem committing to it. Not exactly a near death experience, but it did give me an insight - we could die at any moment, we can never predict when, so we should make every moment shine. Life should be an activity, not a condition.

Also, I believe quite firmly in the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. According to that, we've all of us lived thousands of lives, died thousands of times. What's the worst that can happen? Meh, been there before thousands of times. So, nowt to fear but fear itself.

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 8, 2006 2:10:32 PM

Yehuda - I just read your comment after I posted my last one. I find it helped to *open* my eyes, turn my head in the direction of the roller-coaster track, and commit to going where the roller-coaster was taking me, mentally will myself where it was going to go. If you feel like you're somehow in control, even if it's just by deciding to do what you're going to do anyway, it feels better somehow, like you're flying along the 'coaster track.

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 8, 2006 2:14:21 PM

Lauren Muney, great comment:

"If someone asks you to do something -- say YES, unless you are morally opposed to it. You may get an amazing experience."

Taking risks makes it EASIER to take more risks later. It's a cycle. More and more fun.

What I love best about taking risks is that it increases your courage. So you're not just building muscles, speaking ability, unfear of flying, etc. - it's building actual courage for next time you want to take a risk.

Posted by: Think_n_See | May 8, 2006 3:25:14 PM

Wow --If you follow Lauren's trackback, geez... you'll find a picture of her ON FIRE. (And I mean that literally.)

You guys are fun!

Except Rob. Rob who just HAD to find and post my pathetic time on that run ; )
[LMAO on the "negative splits". I'm not even sure that I was moving forward at all at the end. Someone must have pushed me over the finish line.] One big problem with that run is that it's at high altitude -- 9,000 ft I think. But... it's pretty much downhill the whole way! (although by the end, "flat is the new vertical") Congrats on the SCJP. That test is certainly the hardest exam I've ever taken.

Matt: "Life should be an activity, not a condition." That's wonderful : ) And I'm thinking there is something to your rollercoaster advice as well.

Thank_n_See: "it's building actual courage for the next time..." I think that's perhaps the best reason. Why not practice ahead of time... before you're put in a situation that requires you to do something you don't think you can do.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | May 8, 2006 3:57:41 PM

God, I love this blog. And what an erudite entry. Where I'm currently breaking through my fear barrier is in my startup. I have no fear now, I'm winging it. Please come and join me - http://www.snipperoo.com Thanks, Ivan

Posted by: Ivan Pope | May 8, 2006 4:52:18 PM

Love this post, because I'm trying to force myself to take more risks in my life (including recently moving all the way across country to join a startup in a city where I didn't know anybody).

As far as getting our users to take more risks, I echo Alan Cooper in saying that we need to make sure our Undo feature works perfectly. One of the reasons the web is so awesome is that you can always hit the Back button; Jakob Nielsen points out that breaking the Back button is about the worst user-design mistake possible in a web page. Creating an environment of comfort where users can make mistakes without bad things happening (e.g. no blue screens of death, no scary error messages) means they'll feel like they can explore more and take those risks.

Posted by: Eric Nehrlich | May 8, 2006 5:39:35 PM

Just some of my own thoughts on this subject, each persons risk levels are personal and their own. What may be risk to you may not be risk to someone else. Get to know yourself, what motivates you, and what you see as risk based upon you own personal life and boundaries. You don't have to do any ones risks but your own. Start small and work up and take the time to truly feel and understand the rush and reward of each risk conquered.

Kathy, I enjoyed this post. Thank you!

Posted by: Earl Moore | May 8, 2006 7:01:34 PM

Great personal timing on this, Kathy... I've been loaned to a project where I was "recommended" because of my "writing skill", and I'm pretty convinced I'm in over my head. But rather than fear that I'll look stupid, I should just jump in and see what happens...


Posted by: Thomas "Duffbert" Duff | May 8, 2006 7:20:44 PM

This is part of keeping life exciting and staying young! Kids are always doing something scary and new! It is adults that lose the desire to try new things and do new things! That is why I so love the Internet and the blogosphere. Although I live in my small town of 5,000 I am exposed to the best in thought just like you!


Posted by: Vicki Davis | May 8, 2006 7:44:26 PM

Matt - actually, I guess I should have said that I use a combination of eyes closed and eyes open.

The hard part where I need to close my eyes is just before I start going level before I'm going to fall for the first time. The second after I begin falling I can open my eyes again.

Something strange about that, but I don't know why.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 9, 2006 1:11:10 AM

This is one of those texts that makes people act :) I can see that in comments!
I remember there was similar entry before about surprising one's brain - like brushing your teeth with other hand or sleeping the other way around. That old post made me start my own blog.
Coincidentally I have written something on choosing life risk level yesterday - with graph included! (I have made a translation so see it if you want: go here)
I admit I love your blogging style Kathy, with all those great pictures and ideas. It has been my inspiration for months now... I think you got another passionate user here.

Posted by: Animateusz | May 9, 2006 2:35:45 AM

I have noticed an interesting difference between the sexes, when it comes to risk-taking. Men are more willing to take risks, but less willing to admit mistakes, so may not learn all they could from the experience. Even though women are more willing to admit their mistakes, they are afraid to make mistakes, so avoid risk.

The emphasis should be on giving ourselves the freedom and permission to make mistakes and claim ownership of them. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. If we don't make mistakes, then it was something we already knew how to do. If we practice admitting our mistakes and focus on what we learn from them, it becomes much easier to take risks. The first step in doing this is to be able to laugh at ourselves, then it will not matter who else laughs with us.

Posted by: Mary-Anne | May 9, 2006 4:04:59 AM

Rollercoasters. Definitely rollercoasters.

You can start small and then build up to this:

Posted by: Alexander Kjerulf | May 9, 2006 4:56:59 AM

Great post, as always. Thanks for the inspiration. As someone who gave up secure corporate life for the independent side three years ago, I can vouch for the fear of doing things for the first time. But I keep pushing through the challenges that come up and so far, it's working out. I really appreciate your sound advice and I often link to your articles in my own blog. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't know how to handle Trackbacks. Thanks for all the thought-provoking topics.

Posted by: Dave Traynor | May 9, 2006 10:59:51 AM

I tried the half marathon last year as well! I had never run even close to that distance before...

It was cool, cause I could run to the bitter end. I did it in Wakayama Japan and near the end was running beside this 30ish year old (I'm 26) Japanese guy who was just as out of shape as I am. We were shoulder to shoulder the whole way. Not because we happened to be the same speed, but just because we were riding each others momentum. If he would have stopped, I would have stopped for sure. Goup effort!

After that though.. my legs hurt for weeks... and now when it gets really cold and I walk long distances my knees start to ache. I'm afraid I have some permanent damage!

Ah well.

Posted by: Harvey | May 9, 2006 9:44:47 PM

I have just started out on my own and yeah it is very scary....I wonder whether it is the willingness to take the risk or 2 other things. Firstly, you are conditioned to be sensible from an early age...get a job, pay the mortgage, be grateful of great job...and secondly, I am not sure it is the fear of trying - alot of people try things (diets spring to mind! after seeing your photo...) but it is the resilience to keep going when you are faced with hurdles...now building that resilence in a world who wants you to be sensible is hard. Great post.

Posted by: Anna | May 10, 2006 2:09:05 AM

Hey Kathy :-) I am reminded of a quote that I read recently, from Henry Ford I think. It goes something like "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're probably right." I learned a lot of technical mountain bike skills by following a guy around the city doing crazy things (like riding down the escalator that's going up) and seeing - then believing - that each nutty thing was indeed doable.
A side note: phobias are usually treated with exposure, or just like you said, doing the thing you think you can't do.
Keep up the great stuff. :-)

Posted by: pauline | May 10, 2006 6:38:30 AM

The scariest (and the most exciting) workout routines for me are benchpress and squats. And especially when I'm adding extra pounds. But whoaah, it sure gives me a massive kick!

Posted by: Tarry Singh | May 10, 2006 6:40:02 AM

Kathy you are greaT!
I re-read a couple of days ago your post about legacy brain and tricks to learn by emotion.

And I realized, in a flash!, that I´m a person who preffers the risk of the "I suck" stage and not when I move forward near the "Kick Ass" area, I become scared by the "risks" of knowing something and doing wrong.
I have a frase "in the logic of the ignorance, everything is posible" and you posted about this also.

Well this is some kind of ask for advice.
What do you do when the goal is not only driven by you as "finish the marathon" the only one who can interfer with you and your goal is you, or a broken leg :).
But when it depends from the others, not only by you..... how do you prepare for that? If the goal is to get between the "top 10" for example.
I found myself underpreparing me to get a scuse to fail.
Is idiotic, I feel it...but I can help it.
Your blog is helping me in ways I never espected. Thank you for taking risks :).

Posted by: Guillermo Mazzorca Mazza | May 10, 2006 1:50:29 PM

I start at a new job in a week. I had lunch with my soon-to-be "team leader" to ask if there were areas I could study up on to help my start go more smoothly. A good lunch.

At one point, this guy asked me "so, what was it that made you take this job?" I did have other offers, so it wasn't because of that. I ended up saying some reasonable, but imprecise answers "longevity, breadth of new skills, distance from home...", but the real reason was that this job SCARED ME MORE. ...and I didn't like that.

Wish me luck!

Posted by: junior | May 14, 2006 9:05:29 PM

I'm a little late to the Comment Party here, Kathy, but wanted to tell you: GREAT post. It's awesome inspiration -- THANKS!

Posted by: Ann Handley | May 17, 2006 7:49:42 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.