I have known my friend Jayson for 15 years—that’s him on my back in this photo—from when we were young and foolish until now when we are much less young but only slightly less foolish. He is dyslexic and grew up in a single-parent household with five brothers and sisters. He could not read quickly enough to finish the ACT, so he went to a community college and then a public university, where he read quickly enough to get a degree.
Jayson thinks he can do anything. He has directed a U.S. Congressional campaign and a presidential caucus, paid off all his debts at age 32, and then quit his job and lived simply so he could travel all over the world for two years. He has taught yoga on five continents.
Jayson is a good friend. Actually, the best kind of friend, because he thinks I can do anything, too. Hell, if you sat down to have lunch with him, he would probably believe you could do anything too, whether it was losing 100 pounds, running an ultramarathon, or building a house.
You can stay friends with someone for a long time just because you’ve been friends a long time, and that’s a comforting thing. But I think I’ve stayed friends with Jayson because even when we’re not in the same city or even when I don’t reach out for his advice, he’s a constant reminder for me to dream bigger. I have thought to myself, What Would Jayson Do, so often that it’s become an undetectable step in my problem solving.
Jayson would be holding a maybe not-so-great set of cards, but he always assumes the other person doesn’t know what he’s holding. Jayson would bid so high on the job you’d wonder if he knew what he was talking about, and then he would work miracles and do the job so well that in the end you’d feel like you got a screaming deal. He doesn’t talk himself out of job offers, or situations, or even ordering the spiciest thing on the menu because he never for a second believes he can’t do it, whatever it is.
Most of us have an inherent instinct that our biggest ideas are too big, that we are not the type of people to travel around the world for two months, or start our own business, or hike the PCT. So we don’t ask our boss for an unprecedented amount of vacation days, or quit our job to open a bike shop or a restaurant, or put everything in storage and go walk a trail for six months. So we make safe choices, short trips, steady jobs, paid vacation. Maybe we see people doing those big things and get jealous, or we dismiss them with a quick “Well, I’d love to _______ but of course I have to _______,” as if those people are somehow special compared to the rest of us.
I think the best characteristic you can ask of a friend is to believe in you. When you talk to them about something, they react with encouragement (or at least without discouragement), no matter how ridiculous the idea. They see the world in grey, not in black and white; in terms of possibility, not limitations. They react to a dream by starting to make plans of how to do it, not make excuses about why it can’t be done. Maybe it’s confidence, naïveté, foolishness, or a little of all three, but the people standing next to you in your summit photos probably have something like it.
You’ve probably told your kids they can be anything they want to be at least once in their lives. But when they start to get older, will they believe that, or will the world scare them into being normal, and making the safe choices?
Neither of Neil Armstrong’s parents were astronauts—his father was an auditor, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Maybe they never said, “Neil, you can be anything you want to be,” but when the world needed somebody to be an astronaut, Neil Armstrong decided he could be a damn astronaut—the same as Lynn Hill decided one day she could free climb The Nose on El Cap, and Elon Musk decided he could find a way to build a real electric car. I imagine the people who told them it couldn’t be done weren’t around so much in the long term.
Everyone’s heard from a parent the rhetorical question, “If all your friends were going to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” That’s of course meant to teach us to think for ourselves as young men and women. But perhaps as adults, we should find more people who want to jump off metaphorical cliffs in life, and try to learn from them. I have one friend who stepped away from an engineering career to start a brewery in a city that already had 200 breweries, and another a friend who is learning to walk again after an accident five months ago left him paralyzed. I have more friends who are fighting development threatening the Grand Canyon, others who are trying to make movies and write books, and others who are raising capital for new businesses. They’re doing the kinds of things that make me step back and recalibrate my plans, because if they can do something big, and they’re sitting down to have coffee with me, well, maybe that means I could do something big too.
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