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Marketing Brand Strategy Innovation

Rather than quiet quitting, try committing to ideas that scare you

By Jeff Tan | Innovation solutions officer

September 12, 2022 | 7 min read

Committing to a bold idea can feel terrifying. Dentsu innovation executive Jeff Tan offers one big tip for making your big action come true.

Jeff Tan in Antartica

Say it and do it, says Dentsu’s Jeff Tan

Be honest – when was the last time you really committed to an idea that scared the shit out of you?

For me, it was nine years ago when a buddy suggested I run the Melbourne Marathon with him. The idea terrified me – I had never run more than three miles and had always thought I was unathletic. Twenty-six (and two-tenths) of a mile seemed ridiculously impossible. Yet he convinced me I could do it.

The next day I signed up to the marathon, announced it on social media to my 100 friends, and started on a path of training. As you can expect, there were obstacles over the next 10 months – injuries, hangovers, break-ups, crappy weather.

With every challenge, it would have been easier to stop. But the act of telling the world about my marathon made me feel so much more committed. In fact, research from The American Society of Training and Development suggests that committing to another person makes you 65% more likely to be successful in your endeavor. Even just the act of saying a goal out loud will increase your odds by 6-8%.

Momentum eventually led me over the finish line, and I felt unbeatable – there’s something about running your first marathon that doesn’t compare to much else. From there, I was hooked and declared that I would run a marathon on all seven continents. My path led me through Medellin, Copenhagen, New York, Tokyo, Uluru and the remote savannah of South Africa.

My finale was at Union Glacier, Antarctica – the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent. Mental strength, resources, planning and the right gear were needed. During the Ice Marathon, I faced -5F temperatures, blinding light in every direction, breathing difficulties from the air, sleep deprivation and frozen extremities. Just before finishing, I grabbed an Australian flag, held it high and stumbled over the ice through the outstretched finish-line ribbon.

Fighting your way through ‘tall poppy syndrome’

Our culture doesn’t provide much incentive to break out of the ordinary. Where I’m from, a phenomenon called Tall Poppy Syndrome discourages those who want to get ahead. And in America, you might have heard of crab mentality – when well-meaning friends and peers may pull you back down, often subconsciously, talking you out of doing something that might just change your life.

Many people are stuck in this gray zone – wanting something bigger but feeling trapped by circumstances. There’s lots of talk recently about quiet quitting, and this is a manifestation of not taking active steps to pursue something bigger and better that meets what you want in life. It’s dissatisfaction meets inaction.

If you’re feeling this, I have one strong recommendation. Develop a big, bold idea that scares you. You probably have this brewing already in the depths of your subconscious. You may be feeling scared even saying your idea out loud in case someone overhears. There’s something scarier though – imagine being in the exact same life circumstance five years from now. How would you feel?

So, say your idea out loud. Do it with confidence and the full weight of your entire being. Announce your goal publicly and ensure that it’s harder to back out of the goal than to stay the course.

It’s going to feel anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable. To have a bold ambition is to take a risk – you risk being ridiculed. You may think, “what if I don’t have what it takes? What if I fail? What if people sneer?” It’s so much easier to simply not have your idea, and to live comfortably within the four walls of your existence. After all, no one’s asking you to do this.

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Yet, contemplate two questions: at age eight, what were your dreams? And at age 80, what type of life do you want to have lived? The precious decades in between are yours to live now. Yours to maximize. Yours to live the idea that scares you.

As Tiana from The Princess and the Frog once said: “Fairy tales can come true. You gotta make them happen, it all depends on you.”

Jeff Tan is executive vice-president, strategy and innovation at Dentsu.

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