How A Murderer Inspired Me To Take Action

On January 17, 1977 the convicted murderer Gary Gilmore was standing in front of a firing squad, ready to face the music for crimes he committed the year prior.

When the guard asked if he had any last words, Gilmore said, “Let’s do this.”

Ten years later, Dan Wieden, co-founder of the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, was hired by a guy named Phil Knight to create an ad campaign for his shoe company. At first, Wieden struggled to come up with a catchy tagline. Then he remembered Gilmore’s words — oddly upbeat and affirmative, under the circumstances. But they had stayed with him, and he worked with them, and eventually came up with this: “Just Do It.”

We all know this slogan. In fact, it’s so ingrained in our culture that if Nike were to one day go out of business, these three words may very well be its legacy.

I’m not usually the type of person who uses corporate mantras to motivate myself, but there’s something about “Just Do It” that resonates with me, and gets me to take action. I’ve imprinted it on a Livestrong bracelet and even somewhat jokingly used the phrase to justify things I probably shouldn’t have done. Recently, the phrase helped me make a major decision.

Here’s Shia LaBeouf telling you to “DO IT”

Just last year I was managing a financial satellite office of a top-15 accounting firm. I lived in a luxurious Chicago two-bedroom apartment with my wife, and drove the car of my dreams.

While I was comfortable, I wasn’t happy. At least not professionally.

I had to force myself out of bed each day and, on most nights, I would debate calling in sick the next morning.

Like most other financial advisors, especially those at large wealth management firms, I was stuck working primarily with older clients, many of whom had already accomplished their goals. I understood them, up to a point… but I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t really enjoy their company. And I hated the Chicago winters.

So with some preparation, I quit, moved to Santa Monica and launched my own investment firm, Grow.

Will it turn out to be a good decision? Who knows.

But I learned early in life that it wasn’t the smartest people that achieved their goals. Nor was it the best looking. It was those who took action, early and often.

My father set a great example. He launched his own law firm when he was around my age and used to say, “If you’re not ready now, you never will be.” He was making an essential point: that no one ever truly feels ready to make major change in life. You just gotta do it, let your survival instincts kick in, and ride the wave. In my book The Millennial Advantage I quote a Prussian general who once said, “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” There’s a lot of truth to that.

My teachers used to say you don’t learn by osmosis. I completely disagree. In fact, I think it’s the #1 way anyone improves. Act, make mistakes, get your hands dirty, learn and evolve: soaking up knowledge from experience is my preferred method.

This is the way real innovation happens. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs talk about “speed to market.” They don’t waste time perfecting a product: they get a reasonable prototype up and running, they get it out there, they learn from their mistakes. They’re comfortable with risk, and with uncertainty.

Launching Grow has been like that: an emotional rollercoaster, and not for the faint of heart. Some days you feel confident and on top of the world; other days, like you’re embarrassing yourself. It’s even tougher launching a firm where you yourself are the product. When you’re providing a service based on your expertise and trustworthiness, you can only blame yourself. Especially when there is clear demand for your services.

So while I type these words with constant jolts of anxiety-produced adrenaline running through my veins, I’m frightened but also fulfilled… and proud. I’m following what I think is right, I’m putting myself on the line, and doing my best to come out still breathing. I’m going against the odds. I’m just doing it!

And you should consider the same: pick something that fires you up; do some research (but not too much); and just do it.