I’m in a television studio in the heart of Times Square in New York City.
I stand on an “X” marked by black tape on the floor. Bright lights are shining on me. I’m surrounded by a studio audience, all of them staring at me with excitement. A large TV camera is pointed directly at me.
The stage manager says, “We are going live in 5 seconds.”
In my mind, I’m excitedly thinking, “Wow, in five seconds, I’ll be on live television broadcasting to millions of people all across the country.”
“5, 4…,” The stage manager begins.
My mind quickly shifts to fear mode, “Millions of people. Oh no. That’s a lot of people.” I slowly start to panic.
“3…2…1,” the stage manager continues and then points at me.
A red light on top of the camera flashes. This means that we are now broadcasting live. This is when I’m supposed to speak and welcome those millions of people to the show I’m co-hosting.
Instead of giving them a warm welcome to the show, I freeze. I’m a deer in headlights. Frozen. My heart is racing. My throat is dry. I can feel the whole studio audience and production staff staring at me. It all feels very uncomfortable. In that moment, I know I have to make a choice. Slowly, I take a breath. I begin speaking and doing the job I was hired to do.
I’d like to say it was beginner’s nerves. But this scenario is something I experienced regularly during my 10-plus years working in the television industry. I call it the “red light” moment.
A “red light” moment is a critical decision point. We must make a choice. To act, or not act. To bet on ourselves, or walk away with nothing wagered.
Chances are, you’ve experienced a “red light” moment of your own. Maybe it isn’t broadcasting live on national television – but nonetheless, it’s a make or break moment in moving your life forward.
A “red light” moment can be hitting “publish” on a blog post – or waiting because it’s still not “just right.” It can be introducing yourself to that stranger next to you on the plane who could be your future husband or wife – or deciding not to because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. A “red light” moment can mean leaving your “good job” to strike it out on your own – or instead only focusing on the reasons why it won’t work out.
It’s actually purchasing that ticket to travel the world instead of telling yourself the time still isn’t right. It’s ending a long-term relationship that isn’t good for your long-term happiness, even though you’re in your 30s or 40s and don’t want to start over. It’s accepting the position that pays less money now but offers you more joy – no matter what your parents think.
Yes, a “red light” moment is about making a decision. But it’s also understanding that not making a decision is deciding to do and risk nothing.
Early in our lives, we’re regularly offered plenty of “red light” moments. Those decisions, big and small, push us into a zone where we’re temporarily uncomfortable or operating in the unknown. It also means that sometimes, family and friends will question or doubt the choices we make.
When we make these decisions to bet on ourselves – to take meaningful risks – we build confidence and create our own luck. We create our own momentum by actively making decisions rather than passively waiting for them to be made for us.
Here’s a hard truth: In my experience, the older we get, the less we’re given the opportunity to encounter “red light” moments.
This is partly because the decisions we have not made start to catch up with us. We get too comfortable. We find our way to cruise control and forget how much horsepower we have. We stay for that one last bonus at work. We experience a mid-career crisis. Or, it’s because we accumulate so much stuff – mortgages, car payments, toys for the kids – that we become paralyzed.
It happens because we forget that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Here’s the thing. Your dreams need encouragement – at any age. They need your action. They need your momentum. They need you to trust in the process and your preparation. They need you, no matter how busy your life may seem.
If you’re unwilling to bet on yourself, no one else will.
So the next time you encounter a “red light” moment, don’t ask “What if it doesn’t work out?” Instead, ask “What if it does?”
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