In the movie 300, there is a scene where the doomed leader of the Spartans finds out that that they are vastly outnumbered by the invading Persians. The Persian archers are so many – he is told – that when they fire their volley, the Persian arrows will blot out the sun. Hearing that, the Spartan warrior doesn’t quail or advise the army to flee. Instead he throws back his shoulders and says “Good. Then we shall fight in the shade.“
I remember reading that sentence in the original Greek in Herodotus’ Histories and thinking “Wow. That is audacity.” To look at overwhelming odds and then to throw your shoulders back and take them on – that’s audacity.
Today, the word audacity has negative connotations in English. It’s most often used when we’re upset with someone and can’t believe they did something. “He had the audacity to suggest it was all my fault.” The Merrim Websiter dictionary defines it as “intrepid boldness” and being “bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints”.
How did audacity become a bad thing? It didn’t used to be. In fact, audacity came from the Latin verb “audere”, which means “to dare”. The ancient world celebrated boldness, from the doomed Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, to Cleopatra, to the Viking explorers to Hua Mulan. Daring people took on odds that were against them, and while they didn’t always succeed, they did make an impact.
But today, sticking your neck out is frowned upon in many ways. “Wait to get noticed”, people say. “Pay your dues.” “Don’t take on too much.” “Don’t rock the boat.” The cautions are everywhere.
And in an uncertain economy, being cautious seems like a good plan. This is the time to do exactly what you’re supposed to do to get a good job, right? It’s not the time to be taking risks.
Except that doesn’t work anymore.
The time for audacity
The US economy is struggling. 50% of Gen Y college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. The whole “study hard, go to college and you’ll get a good job” employment paradigm is broken. Job openings regularly receive 50+ applicants, and many applicant report having to go to 5+ interviews with the same company just to be considered.
This is a time when doing what you’re supposed to do isn’t going to work. Employers aren’t looking for the good, interchangeable employees, they’re looking for the people who stand out.
In other words, your competition for jobs has blotted out the sun. Now you must fight for your future in the shade.
This is the time to have audacity. It’s the time to go after big goals – to actively chase your dream job instead of competing with tons of others for that basic entry level job. It’s the time to start your own business. It’s the time to stop being shy about promoting yourself, and to go out there to create your personal brand.
When Virgil wrote of Aeneas founding Rome, he wrote “Audentes fortuna iuvat” (Fortune favors the bold.) Today’s job market also demands that you have audacity. Where’s yours?
Katie Konrath blogs about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at www.getfreshminds.com. She works for leading innovation company, Ideas To Go.