We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success. —Henry David Thoreau

L ast week, I received numerous LinkedIn messages congratulating me on my 9th anniversary with Northwind Pharmaceuticals. Thank you! Walking the entrepreneurial path has been incredibly challenging and each successive year is a milestone worth celebrating. I feel profoundly grateful for every day of this adventure and for everyone who shares it with me.

One message in particular stood out. It was actually from a competitor who I met very early on this journey. Our lively exchange started with his congratulations and finished with a warmhearted bit of honesty: “I didn’t think you’d make it.”

Though I don’t think I’ll ever claim to “have made it” – this crazy ride is ever-changing and there really is no arrival – I do think we can add “this far” or “this long” to the end of his comment to get the full message. Seeing me at the start of this journey, this experienced businessman knew that the odds were against success of almost any form. I immediately shared his comments with everyone in our company which lead to a very lively conversation!

The message was a great reminder for all of us. Not a reminder of the challenges on any new journey, we have no difficulty being keenly aware of the reasons something won’t work. The great reminder is that, in the beginning, almost no one else but you will see it. The world in which we live is built on the status quo. Our lives are primarily driven by incremental movements and safe decisions. When we decide to step off of the clear path, it is incredibly difficult for others to see where we are going or why. It is even more difficult for them to imagine that “this might work.”

The great reminder is that, in the beginning, almost no one else but you will see it.

When you choose the road less traveled, you’re thumbing your nose at the status quo. You’re defying expectations. In many cases, there is a steep price to be paid for this behavior – taking risks often leads to some kind of failure. Want to move to California to be an actor? The vast majority will fail. Want to start a new business? The odds are pretty high that it will fail as well. We are wired for safety, self-protection. The system in which we exist feeds that sense of safety by giving us the impression that it is safer to travel on clearly marked roads pursuing steady jobs, normal interests, proper relationships, etc.

Stepping off the “safe” path confuses others. If it doesn’t, you’re either not really stepping off the path or you’re not stepping far enough. Taking risks in pursuit of a dream can be frightening to the one taking them; it is often terrifying to those on the outside. More often, it just looks crazy. Why buy an old building and assume the risk of renovating it? Why take a job in Asia and leave everything, and everyone, you know behind?  Why quit a salaried job, with small children in private school, a big mortgage, and countless other financial commitments to throw what little else you have into building a company that is unlikely to succeed? Because you see something others don’t.

Taking risks in pursuit of a dream can be frightening to the one taking them; it is often terrifying to those on the outside.

Don’t misapprehend me. Seeing something that others don’t does not guarantee any degree of success. In fact, it more likely suggests that there is nothing there to see. However, great leaps forward are made in these very directions. That is the beauty of our country and the system that sustains it. We can swing for the fences, take a huge leap, risk it all, and there is a chance we’ll connect. We wake up every day with the opportunity to see something that others don’t and to choose to pursue it or not. That is nothing short of incredible.

We wake up every day with the opportunity to see something that others don’t and to choose to pursue it or not.

So, keep looking. If you see something different, envision an alternate future, or observe a new way, don’t dismiss it. If it scares the hell out of you, don’t retreat too quickly. You might be looking at an opportunity to make a great leap. If others don’t see it, it may just be different enough to be a real possibility. Be prudent. Make intelligent calculations. Then, go for it if it feels right. If, however,  everyone around you sees it clearly and encourages you, that’s when you should be truly afraid that it isn’t as different as you might think.

Perhaps 9 years from now, you’ll be laughing about your crazy leap with a competitor, a friend, a spouse, or a family member who admits that he/she never thought you’d make it.