The Door Isn’t Locked. Turn the Knob.

When I arrived in SxSW in Austin this past March, I knew I wanted to listen in on a few key people. Elon Musk was one of those people, but I knew his talk would be one of the most popular talks of the conference. I sat through the talk before Musk’s just to get a good enough seat. Once his talk started, I knew it was worth the hassle. What struck me the most about Musk’s talk was his ruthless focus on solving society’s problems, making things easier for us, disrupting things that have stagnated and need to keep moving forward.

The man doesn’t want to just take us to Mars. He wants us to live there — indefinitely.

I sat in the audience thinking to myself: “What am I trying to solve? Why are the problems I’m solving not big like Musk’s?”

Last year, a small group of people in Nicaragua helped put on the country’s first TEDx event, including myself. We put out applications for speakers and volunteers, but no matter how much we tried to recruit help, the public perception was that we were an exclusive group of friends running the event.

Not so. We asked for help, and nobody raised their hand.

This year, we’re working on our second event, and the reaction has been similar. We’re a small team working as volunteers to run a TED-worthy production, and very few people reach out to help.

When I think about the situation, I wonder to myself: “How many times has someone put out a call for help that I want to answer but don’t? Why do I feel I shouldn’t participate?”

Over the years, I’ve witnessed so many examples of people leaving the door closed, hesitating before reaching for the knob. I’m guilty of this myself.

Daily, we face so many opportunities. Some opportunities are small, like a friend asking us if we’d like to work out together or go on a hike. Other opportunities are huge, like someone you admire tweeting a question or offering their help.

Opportunities are ripe for the taking, yet they sometimes remain untouched. If the doors are open, what keeps them closed?

To me, the answer is simple:

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” — Michel de Montaigne

We fear so many things could happen when we reach for that door and turn the knob: rejection, ridicule, loss of love, physical harm, having too push past our mental boundaries, just to name a few.

Thinking about all of the opportunities lost, I wonder: “What if I opened the door anyway?”

The question is: what knobs need turning?

When I started thinking more seriously about my concept of “The Perpetual Vacation”, I wanted it to be a book. More specifically, a book you could find at the airport bookstore as you waited for your next flight.

What do you do when you want your book published? You create a book proposal and start reaching out to agents and/or publishers.

I did all that.

My book proposal is ready, gathering dust on my digital bookshelf. A quick search through my Dropbox tells me I finished it on September 2, 2012. That was 280 days ago.

After that, I reached out to book agents, and I received a positive reply from one on October 30,2012. That was 220 days ago.

I never replied. Instead of opening that door, I created my own.

I decided to launch a free blog on the same topic and write for whoever wants to read my ramblings on living an awesome life. I’m down one potential book deal, and up 60,000+ readers.

It’s the most important doors that remain the scariest to open. Sometimes, we just have to create our own.

If you want to start reaching for the knob and turn it once and for all, here are a few tips that may help:

  • Thank the people you admire. Let them know how much of an impact their work has on your life. (Even if you think they receive tons of that stuff, send it anyway.)
  • Ask for help when you need it. Nobody knows how to support you until you tell them, so give clear intructions on what you’re needing. (Even if you think nobody will listen or want to pitch in.)
  • Respond to opportunities. If you see someone tweet that they need help, try your best to reply. (Even if you think you’re not “enough” to participate in the conversation.)
  • Take a new path. Go home on a different route, brush your teeth using your left hand, take a cold shower, or visit new websites instead of the ones you always read. (Even if it feels uncomfortable.)

And I’m sure there are many more ways to get started with putting yourself out there and opening the doors that matter.

Whether you’re trying to solve problems the Elon Musk way, whether you’re trying to get involved in a community event like TEDx, or you’re trying to create awesome work, you must know one thing: the doors are never truly locked.

After many experiences with doors, I invite you to:

Open the door, despite your fears. If that door isn’t right for you, create your own.