Ridiculous (adj.): Deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.
Over the holiday, I spent a week in the Blue Mountains of Australia. A dear friend who lives there took us crystal hunting in a disused quarry. He is an experienced gemologist and has a house full of beautiful pieces. So I expected the excursion to be kind of like a trip to Tiffany’s: waltz into the quarry, look around, pick up a few gemstones, saunter to a nearby café for a latte.
Instead, it involved mallets and crowbars, hammers and pickaxes, and searching for a needle of crystal in a boulder-strewn haystack the size of several football fields under a baking Australian sun.
I confess to feeling rather silly. I am not an experienced gemologist; I have no understanding of the rock or the quartz or the amethyst or what I’m supposed to be looking for. So I halfheartedly picked through a few things, feeling ridiculous, and then quickly retired to the shade for a nap.
Many years ago, I had a similar experience attending a jam session with an amazing singer. I was very young and fancied myself to have a decent voice, but I had no experience whatsoever with spontaneous improvisational singing. When the microphone got handed to me, I stammered out a few lines (badly), and gave it back. I felt ridiculous.
Feeling ridiculous when you’re with a friend and clowning around can be fun. Feeling ridiculous when you feel like you’re inviting derision or mockery is not.
But a sense of ridiculousness is normal when we try a new activity. We are usually not very good when we first attempt something, and being not very good at something doesn’t actually feel very good. So the unpalatable logic goes like this: I don’t like feeling ridiculous, and I often feel ridiculous when I try new things; ergo, I don’t like trying new things.
You hear about those people who failed at 15 companies before hitting it big, about Edison testing over 3,000 filaments before finding one that would work for the light bulb, about Michael Jordan’s awkward foray into baseball -- and you cringe. Who would want to go through that?
But change or progress doesn’t happen without first passing through the Valley of Potential Ridicule (sometimes known as the Valley of Frequent Ridicule). If you’ve ever explained Twitter to people who don’t get it, imagine you’re one of the founders, trying to explain it to an investor. Or to your mom. Every tech entrepreneur I know has at least one relative who sees her as the help desk. “Oh, my niece is in computers. She can help you with your Windows problem.”
Tech start-ups don’t know if they’re the next Zuckerberg or just these guys. We’re all trying to do something real and profound and meaningful, and we’re all running the risk that it might not be, that in the end we’re just being ridiculous and we haven’t actually changed the world at all. But if we’re not open to feeling ridiculous, we’ll lose our chance to accomplish anything.
Next time you feel ridiculous, congratulate yourself. It means you’re going out on your own personal limb -- and you never know, it just might lead somewhere exciting.
Happy New Year. Welcome back. See you next week.