The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (referred to as “The Wise”) wrote, “If it is good to say or do something, then it is even better to be criticized for having done it.”

But that can be tough to remember when you actually find the courage to express a point of view, stand for something (or against it) actually take action to make something you believe in, happen…and somebody rakes you over the coals for it.

Of course, Marcus Aurelius is right. If what you say or do is of no consequence, makes no difference, disturbs no one, rocks no boats, burns no bridges, turns no stones, no one will care enough about it to rip you apart. And we all know people whose aim is just that: Lay low. Fly under the radar. Make no waves. Play safe.

There was a talented guy on my team when I worked at Avon whom I liked a lot. He was a good manager, never missed a deadline, delivered his work flawlessly and was a total team player. One day I invited him into my office to talk about his future. “You’re doing a great job, Rob,” I said. I’d like to promote you to director.” He sat there for a moment stunned and looking, oddly enough, frightened. “Hey, I know it’s a surprise,” I said, “I mean, you didn’t ask for it, but you deserve it. C’mon, what do you say?!”

Rob swallowed hard and finally said, “Thanks, Gail, but I don’t want a promotion. I like it right where I am. I’m sorry; I appreciate it and everything, but please, don’t promote me.” I was shocked. When I asked him why, he said he didn’t want the attention, didn’t want to stand out, didn’t want to be anywhere near the limelight. I learned eventually, that Rob was afraid. Afraid of having more responsibility, making more decisions, being criticized, being “wrong” and being…fired.

Do you remember the old Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy sneaks into a pet store, throws open the door of each animal’s cage and shouts to the creature inside, “You’re free! You’re free! You’re free!” But each animal shrinks as far back into its cage as it can, shuts its eyes tight and starts shaking. So Snoopy pauses for a brief moment and then slams each cage door shut - and shouts, “You’re safe! You’re safe! You’re safe!”

Rob wanted to stay in his “cage.” He knew every inch of it. He understood every bit of it. He knew what worked and what didn’t. He had it down. He was “safe.” And he didn’t want anyone opening that door… All these years later, it bothers me that I couldn’t “motivate” him out of there. I wish I’d known then what I know now – and could have told him in a way that he could have heard it – that Neil Simon (who might have read Marcus Aurelius) was right:

“Don’t listen to anyone [especially not to yourself...] who says ‘You’re taking too big a chance!’ Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor if he’d had that attitude…and it would be totally rubbed out by now…

So rattle that cage, will you? It’s time to step out, say something, do something…and if you’re lucky, get criticized for something…  You’re free! You’re free! You’re free!”

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