“I’m an adult, I do what I want.” — A phrase my wife and I say to one another a little too often given our age. We’ve been adults for a while.
I still remember the first time that the realization of being able to do whatever I wanted caused a change in behavior. I was shopping for groceries. One of those early grocery trips before I’d developed my own set of staples — still bad at planning, I’m kind of shopping for later but actually buying my next meal. This trip came later than it should have. I managed to live through most of college eating on-campus food. I was out of school and just starting on my own version of banal everyday life where one goes grocery shopping regularly.
As I’m walking down an aisle looking from side to side I notice something but continue on as a thought pops into my head: “I bet those are delicious.”
Seconds (and several feet) pass by.
“I can buy them… they’re here to be bought!”
I’m an adult, I do what I want. Sometimes that means buying something in a bright box with a name that’s a clever misspelling of an ingredient that it tastes like but doesn’t actually contain and has in its place a week’s worth of sodium.
The grocery story sounds basic but it conveys an understanding that I’ve long struggled to fully embrace: No one needs to grant permission for most of the options that are available to you.
There is no authority giving permission to do almost anything. There are just people. Some of them are better than others at exploring the options available to them.
Permission isn’t granted — it’s taken.
Yet for some reason, I’ve long desired permission. I spent years listening to startup advice, having lunch with the business leaders around me and reading blog posts on the subject. I was mining for information that would prepare me to take the plunge myself. Looking back I think I was looking for a marker, something that would indicate that I was ready, that I had permission.
In 2016 embracing this applied to starting a company. For the decade previous it’s applied to a half dozen other “leaps” that I wanted to make in life: the depth of some friendships, moving to new cities, things as basic as asking for what I wanted instead of trying to earn everything or hoping the people around me were mind readers.
Nearly ten years passed between my trip to buy groceries and starting a company.
Why so long?
I had to make this same mental leap several times before I realized that the same pattern, the non-necessity of permission, holds for nearly everything in life.
The framing of these leaps wasn’t always “permission”. The premise that there are people that do things that I too want to do but that nothing set them apart besides doing those things. They weren’t special. No one came to them and prepped them for their path. They just started walking it.
Because they weren’t special, I didn’t need to be. I just needed to leap.
In my sophomore year of college, I took an internship in a city where I knew no one. I learned that people who move to new exciting places hadn’t always been those people. I could do it. I can just up and move.
One of the application requirements for the internship was to be a junior or senior. I learned that some rules, aren’t rules.
During the internship, I learned that no matter how influential you think someone is, you can ask them to lunch and they’ll often say yes. The worst that can happen is getting told no and that’s the same as never having asked. I learned to take my shots.
Three years later I moved from the east cost of the US to Sydney, Australia. This required permission from Australian immigration but I wanted to see if I was getting the hang of moving. We don’t start fully equipped, that comes with persistence.
For the vast majority of leaps in life, no one is going to give permission, no authority provide authorization. You’re never going to read or learn enough. No one walking an enviable path started equipped.
I’m Wesley Walser, the founder & CEO of Ask Inline — We help teams build great customer feedback campaigns. You can follow me on Twitter or right here on Medium.