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It’s not easy being out in front.

I first learned this when I did investigative reporting. Even though I knew my information was sound and that my story was true, I got a nervous feeling in my stomach the night before the newspaper published a scoop. Because I knew that no one else had the information, I knew that it would surprise people, I knew humanity’s tendency to blame the messenger, and I knew that extra attention can be exciting but it is also deeply stressful.

The thing is though, someone has got to lead. Why not me? Why not you? Why not my company? Why not yours?

But there’s truth to the other side too — someone has got to follow. And there can be honor in following. A considered life will have periods of both.

Three kitchen-table anecdotes illustrate my point:

  • 1) Ice Cream Shop

Opening up an ice cream shop in my neighborhood seems like a no-brainer strategy. My neighborhood is filled with kids and playgrounds and affluent families.  And yet, we didn’t have an ice cream shop for years.

Last year, Menchies opened a buffet-style frozen yogurt shop on the main thoroughfare. The place is crowded day and night. That was smart. Why didn’t anyone think of it sooner?

This year, Molly Moon’s opened another ice cream shop, blocks away.

Now I’m thinking the market might be saturated. But hat’s off to the two businesses that had the idea first. They’re already capturing some of my dollars.

Lesson: Just because no one else has done it before doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea and won’t work. It may just mean that no one else has had the moxie to try.

  • 2) The Highway

Recently, I was driving on a three-lane highway, heading for Detroit airport. I had six miles to go until the turn-off to drop off my rental car.

The speed limit was 75. I noticed that the left two lanes were empty, but there was a line of cars doing 60 miles per hour in the right-most lane.

Wow. Talk about a bunch of lazy followers! I decided to join them.

For me, it was one of those rare instances when I wasn’t in a rush, and so I decided to blast my radio and get in line. So long as I maintained a safe distance from the car in front, I didn’t have to really think. It was so easy – I didn’t have to monitor my speed, merge lanes, time my lane shift, pass with care – less thinking, more singing to the radio.

Lesson: People follow for different reasons, and sometimes, it’s nice to get in line and do your part.

  • 3) The Airport

This continues from the last story. I finally got to the security check point and there was a huge, messy line that was longer than the lanes delineated by the retractable tape barriers.

Photo from inside Detroit Airport, showing a fountain and a 747 airplane.

A view from inside Detroit Airport (DTW).

And there was a sign that announced: “Additional security check point up one level.”

About three feet to my left was the escalator. I thought, “That entrance is probably stuffed too. And if I leave to go look, I’ll lose my spot.”

Then, remembering back to all of us sheeple in the highway lanes, I decide to check it out.

No lie: There were only about five people in the line immediately up the stairs. All this time opportunity, and people were not seizing upon it!

Lesson: I work with stocks. This to me is symbolic of how markets are not always perfectly efficient — there is opportunity out there, if you think to seize it. But, it carries risk. Same with life. While forging ahead, you could lose your place in the line. But, the line will always be there waiting to take you back – so why not try?

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