Act In An Instant

At certain times in life, it’s important to act in an instant—even if the results will be less than ideal.

Consider the story of how I shaved my head for good.

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Horse in starting gate

It was 2007. Julie and I were in the dining room of a condo in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, famous for its 18-foot-tall concrete sculpture of a troll smashing a VW bug in its left hand.

Dinner had just finished. At the table with me were Julie, our host (also named Julie), and her two friends. Four women plus Amiel.

At some point, the conversation turned to my hair. “Amiel,” said one of the women I had just met an hour earlier. “Why don’t you shave your head? I think it would look really good.”

My head wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. Receding hairline. Little patches of follicles on each side. Not much on the forehead. Not much in the back above the neck. Although I didn’t spend hours contemplating my head, when I did, it was hard not to grimace.

On the other hand, it didn’t appear to be holding me back in life. And, up until now, it was easier to recognize what I didn’t like about my head than to see what was possible by changing it.

“I don’t know,” I replied with some hesitation. “I shaved it five years ago. It didn’t exactly spike my popularity with the ladies, and it’s a lot of effort to keep the darn thing shaved. Plus you have to wear a hat all the time to avoid sunburn.”

The woman who made the suggestion was not deterred. “No, really, I think it would look good. You have just the right shaped head for this.”

Two others at the table nodded their heads with approval. “Yeah, I think it’s a step forward.” Then: “She’s right. Lots of men don’t look good with a shaved head, but I think you would.”

A consensus was building. I gulped and then turned to Julie. “Honey, what do you think about this?”

She smiled. “I think you ought to do it.”

I mentally tallied the votes. Four beautiful women for. One man against. The ayes had it.

But where do you go to get your head shaved at 9pm? The barber shops in the neighborhood were closed, and, as far as I knew, none of the people on the street selling things offered this particular service. What about waiting a day or two? This was the obvious path, but it felt like a risk. Would I follow through on this major shift in my appearance without four women egging me on? Doubtful.

The message was clear: this needed to happen tonight. But how?

“Could you excuse me for a few minutes?” I said, before rising from my seat and walking upstairs.

In the bathroom mirror, two small thick clumps of hair rose up from my scalp. In my travel bag, a Gillette Mach3 razor. I looked at the blades. They were dull. In fact, they needed to be replaced just for basic shaving. Peering back into the mirror at the thick clumps of hair, I thought to myself This is insane. No way this is going to work.

I picked up the razor and started the job. It didn’t take long to realize how truly inadequate a dull razor was for this monumental task. Like shoveling snow with a teaspoon. This is totally crazy, and it’s going to take forever. But it has to happen now. The shaving (if you can call it that) continued.

This was a little after 9pm.

At 10:15pm, I dropped the razor into the trash can and looked back into the mirror. Not a single hair remained. In their place was the bare skin of my scalp, etched in a few places with scratch marks from the Big Dig. A few specks of blood, but barely more than a typical shaving accident.

Success!

As I walked back downstairs, I imagined being greeted with shocked looks and possibly standing applause. Neither, it turned out, occurred. Julie and the others were indeed surprised, but the two questions I remember hearing were, one, how did you do that and, two, why did you do that?

Fortunately, this wasn’t for them. It was for me. The goal, in retrospect, was to take what for me was an unnatural act: making a big move without looking at it from thirty seven different angles. From this vantage point, the experience was a victory.

The Opportunity For You

Looking back at this event seven years later, I smile. Shaving my head with a dull hand razor was a wacky thing to do. It didn’t save any lives, bring more love into the world, or even benefit one other person directly. The Hero’s Journey it was not.

However, I think it illustrates an important principle: sometimes in life it’s important to act in an instant. Even if it’s messy. Even if the results are uncertain or, as in my case, likely to be poor.

Life presents many opportunities to do this. Some are worth taking. Many are not.

What’s the opportunity today for you. Perhaps it’s

  • Agreeing with your team to prototype a new product
  • Having a difficult conversation with your boss that you’ve been avoiding
  • Expressing gratitude to two peers in your organization who have made a positive difference in your work
  • Reaching out to reconnect with a friend or family member
  • Buying or creating a special gift for your child or significant other and giving them a note that says, “I love you.”
  • Reducing your contact with someone who is toxic
  • Hiring someone to fill a vacant spot on your team
  • Firing someone who has been destroying the morale of the team for years
  • Taking ten minutes before work to meditate, walk, or listen to relaxing music over a cup of tea

One caveat: If you already have a habit of acting impulsively, then the most important action for you to take may be to pause. Rather than leading with your belly, you can check in with your head and heart. What options do you have? How might this affect others? What difficult sensations in your body are compelling you to act?

However, for most of us, recognizing when it’s time to truly act in an instant is a wonderful practice. It challenges us to pay attention to the world around us as well as the world within us and ask What does this moment call for?