2020: The Year of Action
Greta Thunberg was recently named TIME magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, the youngest person ever to hold that distinction. For those of you hiding in a cave or on an (understandable) self-imposed media blackout, Thunberg is the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist who has almost single-handedly galvanized a global protest movement. She has met with a who’s who list of world leaders, including Presidents and the Pope. In September of last year, in a speech to the UN General Assembly that went viral, she famously chastised world leaders: “We are at the beginning of a mass distinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
Whether you like her or not (she has both many supporters and many detractors), you have to admit that Greta is an extraordinary (as in extra ordinary) individual. In my book, Master Your Code, I write about the art, wisdom, and science of leading an extraordinary life. And so I study extraordinary people. Here are a few takeaways from my brief study of Greta Thunberg.
Extraordinary people take action. One of the most interesting phenomena I observe within organizations is the deep aversion to action. People will make sweeping pronouncements, commitments, and plans, but there is far too little action. Greta took action. She decided something needed to be done. And rather than simply talk about it, she dropped out of school and camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament by herself! That solitary act of defiance snowballed into a global movement. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January of last year, Greta told world leaders: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
Action is the source of life. We are either acting, growing, and moving ahead, or we are slowly dying. In the years preceding her act of defiance and protest, Greta suffered from debilitating depression caused, in part, by her dismay and confusion that nothing serious seemed to be happening to counter the effects of climate change. Nothing her parents tried seemed to help. It was her single decision to act that finally lifted the heavy veil of depression. Her father said that after she decided to strike, it was as if she “came back to life.”
The biggest constraint to action is your program. In my book, I assert that you are driven by your program – a set of safety-based, subconscious beliefs, values, and rules that automatically drive your behavior and limit your results. Greta has Asperger’s. In many ways, this condition has allowed her to escape the limits of her cultural conditioning. Here’s how the TIME article describes it:
Thunberg’s Asperger’s diagnosis helped explain why she had such a powerful reaction to learning about the climate crisis. Because she doesn’t process information in the same way neurotypical people do, she could not compartmentalize the fact that her planet was in peril. “I see the world in black and white, and I don’t like compromising,” she told TIME during a school break earlier this year. “If I were like everyone else, I would have continued on and not seen this crisis.” She is in some ways grateful for her diagnosis; if her brain worked differently, she explained, “I wouldn’t be able to sit for hours and read things I’m interested in.” Thunberg’s focus and way of speaking betray a maturity far beyond her years.
We can learn by studying Greta Thunberg and the many other extraordinary individuals who have shaped history. Where in your life right now are you hesitating to take action? You may be talking a lot about it, but you haven’t definitively acted. What part of your program is holding you back? If you want to lead an extraordinary life, you must act.
Let’s make 2020 the year of action.