For many of my teenage years, I assumed that I would grow up to be a jewel thief. Please keep in mind that I was a child of the 60’s and largely considered rich people to be exploiters of the common man – especially those with the excess income necessary to acquire jewelry. It was a phase.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would take to really steal a jewel from out of a locked safe somewhere in a house, or from drawer in a bank vault. I was a realist (of sorts) and truly imagined something complicated and fraught with peril – altogether unlike the scenes in movies where everything is beautifully lit and dramatic. No, I imagined waiting for hours in the tight confines of an air-conditioning duct or spending weeks learning how to pick a certain lock strictly by feel.
As time passed, I came to realize that the life I was imagining would be one spent wading around in a moral quagmire. How would I decide which jewels to steal, what to do with the money, and how many would I steal before I had enough money? Would I end up living just like the people that I was stealing from? It seemed like a slippery slope and eventually I let the idea go completely.
Years later, I found myself standing on this very cliff in Santa Cruz, California, about to jump into a surging ocean of unknown depth. We had seen kids jump from somewhere along this cliff earlier in the day while we were body-surfing further down the beach and thought it would be fun to try. “Time it with the swell,” suggested my friend.
As I stood there, gazing down at the dark water, I had a minor epiphany – this moment is exactly like the moment just before a jewel thief cuts through the glass to grab the goods. So, with one last look, I took a half-step back and then hurled myself out into space as far from the cliff as I could. Gravity took hold, and the fall stretched into seconds as I accelerated towards the water. The sound of the air rushing past was thrilling and horrifying as time expanded and then contracted suddenly with a whack.
Talking about it later, I proposed four meaningful stages common to jewel thievery and cliff diving:
- Conception – you have the idea to jump off of a cliff, or to steal a jewel. You begin to plan, you climb the cliff, you buy rope.
- Conviction – you are there, you could back out now and everything would go back to normal – but you don’t. You cut the glass case, you leap off of the cliff, you are committed.
- Point of No Return– the glass is cut, your feet have left the cliff – there is no going back. The safest plan of action is to continue.
- Execution – now it all depends on your skill, your training, your planning, your momentum, and your will. With or without you, the story will have an ending.
I brought this up over breakfast recently with a few friends and we decided that most great undertakings share these stages. From creating great art (where every brush stroke or touch of the metal grinder carries you one step closer to completion or calamity), to tinkering (where your idea unfolds or unravels before your very eyes). So, embrace your inner jewel thief and have the conviction to carry your ideas past conception – but remember to time time your jump with the swell.