The red pill or the blue pill? That was the stark choice offered by Morpheus to Neo, the characters played respectively by Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves in the first instalment of The Matrix trilogy.
The blue pill would have left Neo where he was, believing whatever he wanted to believe. With the red pill, Morpheus would show Neo how deep the rabbit-hole went in a post-apocalyptic Wonderland.
Like Neo, very few would go for the red pill, wilfully abandoning their careers to tumble into the rabbit-hole of professional uncertainty. Instead, most would probably choose the blue pill, even if that means being stuck in a career rut.
In his book, The Leap, former headhunter Rick Smith offers a less daunting option: a series of minor career and life changes that could propel workers from good to great in their professional and private lives, essentially breaking up the red pill into little palatable bits.
The book, dubbed by the author as an "invitation to stop working and start living", is the culmination of five years of interviews and research involving some very famous people and several obscure ones who somehow made it big.
Not happy with his day job as a headhunter, Smith decided to feed his voracious appetite for business-themed books at weekends. In August 2003, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers was born and became an instant hit. In the process, however, Smith lost his job.
Even as he searched for work, Smith explored the merits of social networking, especially among the contacts he made in the course of writing his book. And that's when a germ of a thought hit him: a top-level social network "to provide influential managers around the world with a forum for peer exchange".
Two months after serendipitously enlisting his first member, Smith had 15 recruits. The first batch of 50 members was formed in six months, with a full phalanx of senior advisers from blue-chip professional services companies.
Smith's success brought him into contact with prominent personalities such as Jack Welch, Alan Greenspan, Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong, former US Senate leaders Bob Dole and George Mitchell, Richard Branson, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and even U2's Bono.
In effect, The Leap is a logbook of Smith's exploration. He shares insights into the human mind and soul, enriched with the latest findings from neuroscience and behavioural research, economics, human resources management and assessment.
To Smith, the key question was: "How could someone who avoided significant risk, who never changed who he was, and who succeeded in great part through the efforts of others, have experienced such an incredible life transition?"
His key mantra is that people who feel they are stuck in a career rut and hope to be liberated must first find their "primary colour - that one spot on the spectrum where our greatest strengths overlap with our most intense passions".
They then must formulate an idea that is big, selfless and simple. From there, a "spark sequence" takes the idea to a higher realm, allowing people to move from ordinary to extraordinary.
Smith cautions that his is no cookie-cutter formula for success. But he believes that "when talent, passion and commitment are in harmony, horizons are unveiled". Indeed, this book is ideal for people who feel trapped in their jobs or situation. But it doesn't offer any false promises. All it does is share insights into the importance of that first tentative step beyond one's comfort zone.
Its message is akin to what Morpheus advised Neo in The Matrix: "Free your mind." And the rest will follow.
MYTHS vs SMITH
MYTH 1To make a great change in your life, you must change who you are. SMITH Don’t become someone else – be more completely who you are.
MYTH 2 To make a great change in your life, you must go it alone. SMITH The power of your idea will lure collaborators. Don’t go it alone.
MYTH 3 To make a great change in your life, you must take a great risk. SMITH You can take the plunge, but be sure you have your parachute on.