“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” — Leonardo da Vinci (attributed)
There are two basic approaches to life.
The first approach is the defensive stance.
In the defensive stance your intention is to hold your ground. You react to what happens to you. You’re like a defender on the football pitch: You hold the fort and you tackle the opponent when he comes at you. You react. You prevent. Your only aim is to keep things as they are.
The second approach is the offensive stance.
In the offensive stance your intention is to attack. You make things happen. On a football pitch you’re like the striker or the playmaker: You create opportunities and you dictate the tempo of the play. You act. You create. Your goal is to put things into motion.
Both approaches are valuable. But too often we lean toward the easier, more natural defensive stance. We defend ourselves and our current situation against uncertainty, and we end up defending for defending’s sake. We get stuck.
The offensive stance can help us to get unstuck and into motion.
All actions involve some degree of risk. We can never know for sure what the future will bring. But inaction is just as risky — it only feels less so because we’re not actively involved. It’s the status quo bias at play.
An offensive stance is demanding. It requires action and initiative.
But a defensive stance can actually be more draining — because you’re not in control. When you defend, you’re forced to sit back and watch events happen to you. You become a victim of life rather than its protagonist.
With an offensive stance, your inclination is to go out and happen to things. Boldly. “Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth,” Niccolò Machiavelli advised. “Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
Change doesn’t happen without action. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget that fact. Instead, you wait for the perfect conditions to act…and before you know it, you’ve ended up waiting forever.
An offensive stance makes sure you’re always on the front foot. It gives you a bias toward action, not away from it.
Attacking life is an active, momentum-filled affair. It is energy. It is boldness and spunk. An offensive stance might take more energy than the alternative, but it generates more energy, too.
Once you’re in motion, it’s easier to stay in motion. The offensive stance makes sure you don’t wait around for the right chance to move. Instead: move, and chances will arise.
“The best men are not those who have waited for chances,” said E. H. Chapin, ”but who have taken them; besieged chance, conquered the chance, and made chance the servitor.”
Both the offensive and defensive stances are pragmatic approaches. They both assume that we can’t control everything in life. We don’t control the stock market, the weather, or presidential tweets, after all.
But there is a difference in how much control we permit ourselves to have. The distinction lies in how much responsibility we choose to take for our own fate.
A defensive stance is a fate-responding approach. An offensive stance is a fate-creating approach.
In the offensive stance you don’t just play the cards you’re dealt. Instead, you take command and you shuffle the cards yourself. You shake things up. You dare to question the rules of the game, and you create new opportunities where there were seemingly none before.
Trainer and weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek has a famous maxim: “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” The offensive stance means more hard choices. It means taking on more responsibility than required. But because of those hard choices, it leads to more freedom, too.
“Choice equals freedom,” says Jerry Colonna, “and freedom is scary. Freedom means that we are responsible for our own happiness. Freedom means we are accountable for our own lives.”
You’re faced with a choice.
You can defend yourself against life…or you can go out and attack it.
You can be held by the reins of fortune…or you can hold the reins yourself.
You can let life happen to you…or you can go out and happen to life.