It is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman. – Niccolò Machiavelli
What does that mean?
The original quote says much about the treatment of women in that age. The explanation of impetuous (later in the paragraph) was more about what we would call mistreatment and domination, rather than what is presently considered proper treatment of anyone.
But the basic thrust of the quote is basically about living life fully, not timidly. This quote is a parallel to the old Latin quote which states that Fortune favors the bold. While I don’t believe there is any governing force that is looking for bold people on whom to bestow favors, the more often you try, the more often you will succeed.
If you only ever try once, you might succeed, or you might not. If you try one hundred times, you’re much more likely to succeed, and succeed multiple times. By being bold, by being adventurous, or even impetuous, you might find you have even better luck. After all, Elvis wasn’t famous for his hair, right? Neither was Liberace famous for his hair. They were famous for being bold, adventurous, and often times impetuous.
Why is bold, adventurous, or even impetuous important?
Well, what does being timid and meek get you? Unless you’re trying to hide from the world, this isn’t exactly a great strategy for getting things accomplished, is it? Are you trying to hide from the world? I’m not, so I try not to be timid and meek. What about you?
Being bold means you are willing to do things that others might not be willing to do. By doing the things others aren’t bold enough to do, you get a chance at rewards that others cannot even imagine. Does that mean fortune has smiled on you?
By being adventurous, you get to see things and do things most others wouldn’t even consider doing. White water rafting? Sky diving? Bungee jumping? Hang gliding? These are some of the things I have done, and I was indeed fortunate. But not because fortune smiled on me, because I decided to be adventurous.
By going so far as to be impetuous (impulsive, passionate), one can quickly seize a fleeting opportunity. Did fortune smile on you, or were you simply the quickest to grasp the opportunity, and turn it to your advantage?
Where can I apply this in my life?
While the quote referring to fortune as a woman might have been considered proper in an earlier era, the point is that opportunity is fleeting and fickle (two other attributes once assigned to the ‘fairer gender’).
But all gender references aside, to make the best of fortune when it comes knocking, you have to be bold enough to be willing to act. You have to be adventurous enough to take a chance and see where it leads you. And you have to be sufficiently impetuous to act before it is too late.
Grab some paper and write down a couple of the times when you have had a stroke of good fortune. Next to each, add all the bold actions you took in the process of riding the wave of good fortune. Also note what adventurous and even impetuous actions you took. Finish each entry with a note of how the opportunity might have been diminished if you had been cautious.
That said, I don’t want you to think that there is no place in the world for caution. Far from it. However, there are times to throw caution to the wind. Sometimes, in hindsight, you realize that you should have been a little more or less cautious in different situations.
But that is part of the learning curve. Experience will help you determine where the best path is likely to be. But to get experience, you have to be bold, and risk messing things up. What will you do the next time you hear the knocking of opportunity at your door? Will you act, will you be bold? or will you be cautious, and have fortune slip through your hands?
Take some time and review what is on your paper. Add other opportunities that may have slipped through your fingers. Look over what you have there, and consider what conclusions you can draw about when to be bold and when to not be bold. Start learning from them now, so the next time you get the chance, you can take your best shot.
Whether fortune is a woman or not, you can only make the most of good fortune if you are willing to act on it. To know when to act (and to not act) requires experience. Experience requires you try to be bold from time to time. And that might be something to think about.