Do What You Don’t Know How to Do
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

When I was young, I was taught to do the things that I knew how to do and could do well. It was good advice and it has served me well. I would work hard and excel in my gifted areas. However, now I am spending a great deal of time doing the things that I do not know how to do. In doing so, I risk a lot of failures, and that’s ok. This is how we all must act to learn and succeed today.

I do not like to fail.  I do not like to look silly. It causes anxiety and fear in me. But, I have learned that I can’t let these fears stop me from moving forward. Failing forward is the skill we all need now. Fast and frequent failures en route to success are what is needed more than ever. I have to learn how to move quickly to what is next – and risk failure. I have learned to limit my risk by running pilots and checking to see if what I am doing is working. I also admit my failures more quickly – and move on to the next pilot attempt. Thomas Edison and his team were famous for inventing countless products. They did so by constantly attempting, failing, and attempting again. Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

One of the greatest behavior changes I have made in my life is that I have learned how to do the things that terrify me. I do not like heights. And yet, I went to Army Airborne School and jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. I was afraid to ask people for money, but I decided to go to the struggling nonprofit Samaritan Center as the Executive Director and begin to ask people to support our cause. We ended up feeding double the number of homeless and needy people each day.  I did not know how to run a trade association, but I accepted the job as the President and CEO of MACNY. That was 18 years ago and so far, it has gone pretty well. I was certain that Denise Petilli could do much better than me for a husband, but I asked her anyway. Thirty-one years later, it is still the best chance I ever took and completely changed my life. I did not know how to do any of these things. They all scared me greatly. I did them anyway. How else does a small town boy from a dot on a map in a place called West Point, Nebraska ever get to travel the world and meet some of the most wonderful people on our planet? I simply had to just go for it. Courage in every next moment – when you are scared out of your mind – is the only courage that matters.

Just this week, I again did what I did not know how to do. I hosted my friend from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He wanted to come and stay with Denise and me for 10 days. He wanted us to help him raise friends, awareness, and funding for his grassroots efforts in one of the poorest countries in the world. When I met him three years ago, I promised to help him. I did so not knowing how I would do so. I promised anyway. It scared me to death. Since then, we have set up a giving platform through a respected U.S. foundation, raised thousands of dollars, helped feed thousands of starving children, set up an on-going effort to sustain his work, and so much more. My friend and mentor is Dr. Adolphe Nyakasane, a pediatrician who speaks five languages and never stops risking failure. He is in his thirties and changing the world. I could not let my fear of failure get in the way of the good he can do. I had to learn how to do what I did not know how to do. (To learn more about his work visit

Now, you should know that I do not advise doing just anything. Do the things that matter most to you. Do the things that you want to be proud of. Do the things that move the needle and make life better for others. Do not let fear get in the way of the wonderful life you can have. As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”