Most of us have a basic level of pride and agree with the sentiment that “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” We want to do a good job. We want to see ourselves and our employer’s business succeed. Yet, how often do we get in our own way and obstruct our advancement?
I have been in and around the sport of ski racing for many years as a participant, coach, coach of coaches, parent, and program organizer. It can be an expensive sport for parents. Willing parents pay these costs without batting an eye. For kids as young as twelve and thirteen, program costs can exceed $5,000 for a five month winter season. These fees are for coaching costs. This is just the beginning as equipment needs of $2,000 to $4,000 per season are needed. Typical programs would travel to three “away” races implying travel expenses of $1,000 per weekend event. Season passes are the cheap component and incur around $500 in cost. Finally, it is almost normal now for these young athletes to attend a week of summer ski training (or more) on a glacier in Whistler, Oregon, or even Europe, South America, or New Zealand. All said, parents can easily be out of pocket for $15,000 to $20,000 for a winter of “fun” for their young child. This is just an example and there’s plenty of other sports which require greater expenses.
The principal point is that this voluntary absorption of heavy costs is, presumably, a pretty sound indicator of interest in and commitment to the program. Even the well heeled have to feel the pinch of $15,000 and up of after tax dollars for their child’s hobby. If freely parting with their hard earned funds, the providers of this capital should be doing their level best to ensure their kids get the most out of the programs, shouldn’t they? Unfortunately, once “invested” in the sports program, oftentimes, the experience for the participants could be compromised based on several factors. Ill equipped or unprepared athletes presenting themselves happens far more often than one would expect and can be the result of poor planning, disinterest, or the consequence of prior poor decisions made.
For example, whether following from being absent minded, rushed, or poor program/family communication kids can show up to the day’s training activities with the wrong equipment. Other problems like showing up unprepared for the weather by not bringing proper clothing can also squander an expensive training session. In the big scheme of things, forgetting a season pass is a small problem that just creates a distraction and burden of waiting in line for replacement. This, though, can cost the athlete time away from their learning or can cost their entire group while waiting for the unprepared person. Families or athletes that forget to eat breakfast or properly pack or plan lunch for their day guarantee that their participation in that session will be less than ideal. Hardworking parents also like to enjoy their weekends and a few party pops turned into a runaway can cost their children some sleep leading to problems the next day being either late or too tired to properly focus and participate. Each of these are examples of action inconsistent with the expense incurred. They are all examples of self-inflicted misery or getting in one’s own way. Sure, we say we care, but our actions always speak louder than words.
Instead, Give Yourself a Chance (GYAC). The saying that 90% of life is simply showing up has been attributed mostly to Woody Allen. There’s no question that showing up is, sadly, a competitive advantage. It’s no guarantee today for people to deliver even themselves. Doing so is a positive sign. However, we’re offering that we should aspire to do more than just show up. Seeking to present oneself at the right time to the right place properly prepared to face one’s responsibilities is more likely to get us 90% of the way to being successful. Showing up for our workday is similar to our kids showing up for school or pricey sports programs. We need to be on time, at the right place, properly fueled (fed), well rested, free from distraction or other mental burdens, and either bringing or being provided with proper tools/resources to do our jobs.
In Why The Best Are The Best former NBA coach Kevin Eastman supports the idea of success as being more than showing up writing, “To give ourselves a chance for that break we have to ‘show up.’ But there’s more to it. Just as important as showing up is that we then have to ‘shut up’ and listen. Plus, we have to ‘keep up.’ Shutting up and keeping up are equally important to giving ourselves a chance to succeed. Showing up starts with giving all of yourself all the time, treating every practice and every work day as important.” Showing up is a lot more than just arriving. It’s about presenting ourselves purposefully prepared to participate.
Charlie Munger is a legendary investor of his own rite and partner to Warren Buffet. In a College Commencement Speech some years ago, he encouraged young people to worry less about chasing success by focusing on the opposite. Munger encouraged his audience to consider what should one do to avoid failure or how can we be less wrong? To Give Yourself a Chance is really just another way to be less wrong. In the same commencement speech, Mr. Munger offered the dual answer of “sloth and unreliability” as being the two characteristics one should seek to avoid. We don’t need to be the smartest or best at something to offer ourselves a solid chance for advancement. If we focus on more basic approaches, we can differentiate ourselves in a positive way by reliably showing up properly prepared and ready to go.
Before we roll our eyes at our parental examples or think that we’re immune to this kind of behavior, we should stop and consider our own approach to our workdays. Are we doing everything we can to consistently and reliably show up in a state that allows us to perform our best? How many continuing education sessions have we attended where once back at the office we haven’t touched, let alone read any materials received? How often do we show up to work five minutes late flustered by leaving the house in a rush and battling traffic? How often do we wait to be told what to do instead of proactively seeking ways to be of use? At the root of Giving Yourself a Chance is the idea that actions always speak louder than words. Period. Actions speak louder than money. Actions are the purest and most objective evidence of commitment or lack thereof.
In Walking in the Shade, writer Doris Lessing, offers “We all of us have limited amounts of energy, and I am sure the people who are successful have learned, either by instinct or consciously, to use their energies well instead of spilling them about. And this has to be different for every person, writers or otherwise. I know writers who go to parties every night and then, recharged instead of depleted, happily write all day. But if I stay up half the night talking, I don’t do so well the next day. Some writers like to start work as soon as they can in the morning, while others like the night or—for me almost impossible—the afternoons. Trial and error, and then when you’ve found your needs, what feeds you, what is your instinctive rhythm and routine, then cherish it.” Our job is to know ourselves in order to best apply ourselves. There’s no single path to pursue that works for all of us. We need to learn to get out of our own way and stick with habits and routines that serve. Those that achieve consistent levels of high performance have figured out what works for them. They have found a way to make the most of their days.
Another author, Science fiction writer Octavia Estelle Butler learned from experience that ideas emerged from the strangest and unpredictable of places. She crafted three rules for herself which, when followed, would position her to make patient progress. She wasn’t pursuing perfection. She wasn’t trying to write a novel a day. She was committed to a consistent process that put her in a position to accumulate ideas and then turn these into books. Her three rules which served to give herself a chance in her chosen field as highlighted in this online article are:
- Don’t leave home without a notebook, paper scraps, or something with which to write.
- Walk into the world with eyes and ears open and focused externally.
- Avoid excuses about your limitations, what you don’t have or what you would do if you did have something you’re missing. Instead, find a way, make a way.
Butler’s self imposed rules gave her control over her actions and increased the chances of her encountering serendipitous insights. Her rules afforded her the opportunity to uncover and record great ideas as she stumbled across them. Yes, there are a lot of things we face each day which are beyond our control. Nonetheless, this isn’t an excuse to be at the whims of the world. In Virtual Selling, author Jeb Blount suggests, “You can only control three things: Your actions. Your reactions. Your mindset. That’s it—nothing more.” In any situation in which we find ourselves, we can influence how we react, how we’ll act, and our interpretation or opinion of what is happening. These are things we should focus on in order to give ourselves a chance to be constructive. In a world where we face uncertainty often and there are few guarantees, giving yourself a chance is a way of, as Tom Hill one of the contributors to Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul, “Putting the odds in your favor.”
How can we use this idea of Give Yourself a Chance to put the odds in your favor? Are there any things we could consider stopping? Munger’s suggestions of sloth and unreliability are great places to start. We’ll never go wrong reducing these two variables from our efforts. Can we consider also trying to decrease distractions? Are there any things we should try harder to start doing? Perhaps, we can create routines that will steer our focus to allow us more time moving the needle on what’s most important. Can we use the concept of Give Yourself a Chance to get out of our own way? Another way to think of giving yourself a chance and putting the odds in your favor is to ensure that your decision making incorporates risk management considerations. Work to reduce the consequences of choices. Don’t bet the farm on a strategic direction. Giving yourself a chance implies staying in the game. It’s about building a buffer against catastrophic problems. Giving yourself a chance puts you in a position to continue contributing for the long haul. Giving yourself a chance is striving to show your commitment through actions. Our goal is to align our actions with the idea that what’s worth doing is worth doing well.