In today’s world, it can be easy to be only partially present, somewhat engaged, or hedging our bets. I’ll go a step further and say that we are encouraged and rewarded for this type of behavior.
We are provided countless opportunities to:
- Put our resumes online and have them seeking new employment for us even as we sit in a meeting at our current workplace.
- Get a side hustle going to make a little money beyond our normal income to give us more options.
- Carry a device with us that we can use to escape the moment and thousands of apps to help us do it.
- Flip through television channels, Netflix shows, radio stations, and streaming service playlists looking for something a bit better to entertain us.
At some point, all this hustling, hedging, escaping, and flipping can cause us to miss out on something interesting, something that could make all the difference, change the game, or bend our trajectory. These options create limitless opportunities, but may also limit us from going all in.
For many of us, being risk adverse or looking to avoid failure (even small failures) adds to the dilemma. Assuming we might fail at one thing, we may do a mediocre job at many things. So, we reduce risk of failure by choosing to not go all in.
As we age, I contend that our desire for comfort and control may even conspire against our willingness to take risk. Consider the last time you saw families at a swimming pool. Odds are that the kids were swimming and the adults were watching from the side. Kids are typically all in.
Allow Me to Share a Story
Last summer, I was in Denmark visiting with friends and family. We were staying in a small coastal town in the northern part of the country. Throughout the town, store windows were peppered with signs announcing that the annual visit from a troupe of traveling performers. The signs were not limited to our quaint village. Each adjacent town had signs announcing when the show was coming to the respective community.
We were intrigued. Having never been to a traveling Danish show before, we inquired about going and a group of us, Danes and Americans, decided to take in the performance.
Allow me to put Denmark into perspective.
It’s a fairly small country with a population and geographic footprint comparable to North Carolina. Visitors are typically greeted with waving Danish flags. Quality and design matter. Danish homes have a cozy feeling (they call it Hygge – pronounced hue-guh).
In short, Danes do things a certain way – the Danish way.
Although interested in seeing the show, my expectations were muted, but the troupe was surprisingly impressive. Everyday, the show would travel from town to town. It had done so for generations. Employing few people, everyone needed to perform, sell concessions, drive a truck, and erect the tent. It was an all hands on deck type experience.
The night of the performance, I walked into the arena and assumed a seat in the middle of the long row. I told my wife, “If I sit on the aisle, there’s a chance someone will grab me and make me participate in some way. So, I’m burying myself in the middle.”
True, there were a few hundred people in the room, but I was convinced that I would be targeted for attention as one of a few non-locals in the place. I was not going to allow myself to be pulled into the performance.
Within minutes, a performer entered the arena and began interacting with the crowd. Sporting a large hat he asked patrons to throw the hat from their seat in an attempt to land it on his head.
Like a magnet, he came to me. He extended his arm and handed me the hat. I threw it and missed. He made a face, the crowd laughed, and he moved on. Not too bad I thought – I was safe.
Not so quick – he returned 20 minutes later. This time, he invited me to come onto the stage. I hesitated, even protested a bit. My mind was racing with questions:
- Why would I possible give up the comfort of my current position?
- There is a good likelihood that he is going to ask me to do something uncomfortable, what good could come from that?
- If this doesn’t go well, it could be embarrassing. Who wants to face ridicule?
- Etc, etc.
With the crowd’s encouragement, I found myself moving toward the stage.
Another audience member was invited to join me on stage. In everything we were asked to do, she was praised for her excellent performance and I was found to be less than stellar. The cast member poked fun at me and the audience laughed.
At some point, I flipped a switch in mind. I went from an I’m Going to Fight This Thing mindset to an I’m Going All In mentality.
Here are some benefits I gained from throwing the switch and going all in:
- Being all in made the experience richer. I was an active part in creating something. Sure, the crowd was laughing, but I was having fun too.
- The memories run so much deeper because I was all in. Instead of having a scant remembrance of the night, I can conjure up the entire evening in my mind.
- True, moving out of the shadows and going all in didn’t directly change my life (the troupe failed to ask me to join their tour), but it reminded me that taking a risk and going all in isn’t as bad as we envision it will be.
Don’t believe that I was all in at the Danish show?
Watch this video. I was blindfolded and told to limbo under a pole they were holding for me. The music started and they walked away. I limboed my way across the arena. To make matters worse, I really thought I was doing a good job 🙂
What About You?
Consider these questions about your current situation:
- What is holding you back from going all in on a job, product, relationship, opportunity, or something else that might make all the difference in your life?
- What do you risk by going all in? What might you gain?
- What could you do today to put things in motion?
- Is there anyone around you who is sitting on the sidelines that would benefit from going all in? What can you do to help?
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.