Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Are You Willing to Lose?

The most fundamental question when trying to predict an individual's likelihood of success in a competitive environment is: what are you willing to lose?

It's close cousin is: what are you willing to give up?

I've been thinking about these questions lately as I've considered new opportunities set before me by people who "really want to make it happen." The reason is that, in each case, the stated enthusiasm to make something happen is not matched by the commensurate willingness to give up other things that might get in the way.

I used to ignore these inconsistencies and decide that things would just work out. However, I've got to the point where I just don't have time to, as they say, "be unequally yoked". So, I've started asking, "OK, I get that you really want this. What are you willing to lose in order to get it? What will you actively give up?"

From the responses I get, it seems clear that neither question is asked very often.

When undertaking a new activity, we tend to focus on what we're willing to do or how much we're willing to give. Sure, these two themes are important and, in an environment without time and resource constraints or competition, sufficient. However, in a world where time, resources and individuals are finite, you need to know more.

All things being equal (skill level, talent, practice, development), the one who gives up the most to achieve her goal wins. Sure, there's never a case where all things are equal and the 'what' in "what you give up" matters. Nonetheless, time after time, I see people fail at what the say they want to accomplish simply because there are things in their lives with which they will not part.

This phenomenon pervades every endeavor from music to business to athletics to helping a child with autism. The un-relinquished items include everything from maintenance of houses and cars to self-image and pride to relationships and reputations. In some ways, everyone is alcoholic, it's just that source of "addiction" varies from sweets to a full-night's rest to how others feel about them.

To be clear, I compare the impact of these various sources of "addiction" to alcoholic's alcohol in order to convey just how powerful a hold they have on us. I don't mean to paint them as bad. It's just important to recognize that each of us has in our lives things that we loath to surrender. They vary greatly from person to person. Their influence is powerful and often subtle. Our willingness to give them up or lose them is often the deciding factor in our succeeding or not.

99% of the times that someone says, "I just don't have time for it", he does; he's just not willing to give up something that is consuming time. (Okay, it might be 98.9362%, but I rounded up.) There's always more time; it's just a question of source (not availability) and of course, priority. What will you give up in order to get the time you need.

Sometimes there's nothing to give up, at least not immediately. However, if things don't work out you might end up losing something. On several occasions when I've started new businesses, I've had to go for extended periods without income. During those intervals, I've paid the bills with savings or equity loans. If the business were not to work out, I'd be, well, broke.

The first time I did this, I was married with three teenagers. I'd have dreams at night where my business fell apart, we lost our home in foreclosure, and we were left with nothing but debt. I'd wake up in a cold sweat, my heart racing. I'd feel like I couldn't breathe. I'd walk through all the reasons I thought the business would succeed trying to reinforce my confidence.

Still, I'd have the dreams. Just thinking about the potential of losing everything began to chew up more and more of my waking day.

One day, I asked myself, "OK, so we lose everything. So what? What would you do next?"

It was as though I'd been unknowingly carrying a hundred-pound backpack and someone had just lifted it from my shoulders. Everything became easier. So we lose everything. So what?

Every one of us has things that we want to accomplish. Every one of us is compromised in our efforts because of things we're not willing to lose or give up. The effects of those things can be subtle and difficult to spot, but they're there.

What do you want to accomplish more than anything? What are you willing to lose to do so? What are you willing to give up?

Happy Wednesday,

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