Go big or go home is probably one of the most played out phrases in our current society. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one of my all time favorites. I love it because it represents much of my life and my way of thinking. To my wife’s dismay the older I get the more “Going Big” has become my mantra. I tell her all the time, Babe I’ve only got 35- 40 years left I want to make sure the second half is better than the first. I’m not positive but I think she’s only got a couple of my big ideas left before she packs up and heads for the border. In that case I’d better choose wisely.
I’ve always been a dreamer. So much so, that my grade school teachers were constantly telling my parents, Eli is present in class but he’s not really here. I love coming up with massive goals and then running scenarios and contingencies over and over until I come up with multiple solid pathways to get there. One of my favorite parts of the entire process is sharing my ideas with others and then listening to the haters and doubters explain to me why it’s a bad idea, or telling me that I had better have a back up plan. I’ve noticed a trend within this crowd. Most of the time they are people who have never accomplished much of anything in life. The rest of them that have accomplished a desirable level of status or return, protect and defend it like it’s all the gold in Ft. Knox. It kind of makes sense when you really think about it. You see, anyone who has ever become successful can usually rattle off a whole laundry list of failures or set backs but more importantly what they have learned from them. That’s often not the case with this risk averse group. It’s pretty easy to lack a list of failures and more importantly lessons learned when you never step outside of the old comfort zone and take a chance. Why don’t people take more chances or “Go Big” every once and a while? In my humble opinion I would argue that the leading cause is FEAR. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of how much further the fall is from Success Mountain than from Mediocre Mole Hill. Does this mean that I am never afraid? Absolutely not! Within the last month I went very big on something and it definitely rattled me a bit. It did not stop me though. I believe that is the very definition of courage. It’s not the lack of fear but the ability to press on despite it.
This doesn’t mean I am a huge advocate of throwing caution to the wind at every turn, regardless of the odds. Quite the contrary, you see, I pray a lot about ALL big decisions I make and I always float my ideas past trusted team members and advisors. I also try to run through as many of the undesirable outcomes that might arise from this new challenge and then figure out ways that WE can deal with them. Notice how I used the word WE there. I never go big alone. We call making this list of undesirable outcomes or situations and then coming up with solutions for them contingency planning in the military. I personally think this type of planning is far more valuable than the initial plan. Many people will get to this point when all the planning is done and really struggle to pull the trigger and take a chance. If you’re reading this blog I will let you in on a little secret, control is an illusion! Those that think they are in control are the most delusional of us all. Most of us are told from a young age to study hard, get good grades, and go to college so we can get a good job, with what….? With benefits. Most of us are given these instructions and this routine road map for success from our risk averse parents who were taught the very same thing. At the very root of this advice is security. I’m not saying security as if it’s a bad word. Far from it. There is also nothing wrong with going to college or getting a good job. The only thing typically wrong with this methodology is that it often values safety and security over all else. It’s really difficult to “Go Big” and shoot for the stars when you have made safety and security your bedrock and priority. When people young and old are raised under this guidance they often lack the courage, support and know how to take a swing at something big that comes along. I would argue that my early disdain for traditional education and career paths allowed me the freedom to get out, fall flat on my face and make mistakes. Yes, I did just get completely unconventional and reference making mistakes in a positive light. I think the lack of this very understanding is the leash holding so many, with so much potential back. You see, I didn’t understand the level of commitment it was going to take to become a SEAL until I took a chance, joined the Navy and volunteered for training. Sure, when I was dropped from training it was one of the most physically painful and mental setbacks I had ever experienced but the gold mine of lessons learned in that failure has proven to be priceless. How about the first time I sat down with a real investor and pitched my amazing product the Bottle Breacher.
I will never forget sitting down with Mr. Irving, a very successful man and bombing the Q and A portion of the pitch. He had so many sophisticated business questions that I had zero answers for. He gave me the soft let down and told me he would advise me but it was very clear that he was not interested in investing. Sadly, this set back would have crushed many of you. You would have come home and said, I am no good at this. Or, he is right about my idea or my business. I love the saying in the movie The Way of The Gun, where Ryan Philippe says; “A plan is a list of things that doesn’t happen.” The funny thing about this saying is that one of Mr. Irving’s biggest critiques of my pitch was that I had no written business plan. My plan was in my head and lacked the typical ROI’s, COGS and all the other acronyms typically found in a professional business plan. If you’re a real student of any game you will find a whole lot of truth in the movie quote from Way of the Gun. I noticed it in special operations going on missions how often the initial plan had to be radically adjusted or completely scrapped after Murphy’s Law showed up. It might have been a navigation computer going down or our Intel led us to the wrong house or maybe that time that we rolled a truck on base because the dust from our convoy was so heavy that the vehicle driver drove off the road and rolled down a hill. That was embarrassing. I’ve also noticed the same to be true in business. This might be less encouraging than desired to some of you who tend to lean towards being risk averse. The point is simply this; the only thing you can count on for sure is that their will be unknowns and curve balls that arise. No amount of planning will change this. In both of those scenarios, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The only way for me to figure it out was to take a swing and then figure out why I had missed and then make the necessary adjustments. When you make the decision to “Go Big” a plan should be in place but your ability to adapt, be flexible and more importantly be resilient will be much more important than your plan.
For me “Going Big isn’t all about what I love about it. It is probably even more about what I hate. I hate the thought of letting my fears of the unknown, failure and humiliation define me. I hate the thought of squandering my time and opting for safer and more stable options in life, because I cannot deal with the possible negative outcomes. I hate the thought of being an old man in my rocking chair, and never getting asked by my grandchildren, “how did you do it Grandpa, weren’t you scared?” I want to make sure I’ve done my part to teach them that life is too short and that we all die, but some of us really never live. Most importantly, I want them to understand that “Going Big” can be scary, but it’s not nearly as scary as realizing that you’ve lived your entire life in fear and that you have very little to show for it.