“It is hard to fail, but it is worse to never have tried to succeed.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“Strip or Retire” was written above the doors of Roman wrestling schools. Roman wrestlers fought in the nude, and the meaning was simple: Compete or Quit. Put yourself on the line for honour and glory, or leave. Most people can respect this risk. We inherently know that it takes a certain type of person risk their reputation, their health, and their livelihood on the chance of success. Humans have always revered those who risked all for the chance of greatness. Think of your personal heroes, mythological or human, for example Theodore Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Yukio Mishima, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Thor, and Odin. What do their stories all have in common? Risk for greatness. These are the people we read stories about and are inspired.
Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile, refers to this as, ‘skin in the game.’ Skin in the game means you have something to lose; you are taking a risk. Today, everybody is an expert, and often trying to sell you something. It is rare for someone, particularly our ‘leaders’ to have more than a superficial stake in anything. This is obvious when people discuss employment and jobs. Most are looking for a secure position, in an established company, that pays well and has very little responsibility. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does put your livelihood in someone else?’ hand.
Few want the risk of failure, especially in business. Dictionary.com defines an entrepreneur as, A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. A true entrepreneur is rare, and most that call themselves one are franchisees who have bought into a multi-level marketing company. In life you will often be urged to buy, invest, or involve yourself in someone else?s scheme; a scheme in which they have little lose, but everything to gain. I say, stand on your own two feet as much as possible, trust your own experiences above others. As Nassim Teleb says in The Black Swan, ‘If you take risks and face your fate with dignity, there is nothing you can do that makes you small; if you don’t take risks, there is nothing you can do that makes you grand, nothing.’
One of the most famous examples of this concept is the man in the arena, an idea highlighted in former-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, ‘Citizenship in a Republic.’ Roosevelt was a man of action, known for putting it all on the line. From his feats in combat sports, to being shot in the chest while giving a speech, then finishing his speech before letting the doctors look at him; he said it best:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat?”
We are in a time of critics and risk-avoidance. Keyboard warriors and armchair-experts run rampant. To truly accomplish something great, you need to step out of your comfort-zone, and into the arena. This can be a literal arena, the arena of business, the arena of family-life, or any arena that causes you to put your neck on the line for something of value.
It is important to me to have skin in the game. Not just for my own business, but also when choosing where to invest my time and energy. I am wary of anyone trying to sell me something they don’t own, or asking me to invest myself when they have nothing on the line. This is why I work under my own name. Everything I do, every person I work with is a risk to my reputation and livelihood. When coaching, or programming, for my clients, their success is a measure of my competency. This being the case, I make damn sure I understand exactly what I’m programming and recommending based on my own experiences, or experiences from those I trust.
We all have choices to make that will alter the course of our life. Each day we choose the next step. We can move towards a life of high-risk and independence, or one of low-risk and dependence. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
Now is the time to act. Strip or retire.
What is your arena?
Coach Josh Wood is a personal trainer and backpacking coach who lives in Hobart, Tasmania. Working as a Wilderness Guide in Tasmania, he noticed the amount of injuries received by guides and hikers that were completely preventable! Using his years of practical experience and knowledge he focuses on helping people have injury-free adventures that give them stories to last a lifetime.