Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Betting on Yourself

Betting on Yourself
Like so many others, I am a secret fan of "American Ninja Warrior". This is not television that you admit liking to coworkers around the water cooler. As with romantic comedies, the catalog of Katy Perry, and anything from KFC, American Ninja Warrior ought to be enjoyed in private, behind closed doors with the curtains drawn, and then should never be spoken of again. Like a lot of television, the show is a copy of a copy: the original program is from Japan, but NBC has kept the general format. Fit people from across the US try to complete an impossible series of obstacle courses, failing spectacularly as they careen into padded walls and then splash awkwardly into the water below. Competitors hurl themselves across chasms to grab comically small hand-holds mid-flight, propel themselves over water via trampolines, and, no joke, must run up a curved fourteen foot high wall just to complete the qualifying round. In the show's history, no American has even made it to the fourth and final course, let alone completed it. I find it strangely motivating to watch. It is the only show that gets me off the couch to do push-ups and ab workouts during the commercials. With all these athletes attempting the impossible, I mysteriously get off my tuchus and onto the living room floor.


Last night featured the competitor that has made it the furthest of any American so far, Brian Arnold, who nearly completed the third of four courses in 2013. Here is a video of his run:


So when Brian Arnold came on to the show this year to compete again, he shared that he quit his job as a maintenance director in order to train for the show full time, hoping to win the $500,000 prize "to help provide them [his family] with a better life". Arnold noted that he didn't have enough time to work, to train, and to spend time with his family, so the career was the thing that fell by the wayside. He's betting on himself to win the half million. I am floored by the guts it must take to make a bet like that. I have no idea what he was making as a maintenance director at a nursing home, of course. But the fact that no one has even attempted the final fourth of the courses makes it a longshot, by definition.

Of course, Brian Arnold's gotten farther than any American to this point. If you had to bet on someone, he's the odds-on favorite. And it's a unique opportunity. Arnold can literally bet on himself to win a half million, with no money on the line except lost wages. Assuming he might give up $50k in pay, if he thinks full time training will give him a better than 10% chance of winning, the math says to quit his job and take the risk. (Ignoring the higher taxes on a half million of earned income.)

Still, believing that the math says you should take the long shot for the big payoff is one thing -- finding the courage to pull the trigger is another. At least Brian Arnold is taking a risk for the chance of a half million. The two times I've left a good situation to make a big bet, there wasn't any guaranteed pay day at the end of it. When I was nineteen, I dropped out of college to move to California with my girlfriend at the time. The reason? I was unhappy at my school, dumb and in love with some girl, and wanted a change. So I gave up a quality education at a private college in the hope that I'd someday be accepted to an inexpensive California public university. The rub is that I had no car, no job prospects, a weak resume, and about two thousand in cash to my name. In the end, it all worked out. I miraculously found two jobs at the first two places I walked to that first week in San Diego, and worked both jobs at the same time to save up for my first car. (Financed at 21% interest!) After a few months, I was able to go to school in the evenings for free after getting a full time job at the university.

Fast forward nine years, and I was engaged to Mrs. Done by Forty. We had a good life in San Diego with steady jobs, but she got a good opportunity to go to graduate school in another state. So off we went, again with no job prospects but a little more money in the bank this time around. Still, it was 2009 so it was a lot harder to find good work in the middle of a recession. After two months I was able to land a contract position that went through the end of the year. I figured if I impressed the right people, maybe there would be a full time position at the end of it. Eventually there was an opening, I applied and was hired, after a year I was promoted, and suddenly we were making more in low-cost Arizona than we were in ultra-expensive California. Once again, we were fortunate, and the bet paid off.

But these things only look rosy in retrospect. At the time, the decisions were risky. And while I initially scoffed at Brian Arnold's decision to quit his job to try to bank a half million via an obstacle course television show, maybe it's the right bet for him, even if it's a long shot. Betting on yourself is the result of, and somehow the catalyst for, a confidence in one's abilities. The action requires a belief in yourself, and can then can reinforce and grow that same belief. It's why I have so much admiration for entrepreneurs. Often all they have is a good idea and the confidence that they'll somehow find a way to bring it to fruition. Don't we have to root for people like that?

So if you're sitting around on a Monday night and are in need of a little inspiration, draw the curtains and turn on NBC. You might catch Brian Arnold making a run over spinning logs and leaping through the air towards swinging ropes, hoping his gamble pays off. I, for one, wouldn't bet against him.


*Photos is from Jamie in Bytown at Flickr Creative Commons.

49 comments:

  1. I had to laugh when I saw this, as my boyfriend was watching the show last night. I was blown away he quit his job to train full-time, and I couldn't help but shake my head. But I'm one to talk, as I'm following a similar path with moving and not having a job. I know a few people think I was foolish for doing so, but in the end, I felt it was a risk worth taking. Great takeaway, and I hope Brian goes far. He seemed pretty nice next to some of the other obnoxious people on there.

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    1. Andrew: Agreed, that ER doc is a toolbox. But he's a freak of an athlete.

      EM (and Andrew): I'm so glad I'm not alone in watching this show. I love it for all the right reasons: it's inspirational, kind of sappy, and gets people to push their limits.

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  2. I stopped my college studies because of a young woman I was madly in love with. We traveled over a thousand miles by car and started to plan our lives together in a new location. It quickly unravelled. Fast forward to today...I found my best friend, completed college and have been married to her for almost 3 decades. First woman? She got divorced with 2 kids, moved hundred of miles again and remarried. I consider myself lucky that I dodged the bullet called divorce...and all the financial drag it inflicts on your net worth. I'm confident that I wouldn't have been able to retire early if I had continued that original relationship. So be careful with those long bets.

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    1. Man, that's a nutty story. Funny how things can work out sometimes, right? I didn't end up with that girl I moved out to CA with. But without that move, I wouldn't have met my wife. All's well that ends well!

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  3. Haha, that show was on at a Memorial Day party we went to - first time I had ever seen it and it looked ridiculous!
    As for betting on yourself, we've definitely been there and done that, and to a certain extent it feels a little weird knowing that if we just ride our now stable jobs out for another 5 or so years we'll be done forever... it'll be our longest period of stability or without a big "bet" in the history of our relationship (now going on 10 years). But I guess getting to that point and then following our dreams and giving up the stability will be a bet in and of itself.

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    1. True, taking the leap to FI is huge gamble in its own right, Mrs. Pop. Maybe not in a financial sense, as I'm sure you two will be prepared. But it's a leap of faith to leave that early, and trust in yourself, and believe that it's all really for the best.

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  4. I've seen some of that show (don't tell anyone) and I'm so impressed what these athletes can do! I can't even traverse the monkey bars! I would say the higher the stakes, the more it's crazy and risky to do something. If you have a family and you support them, then quitting to take such a gamble seems irresponsible. But if you don't have a lot of obligations, then I'd say go for it!

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    1. I was kind of on the fence with Brian's decision, for the reason you noted, Tonya: he does have a family. I don't know how reliant the family was on his income, but I'm assuming that income was used for some necessities. Anyway, I generally just admire him, mostly because I don't know if I could do the same.

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  5. I've never heard of this show, but just watched the video clip and that was seriously SICK! When he was at that last section with the metal pipe I couldn't believe it. I don't even want to know the strength and concentration that it would require to complete that section, especially after the previous sections of the course. Absolutely ridiculous. That guy is a freak athlete.

    At first I misread and thought the clip was from AFTER he quit his job to train. But then I realized it was from before quitting his job. I'm watching on Monday!

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    1. Agreed, DC. The course is ridiculous. Each of the previous stages is a little different, too, so certain athletes have a harder time in each stage. It really takes a well rounded athlete to make it through...maybe a decathelon runner would do well.

      I hope you like the show!

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  6. PSH Ninja warrior is awesome. I've watched it in groups before. But the thing that has me on the floor working out on commercial breaks is Oprah specials on spectacularly obese people.
    I think we should bet on ourselves. Even if it turns out to be a bad bet, at least you're left with so many less regrets. Glad yours have turned out well!

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    1. I really need to check out old episodes of Oprah. I've never seen the show somehow.

      You're right about the aspect of regret. We rarely kick ourselves when we go for something.

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  7. OK... first of all... there really is a show called "American Ninja Warrior?!?!" And why is "American" in the title if no American has ever won it? I'm confused... Are the Japanese just kicking our butts or what?

    But seriously, my general opinion on this sort of thing is that people put WAY too much stock in "playing by the rules." I'm constantly amazed when I hear things about people relocating to different cities for the sake of a job, or making other life altering decisions based solely on what is "best" for their career. Seriously?!? Have people really swallowed the kool-aid to this extent?

    Perhaps I'm just a hippie radical, but the way I see it, there are always opportunities out there for making money, and money is such a small piece of what makes life worth living anyhow. The real trick is to construct a life that isn't dependent on a paycheck. But I guess people have much more than money wrapped up in the whole deal... it's like people have been tricked into believing that their entire identity and self worth are somehow contained in their job title.

    It just makes me want to shout.., "Stand up, people!!! Cast of the yokes of your corporate oppressors!!! You are more than an employee... you are a human being... an actual living, breathing, thinking entity and you are capable of providing for yourself!!!"

    OK... perhaps I'm taking this a tad bit too seriously. At any rate, I say Go Brian Arnold! I'm betting that the endorsements alone are probably worth more than his average annual salary, and if not, he can always parlay his star power into a career as a personal trainer! :-)

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    1. LOVE your points, EcoCatLady. I sometimes find myself lingering on the lucrative out-of-state jobs that I would be perfect for when I'm on LinkedIn (having left employment two years ago), but at the end of the day - taking a long shot for your family, memories, happiness, zen, etc, seems to be a much better bet than the big bet on career "success". I gave up at least $100K of income over the past two years (earning much less on my own) and it was worth every penny.

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    2. EcoCatLady: Yeah, the original show was Japanese, and there have been several spin-offs. Like American Idol, you know? Anyway, I really like your take. I do think you're onto something, too...the reason I'd find it so hard to leave my job voluntarily has something to do with not feeling 100% confident in being able to earn at this level again. The opportunity costs could be huge. Of course, who's to say I might not earn more? (Bottom line: I'm risk averse. I know it and own it. No way would I leave the steady salary to try to win $500k.)

      Emily: That's an awesome perspective, and one I wish I had sometimes. I really enjoy the security of the steady paycheck, even if it comes with a golden handcuff. But a part of me wishes I were an entrepreneur like you.

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  8. What a shame I can’t seem to watch this clip from Australia – it sounds pretty hard-core! Good on him for having a go and bringing some excitement to the world!

    Betting on yourself is a great thing, but you also have to be prepared to live with the downside if it doesn’t work out. That’s what risk is all about, in investing and in life. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re the most rational of creatures at the best of times, and emotions can make us think and do some crazy things!

    Not to say we shouldn’t ever just go for some things that feel right – after all, it sounds like your experiences betting on yourself weren’t necessarily based on a ‘rational’ cost / benefit analysis with full information, but you made it work. There is something amazing about backing yourself and having the confidence that you can make it work out, and the resilience to ride whatever waves come your way.

    Another fantastic, thought provoking post DB40!

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    1. Thanks so much for that comment, Jason. I'm sorry you can't see the clip but maybe you'll have more luck at NBC.com(?)

      You make a good point about understanding the downside. After all, we're more likely to hear about the risky bets that payed off. We rarely want to share the times we took a big swing and missed...

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  9. Good for him! I think that we put to much into to the notion of security and comfort. It's nice to see someone really push themselves and put it on the line. Life deserves something more than simply feeling secure.

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    1. Security is one of my bugaboos. I'm risk averse, and I know it. I try to own it as much as I can and just admit that I'm going to err to the side of caution. But your last sentence is a truth, no doubt. A really secure life isn't all that satisfying.

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  10. I think we bet on ourselves each day, now to the extreme of giving up your job to train, that one is few and far between. A great example of betting on yourself is when people start blogging full-time. I only have a small bet on myself right now, but I'm betting each day so it's growing.

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    1. That's a cool example, Steven. I bet your endeavor pays off, when you take the leap.

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    2. Thanks DBF, that's the plan/bet at least!

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  11. AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR! Haha...it's so funny when the host says it right before the commercial breaks. I didn't think I'd like it but my wife and I are hooked. I did see the guy who quit his job and I thought he was crazy for doing that. Maybe you have a point though...a half million dollars might be worth the bet if he thinks he is a top contender. Although he just had to qualify, there were many others who went through the course with a lot more confidence and quickness. It's possible that he's saving that for the finals...we'll see.

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    1. Ha! I totally mock that voice when the announcer goes to commercial. It's ridiculous!

      I agree with your assessment of Arnold though. He didn't look like the strongest competitor. Still, sometimes these guys running through the course in record time confuse me -- at this stage, you are guaranteed to move on if you finish. So time doesn't matter, right? Seems like taking your time is only prudent.

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  12. Um, I will happily admit to loving shows like this - especially that Japanese one that is dubbed over while they do the crazy obstacle courses.

    Risk is a hard thing to really judge. Personally, the entire direction of my life sort of took off when I just up and moved to California on a whim after a bad breakup. With no job and no plan. It was pretty much psychotic. And it could've ended really badly...

    On the flip side, it does seem like well educated, prepared, hard workers who take risks often, though not always, find they pay off. People with no motivation who just go spinning off into the universe tend to fail.

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    1. I know that show you're talking about! It's just the right amount of offensive. Again, only to be enjoyed in private.

      There's a lot to what you're saying. People who are mobile do tend to be more successful, but I think their geographic mobility is often the result of being more educated and skilled. The moving around might be a mere correlation.

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    2. Jim Russel writes an awesome blog about mobility, if you're into that sort of thing:

      http://burghdiaspora.blogspot.com/

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  13. I remember years ago when my friend first showed me the original version of this show - so addicting and inspiring! Betting on yourself is very scary at the time. I'm not sure if I would be able to do such a thing, I'm a wuss when it comes to going all-in!

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    1. Me, too, Lisa. The times I look back on when I made a big bet, I think, man, would I have the guts to do that again now? I don't think so. I had very little to lose back then.

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  14. OMG I LOVE American Ninja Warrior!! I love it so much that I started tearing up when Kacy finally made it up that wall as the first woman competitor to do so (and was equally emotional when the rock climber the following week did the same thing)! I haven't seen this week's episode yet, but that's pretty gutsy of Brian to quit his job to train full time. You figure now's the time to do it, because his 'window period' might be limited, you know? Sure, there are people in their 50's and so that have amazingly competed, but I do kind of think that he's in his peak moment so it kind of makes sense for him to do what he did? Whatever the case, it will be so exciting to see what happens this season!

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    1. Yay! Another American Ninja Warrior fan. I'll admit that it got a little dusty in my living room when Kacy finally got up the wall. (We need to get a dehumidifier, I think, or less emotional TV.) A lot of those stories are pretty inspirational.

      I agree that Brian's window might only be open for a short time. Look how quickly Brent Stefenson's run ended...

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    2. OMG I know! I was surprised when he didn't make it through! I watched this week's episode - so excited a third woman made it! She was awesome!

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    3. LOL at the room getting 'dusty' btw :)

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    4. Agreed! It's great to see so many females completing the course. I think it's a bit like the 4 minute mile barrier -- once you see one person complete it, then a bunch of people follow all at once.

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  15. Great post--thought-provoking and funny! Not to oversimplify, but I rather think that if you don't bet on yourself, no one else will either. There are certainly degrees of risk that should inform a decision, but I applaud those who pursue the unusual.

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    1. Very well put, Mrs. Frugalwoods. If you don't have faith in you, how can anyone else?

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  16. Good stuff. While considering the odds is a huge part of success, there are inflection points in your life where you have to throw them out the window and just believe that you "can." I have that thought every time I walk into a KFC.

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    1. Ha! You've inspired me, Joe. I've avoided KFC's Double Down to this point, not knowing whether my body could take it. But today, for lunch...I'm going for it.

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  17. How dare you compare American Ninja Warrior to Katy Perry! The blasphamy! That show rocks. I think Brian is nuts, but in retrospect, I've made some pretty crazy decisions too. I have to say though, that break dancer kid, the cowboy and a few others looked like they're going to give Brian a run for his money though.

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    1. Yes, definitely. There are a lot of competitors who look on par with Brian. Still, that third stage requires a certain amount of upper body strength and endurance that I'm not sure a lot of the athletes have.

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  18. That's a lot of guts, moving across county with a girl and giving up a private college. I always imagine how life's turns make the rest of your life totally different. Some of my friends went to jail, and some not, it's all up to where you were at any given time.

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    1. There's definitely a degree of luck involved. I am fortunate to not have gone down the same path as some of my old friends.

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  19. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to get things done. You notice how things always work out for some people and yet other always fail. I'm betting you'll be done by forty.

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    1. Thanks, Charles! If you're betting on me, I have a pretty good chance.

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  20. I've always been flying by the seat of my pants in my life so faith and trust in myself has been everything. Thankfully, it's all worked out... so far ;)

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    1. And it always will, I think. You're the kind of person who makes her own luck.

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  21. This TV show looks brilliant!

    We have a far more wussy and comical version over here called Total Wipeout (think there is a US version of that as well). One of our friends went on it and you definitely don't have to be an athlete to get on! But he got a free trip to Argentina out of it, which is pretty cool.

    Betting on yourself like that is something I admire greatly yet have to admit I've never really done, I've always followed the safe route... This might change over the next few years tho ;)

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    1. We have Wipeout here, and it's like a less competitive, less athletic, but more fun version. It's kind of a goof, but still entertaining.

      We generally pretty safe, too. But sometimes it's the right thing to do to put it on the line. Maybe we'll both be taking that "leap" to FI around the same time. :)

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