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.