It’s a favorite American story, isn’t it? The come from behind victory… The scrappy kid with a million-dollar idea everyone said wouldn’t work…
I swear, something about beating the odds is in our national DNA, if there is such a thing. It doesn’t matter what your race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference and meat-eating status are – we all love stories of those who beat the odds.
Maybe you don’t even have to be American.
Sometimes I wish I knew how many committed dreamers with stars in their eyes didn’t succeed in the end. They kept knocking away, but the doors never opened and they just followed their vision right off a cliff. I wonder how much damage misguided visionaries do to themselves and those around them.
But I don’t wonder too long. The prospect of a long-shot win almost always makes my heart go pitter-pat. I’m honestly energized by projects that, from a realistic perspective, aren’t quite do-able. It’s always satisfying to complete a significant amount of work, but when I wasn’t really sure how I was going to get it all done, the feeling is even better.
I know this isn’t exactly a healthy attitude. Anyone who’s ever watched a war movie knows you can’t keep volunteering for suicide missions and not expect a little truth in labeling to kick in eventually.
Beating the odds every time is also a statistical impossibility. I might not have that firm a grip on statistics, but I’m sure the Las Vegas casinos do, and they seem to be doing just fine by working with probability, rather than against it.
But the thing is, these days, the economy being what it still is, you kind of have to believe you can beat the odds if you want to have a rewarding career, or even find a job in the first place.
So I’m wondering if there’s a more healthy, or sustainable way, to harness this love of beating the odds.
Sociologist and author Larry Kersten once wrote, “Before you attempt to beat the odds, be sure you could survive the odds beating you.”
I think that’s a good place to start. For example, before I decide to squeeze in another project, I need to make sure that it doesn’t require I burn the candle at both ends for so long I turn into some mushy kind of middle-something.
And all of us can look twice when we’re contemplating a long-shot opportunity – some of them will be longer than others. Any new endeavor, like a start-up, doesn’t have good odds on the face of it.
But certain characteristics will make some bets better than others, such as the people involved, their track record, the business plan, the competitive environment and so on.
In other words, rather than making a habit of trying to beat the odds, maybe we can just try analyzing them first.
by Danielle Dresden