Take a Chance
Decisions are like drinks at Starbucks. They come in three sizes: Tall, Grande, and Venti.
This decision was a Venti.
Dad was 38. He had served 20 years in the Air Force. The decision he had to make: should he stay in for another 20 years or get out now, take his retirement, and have a second career?
He’d sit at the dining room table with a pad of paper and a pen. He made a list of pros and cons. At the time of this massive decision, we lived in Alexandria, Louisiana at England Air Force Base. I was 13 years old and I remember asking Dad what he was doing. He said, “Trying to make a decision. Do I stay in the military or do I get out and go for a second career? This isn’t as easy as the first time.”
I asked, “The first time?”
Dad replied, “When I was 18, I made the decision to leave home and go into the military. I had watched your grandfather follow a mule and plow land that wasn’t his. He made a good life for me, your aunt, and your grandmother, but I knew there had to be more. I didn’t want to follow a mule all day in the burning hot sun. I knew there had to be more.”
That was the extent of the conversation. He went back to his list. Two columns filled with words as he tried to weigh the risks and rewards. He could stay in the safety of the military. Housing was provided and the community was safe. There was a hospital right on base. Plus, the friends we had were more like family, but still Dad didn’t stay.
After much consideration, he opted to retire from the Air Force and enter the private sector. He landed in the civilian world as the leader of a maintenance team at a paper mill just south of Shreveport, Louisiana. Mom and Dad bought a house and the rest is history.
Later in life, I asked Dad why he made that choice. Why did he leave the safety and comfort of the Air Force and decide to have a second career? His answer: “I had to look beyond the now. If I had stayed, I’d be getting out of the Air Force at age 55 or so. It would be easier to get a job as a 38-year-old than a 55-year-old. That one piece of information made me take the leap.”
There are so many lessons here for leaders. First, plan for the future. You can’t just look at the here and now–or as Dad used to say, “You must look beyond the nose on your face.” For a leader, if you make a decision, play it out to the end. Understand how it will impact your organization, its cash flow, and its team members five years from now. Then, play it out again, but this time 10 and 20 years from now.
Second, some decisions are gut calls. You can have all the data in the world and still not be sure. In the end, Dad took a chance. The choice he made was still a risk. There was no guarantee he would be successful, but he knew he wouldn’t be if he didn’t try. Some situations require you consider all the data but then take the leap!
Third, leaders remember the past. Remember, Dad had made the leap once before. He left home at 18 and joined the Air Force. Granted, the leap wasn’t as large. He wasn’t leaving the possibility of a grand future; however, all the same, he still made a jump.
As you encounter major decisions today, remember the ones you have made in the past. It’ll give you the perspective and courage you need to move forward. The 100 foot cliff jump isn’t as scary when you remember you successfully made the 75 foot dive. Dad had created a new life once before. That gave him some confidence that he could do it again. You’ve launched new products and formats in the past. You can do it again. Sure, there may be more at stake this time, but you have the experience to navigate it. Your history says you do.
Finally, you never know what you’re capable of until you take the chance. Dad could have stayed in the velvet prison of the Air Force. It came with all the comforts and security he needed. Yet, he left it all to create a new future. As a leader, you should have a dream–one that scares you. Just know that you’ll never achieve it by just sitting there. You must take the chance.
Failure gives you stories to tell and lessons to learn. Success gives you the opportunity to chase new dreams. Be like Dad…plan for the future, make a gutsy call, remember the past, and take a chance. Do those things and you’ll be on the path to leadership endurance.