There is a long running trivia game show here in the US that goes by the name of Jeopardy. Perhaps you have heard about it? Growing up, it was understood in my house that when it was on you were either paying attention and trying to answer the questions before the contestants (or anyone else in the family room) or you were outside. We were allowed to shout, but we had to at least try to answer the questions. Those watching would not accept any interruption.
I found my way outside more than a few times (Wheel of Fortune was more of my game), however my older sister took this time seriously and the rules seriously. Her ability to absorb useless trivia puts my toddler’s old diapers to shame. It didn’t surprise me at all then when I learned that she had earned the right to be an actual contestant on the show, and not the watered down teen or celebrity edition either, I mean the real “After an 1891 Roulette Run, Charles Well was known as ‘the man who broke the bank at’ this place” version.
She got off to a slow start (malfunctioning buzzer was partly to blame), but then dominated a whole category. Even the host sounded a little stunned by her performance. (Seriously – how many people know the full breed names of dogs owned by European royalty outside of breeders, the American Kennel Club, or international equivalent? More importantly – why do these people know that?). She was securely in second place in the final round with the possibility of taking the win. The music ended, and her final answer was shown. She nailed it! Then they revealed her wager. It hadn’t been enough for her to take over the top position. She remained in second place. Her run was over.
We knew how well she fared before the show aired, but still we watched hoping for a different outcome. She explained her strategy for her wager in the final round. She had gone into the game determined not to finish third and had wagered accordingly. As a result, second place good enough and second place was what she achieved.
I am extremely proud of my sister. She was brave enough to go on national television and show off exactly how nerdy she could be. She managed to achieve one of her childhood dreams and she was good at it — but she could have been great. She fell into the trap of thinking that in order to succeed, failure couldn’t be an option and as a result she played it safe rather than playing to win.
All of this happened several years ago. She and I had barely started our respective careers, and I definitely wasn’t realistically considering pursuing anything remotely entrepreneurial, but it was a lesson that stuck with me.
It made me realize that third place isn’t that bad as long as you gave it your all, and it doesn’t mean you can’t try again (real life is more forgiving than a game show in that regard). The risk of failure is always there, whether you accept that it is an option or not. You can play it safe, and it can still find you. My sister taught me that sometimes if you want to be the best you can be, you have to be willing to risk it all.