You (According to Them)

Uncovering blind spots that impact your reputation and your career

Go Big or Go Home: What Is Your Approach?

How do you make key career and business decisions?

I love this saying because it conjures up images of a highly charged, “just do it” kind of person who is making things happen. On the other hand, I must admit that sometimes this phrase stops me cold in my tracks. I know the value of giving it your all, and I can intellectualize the idea of pushing through my fears and letting go of my aversion to risk. However, I also have a keen sense of my tolerance for a “burn the ships” mentality. 

Some would argue that a Go Big strategy is essential for entrepreneurs. Every day we hear stories about another 20-something who lived out of his car while working 24/7 to launch the latest and greatest new software product. Inspiring? Yes. But my reaction is a little different. Why aren’t there more stories about those who make it big, even when they occasionally make the decision to Go Home? I know they exist, and I know colleagues who have scaled their businesses without storming through every challenge using a Go Big approach. The long, conservative road to success certainly isn’t as sexy, but it can be just as effective.

As I’ve worked to grow my own business over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to consider both sides of the equation. I have made some Go Big decisions that worked out great and a few that left me with anxiety and regrets. I’ve also had some Go Home decisions that kept me wondering what opportunities I potentially lost, but those choices also protected me from undue stress and a diminishing business account. I can say, however, that my ability to discern the right time to Go Big or Go Home has gotten progressively more on target over the years. Plus, I’ve noticed an overriding pattern that has emerged. I know my proclivity to “go for it” is more prevalent when I’m in a confident mood or just landed a big contract. And, you guessed it, my propensity to lay low usually comes after losing a bid, when a scarcity mentality can creep in and make me doubt my ability to tackle the biggest challenges.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, "Can’t we use some kind of decision tree or ROI analysis before deciding to Go Big or Go Home? When speed to market is so critical today, won’t we lose money with too many Go Home decisions?" Personally I think our society is far too quick to admire and espouse the Go Big mentality. For me, it’s all about perspective.

Here are three lessons I’ve learned along my own “Go Big or Go Home” journey:

1. We can benefit from paying close attention to the experiences (both immediate and lasting) that come with each and every Go Big or Go Home decision we make. I tend to get the best results from my decisions when I combine the objective points of growing my business with the subjective impacts they will have on me (and my family).

2. Regardless of which way a decision falls, try not to dwell on it. No second-guessing or slamming yourself with “what if” questions. That time and energy could be much better spent elsewhere. I’m absolutely a work in progress here, but that’s still my goal.

3. Remember that not all decisions are at the Go Big or Go Home level. Many land somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly more comfortable with those, since they allow me to dip my toe in the water without getting completely wet. Try not to instantly escalate your decision-making stress when you really have potential options between “all in” and “all out.”

When deciding whether to act or pass on a big opportunity, we draw from our innate skills. For some, that’s a good sense of judgment, a discerning eye, and a healthy dose of caution. Others face challenges with a hearty appetite for risk, a bold temperament, and a high stress tolerance. Those who are most successful learn to blend those natural instincts with the wisdom of hindsight – past experiences and previous results. But keep in mind that not all of that wisdom is tangible. After I analyze the facts and consider the strategy for a Go Big or Go Home decision, I also pay attention to the overwhelming gut feeling that comes with the choice. Excited and full of anticipation? Or anxious and stressed? I’ve learned to listen for the difference.

How do you decide whether to Go Big or Go Home? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, career strategist and the author of a new book, You -- According to Them: Uncovering the Blind Spots that Impact Your Reputation and Your Career.

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