I recently met a man with an exciting idea for a new business. When I encouraged him to start it, he told me that he just had too much to lose: a seemingly stable job, a growing nest egg, and a family.
He had decided to play it safe. Attempting to grow his idea might cost his current job and a sense of security.
It reminded me of watching basketball as a kid.
I loved watching the Tar Heels and young players like Michael Jordan and his teammates during the first half of a game. They seemed to hover in mid air and move the ball in unexpected ways. Their display of athletic talent was an art form.
The second half of a game was an entirely different story. With a large lead, the innovators became pragmatists. They traded scoring points and making plays for running out the clock and avoiding mistakes. Commentators praised their young coach, Dean Smith, for his very reasonable strategy. He spread the players out into a “four corners” offense where they passed the ball around in an effort to protect their lead by running out the clock.
In the NFL, we see a similar strategy.
It’s called a “prevent defense.” Late in the game, the team with the lead becomes more interested in running out the clock than trying to score points. Playing it safe might be a sensible strategy in some sports, but it is not very exciting to watch.
This type of conservative play only works within the confines of a game limited by a known amount of time and a scoreboard where points can be earned and not lost.
Think about it, track has no equivalent. Runners during a mile race may pace themselves, but they never stop running because they are ahead. The race is not about who is leading the pack after a pre-determined amount of time.
A race is about finishing well.
No points are granted for the leader at the end of each lap. Runners cannot score by gaining the lead, holding the lead, or passing an opponent. The only measurement is at the finish and there is great joy not only in finishing first but also setting new records.
The desire to use a “four corners offense” or “prevent defense” in our lives can be strong. We rack up a few points in school, some more at our job, and a few more with our families, then want to sit on our lead. We try to run out the clock only making safe, predictable moves.
The problem with such a strategy is that we really are not actually sitting on a lead, and we have no idea when the buzzer will sound ending our time on earth. The points one may think they have scored are not static features: wealth can be lost and relationships require continual attention. The bottom line is:
Life is not about scoring points or using up time.
We should live more like runners. We should live the life before us with less regard for cultural scoreboards or an actuarial clock. We should be focused on running in a way that we might win the prize.
When I remember Jordan’s amazing plays, I never recall his passes from the four corners. I think about his no-look passes and acrobatic dunks.
To reduce the impact of the four corners offensive, basketball created a “shot clock” that limits the amount of time any team can use this delay strategy. Playing it safe might work for games of leisure, but it is no way to live life.
I want to live like each moment matters.
Sometimes that might involve staying put and being faithfully present in my current situation and sometimes it may mean taking a new risk. I never want to miss taking a shot at loving others or making wrong things right.
So, I am trying to surround myself with people who will serve as my relational shot clock – people who encourage me to live intentionally and to sprint the finish. Ask yourself today: where do you need to take action rather than playing the “prevent defense” in your life?
John Richmond will be teaching a breakout session on Telling a Better Story as a Parent at Storyline Conference at the end of this month. Register today to join us in Chicago!