Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: Don’t Die Not Knowing

May 15, 2010 7:18:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

If there is something you’d really like to do, now is the time to measure it, then if it is anything short of fatal, do it. [more]

It’s 1988. I’m golfing with David Wilson, who started and for 25 years owned a very successful advertising agency in Orlando, Florida, called Fraley and Wilson.

My brother, Miller, introduced us shortly after I’d been fired from my job as an advertising executive. I was looking for advice and Dave was kind enough to spend most of a day with me exploring my options.

Dave had spent his younger years as an ad executive in the big Chicago agencies. Since I’d worked in a big New York shop, we had a lot in common. Most of the day was spent reviewing my employment options. Then I described the concept I had for starting my own business.

At the end of it all, as we were parting, I asked Dave, “What would you do if you were me?”

He said, “I did it... I opened a business.”

I said, “Why?”

He said that in the end, it was this simple: He had to take the risk of starting his own business because he didn’t want to die not knowing if he might have succeeded on his own.”

“Look,” Dave said, “it is more likely you’ll fail than you’ll succeed. That’s simply how small business works in the USA.

But you’re 35, you’re a hard worker and if you do fail it won’t be fatal.

On the other hand, if you don’t try, you may find yourself on your deathbed wondering ‘what might have happened if I’d have opened a business of my own?’”

I did about six months of due diligence with several dozen other successful entrepreneurs like Dave but this comment was among two or three that have stayed with me my whole life.

It would be hard to count how many times as my business grew that I’d look back on Dave’s counsel and give thanks. (OK, sometimes I cursed him too, but that was only on the real bad days.)

Fast forward to 2010; I’m recounting this story to a friend who says to me, “Tim, that phrase should apply to many, many things in our lives”.


He continued by saying that for his own life,

“I think I shouldn’t die not knowing whether I could have played the piano.

I shouldn’t die not knowing if my family thought I was around them enough.

I think I shouldn’t die not knowing if I could bungee jump.

I shouldn’t die not knowing if I could have gotten another degree.”

What interesting friends I hang out with!

And so here I am wondering again what I might look back on, satisfied in success or failure, when I’m even older and grayer than I am.

I’m not so interested in a “bucket list”, like his bungee jumping, but I’m real interested in considering what else I should try to accomplish while here on our mother earth.

For me, maybe I’ll finally decide to play my guitar and sing in front of a major audience. I’ve done this all my life in churches and family outings and bars but I’ve never risked really working hard on a real show.

The risk of getting booed or cheered in a real professional setting paralyses me when I consider it. Also, the realization of just how hard I would have to practice to get good enough to succeed makes me want to go take a nap.

But wouldn’t it be better to know I just didn’t have the talent it takes if I fail? I’d still be proud that I tried. Like Dave Wilson told me, it wouldn’t be fatal.

What should you find out that you will otherwise die not knowing? Is there anything you’ve always wondered if you could do? Is there something your organization has wanted to try but the risk seems too great?

If so, write it up, measure the risk and if it’s not likely to be fatal, take a shot at it.

I’ll end with a small portion of our quote of this month on www.thebusinessofgood.org. You’ve probably heard it but it bears repeating. It’s from Theodore Roosevelt.

“…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

By the way, please remember to check our website monthly. It’s always attached to this eletter. All of its referred articles, humor, music and book recommendations are freshened up the beginning of each month. This eletter goes out twice monthly.

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Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Personal Well-Being, Business & Entrepreneurship, Organizational & Operational Excellence

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy