Philip Cao

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Life (and Your Career) Is Not a Spectator Sport

4 min read


Jackie Robinson, the world-famous baseball star, once said, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.”

Your career and mine may not have the cultural significance that Jackie’s did, but how many of us accidently, or metaphorically, spend our lives or careers in the comfort zone of the grandstands? Watching and waiting for something to happen. We turn and talk to our fellow grandstanders about what “woulda, shoulda, coulda” been. They silently concur and resume watching, waiting.

“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” –“Time” from the 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

Some of the best, most rewarding things in our lives and our careers come in unexpected ways. We are taught that success and winning are everything. However, which one of two equally talented individuals learns more and works harder to improve:  the person who makes the game-winning play or the person who fails? The winner is carried off on teammates’ shoulders. The non-winner walks alone. The winner may have been skilled, a good guesser or simply lucky, but the “learning moment” is lost in the jubilation. The driven non-winner will be reviewing video, talking to coaches and working on being better.

“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” –Muhammad Ali

My point is this:  Who do you think comes back stronger? Which one steps out of the grandstand and pushes harder? Delivers more? My second and more important point:  which one are you? Do you join an organization or company and then metaphorically sit in the safety of the grandstands? Or do you actively jump in with both feet and participate by stepping out of your comfort zone?

And Now, a Short, But Related Story
I joined ISACA because a friend, the chapter president, asked me to help him do more with the local chapter. As a chief technology evangelist/CIO, it was not at the top of my list of organizations to join, much less be on its board. In my time running large IT shops, I worked closely with a lot of internal and external auditors—some good, some not so good. In my head, my confirmation biasthe tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions—kicked in, and I still saw ISACA as simply an “IT auditing” organization. It is a reasonable assumption that auditors have a similar opinion or bias toward IT professionals.

Over the first few months, while I familiarized myself with the global ISACA organization, its offerings and its direction, a funny thing happened. The people were very giving and sharing. They freely talked about the challenges of being “perceived as a burden,” a “tax collector,” and as “paper tigers.” They wanted to do their jobs as well as they could for their companies and clients. They were very open to understanding the perspective of a “recovering CIO.” Constructively, I gave them both barrels from the IT perspective. Instead of wincing or recoiling defensively, they leaned in and said, “How can we (IT, info sec, the business, and audit) work better together?”

Well folks, I have to admit, I am a sucker for anyone attempting to focus on the business or people side of the equation and work together for the betterment of the business organization. So, I jumped out of the grandstands, gulped down the Kool-Aid, and said,“Put me in, coach!” I became much more involved in several areas beyond those assigned to me. The personal growth was incalculable. Not only did I get some very fresh perspectives on stale thoughts, but I also gained a renewed sense of adventure. Yes, adventure with auditors! This new sense of adventure culminated in March when our chosen delegate to the 2016 ISACA Global Leadership Summit was injured and the chapter turned to me. My old reaction would have sounded a little like, “Um, let’s see…um…400 auditors you say?… three days?…oh, yeah, I just remembered…”

Instead, I went to the Lisbon event and found 400 chapter leaders from over 80 countries, all attempting to “make things better.” It was three days of work, but I met some really extraordinary individuals from around the globe. Their insights and approaches to challenges, challenges the normal American would never face, were simply inspiring. That combined with a global organization attempting to reinvent itself and address the needs of the new era by reaching out to professionals, members, etc., made the experience a truly rewarding one.

NONE of these great experiences would have happened had I sat and watched from the grandstands.

The meta-message:
Changing up US President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote a little, my advice is this:

“Ask not what an organization can do for you, but rather what you can do for the organization.”

Pick one organization inside or outside your comfort zone. Join. Contribute. Expand. Excel!

Editor’s note:  Blair Baker serves as 1903 Solutions’ chief technology evangelist, ghost-executive, catalystic optimizer, interdepartmental liaison, speaker and coach.

Blair Baker, Chief Technology Evangelist /CIO, 1903 Solutions LLC

[ISACA Now Blog]

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2006-2022 Philip Hung Cao. All rights reserved