Alright, I’ll just say it: I’m a lousy free throw shooter.
I love playing basketball. And I don’t mind telling you, for an aging, balding (ok, bald), not-really-all-that-athletic-to-begin-with, knee brace-wearing, father of three, I have a pretty mean jump shot.
But free throws? There I have the soft touch and accuracy of an ill-tempered panda tossing frozen turkeys at a barn door.
Luckily, and as a practical matter, free throws (or foul shots, as they are often called) don’t play a big role in my basketball life. We don’t play with referees, and so if someone hits you, you just yell “foul” and you get the ball back.
The only time they come into play, frankly, is at the end of each game. At that point, and if your team loses, we shoot free throws to determine who plays next and who sits.
If it goes in, you play. If it doesn’t, you sit.
I sit a lot.
So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to finally do something about it. I decided I would become a fantastic free throw shooter (cue Rocky theme).
And so I did what anyone would do: I Googled it.
It didn’t take me long to find my way to this page, a 10-minute video in which Rick Barry – the NBA’s third all-time leading free throw shooter (and first all-time leading guy in love with himself) – explains how he does it.
The answer: underhand.
I won’t bore you with the details, but according to Rick, as well as a fair number of apparently underutilized college engineering professors, underhand free throws are both easier to shoot and more consistently accurate.
There is one problem though … they look ridiculous.
That wasn’t an issue for Rick Barry of course – when you hit nine out of ten over a 14-year professional career, nobody’s laughing.
My dilemma, on the other hand, is that I’m still a beginner with this approach. Which means that for now, I look like an ill-tempered panda tossing frozen turkeys at a barn door underhand.
If you thought you were an embarrassment to your children before, try standing in the driveway shooting a basketball underhand while the school bus pulls up.
And that, my turkey-tossing friend, is the point. It’s hard to try new things because when they’re new, we’re not particularly good at them. We look foolish, especially if the results don’t yet speak for themselves.
As solo professionals, we’re faced with this dilemma all the time. We can play it safe and keep doing what we’ve been doing, or we can risk some embarrassment and try something new.
The problem with the former (safe) strategy, is that it severely limits your upside:
You’re not going to launch a new business. (“What if it fails?”)
You’re not going to change the way you describe and package your services. (“What if nobody wants to buy them that way?”)
You’re not going to speak your mind in your newsletter, or in your blog, or in a client meeting. (“What if someone disagrees?”)
Comfortable? Absolutely. Productive, profitable, innovative, exciting, breakthrough, memorable, thrilling? Not so much.
Safe and risky don’t lead to the same place. If they did, nobody would ever choose risky.
So here’s an idea with which I invite you to begin 2013: Choose one, big, risky thing to try in the coming year. Not a lot of things, just one.
But big enough that there is some serious upside and breakthrough potential.
Something that scares you. Something you haven’t done before. Something maybe nobody has done before.
Sure, you might look foolish for a while. Maybe you’ll even fail.
But don’t worry too much. Whatever embarrassment lies ahead, it can’t be worse than a grown man in the driveway throwing turkeys, I mean free throws, underhand.