Over the holidays, my family came into town from the far corners of the globe. My siblings and I hadn't all been together in one place in 5 years, so we had a lot of catching up to do.
One night we went to our local bowling alley/entertainment center and grabbed a quick dinner at the fast-casual restaurant. Except our trip was anything but quick. Our food took so long to arrive that management apologized by giving us each 30-minutes of unlimited arcade games to thank us for our patience.
With a "free play" card in hand, I headed straight for the Skee-Ball machines I always loved as a kid and started rolling the wooden balls down the thin alley toward the point buckets.
1000 points. 2000 points. Occasionally 3000 points. I'd always been pretty good at always getting the lower levels of points. Even though I hadn't played in years, it was easy and fun--my safe zone.
Every now and then I'd glance at the higher levels--4000 points, 5000 points, 10,000 points.
"I wonder how you hit those," I thought. "They're beyond my reach."
But then another fleeting thought popped into my mind: "WHY are they beyond my reach? What if the reason I had never hit those buckets was because I've never actually AIMED for them?"
I immediately realized this was true. I usually had a limited number of tokens to play with and focused on earning as many tickets as I could with those tokens. That scarcity mindset of "I'll eventually run out so I'd better make the most of what I have" had encouraged me to always play it safe and focus on points I could definitely achieve.
But this time was different.
I had free, unlimited play for 30 minutes. AND, the free play cards didn't even allow us to earn tickets, so there was no physical prize to shoot for.
"What if, for the remainder of that time, I focus ONLY on the big buckets--5,000 points, or even the tiny 10,000 point buckets in the top corners?"
I had nothing to lose.
I started putting more power behind my rolls and aiming much higher on the board. The next few throws were wild and all duds. But then a ball hit the 5,000 bucket once, twice, three times in a row!
That quick improvement prompted me to shift my sights even higher to the 10,000 buckets. I kept rolling and rolling, tweaking my technique each time. By the end of 3 games, I had hit those "elusive" buckets 7 times simply because I raised my sights higher, aimed for that new goal, and experimented with my strategy until I reached it.
Scoring big on a few games of Skee-Ball don't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of life. But this principle does. My initial thought was true--the biggest points were out of my reach at first--until I changed my mindset and started AIMING for them. Until I stopped worrying about missing and shot for what was POSSIBLE instead of what was PROBABLE.
Does this story remind you of an area of your life where you're playing it safe? What big dream are you not committing to 100% in your thoughts and actions. And what is one step you can take regularly to aim higher, shoot farther, and improve by 1% every day?
Have you ever wrestled with your inner critic when it tried to keep you safe but small?
I have. And more times than I could ever count, I’ve let my inner critic win.
But over the years, I’ve learned that staying safe protects me from failure, AND it also keeps me from joy, deep connection and new collaborations.
Step out. Be courageous. Embrace failure.
The journey means so much more when you stop shooting for what you already KNOW you can do and start learning what you are TRULY capable of.
This is the message I delivered mid-December that won 1st place during the GSU Toastmaster's Club's International Speech Contest! I now move on to compete in the Area Contest Jan. 21 at the Bluebonnet Library in Baton Rouge.
If leveling up your speaking or leadership skills is on your 2023 goals list, Toastmasters is a wonderful way to practice regularly in a supportive learning environment. It's never too late to join a club near you and start practicing. I'm proof of that :D
Ashley Orlando is a jazz vocalist/ukulele artist and coach who helps growth-focused leaders find their voice, grow their presence & amplify their impact.