The Danger of Sure Things

Spin that wheel, take your chanceHow many times have you given into the lure of the “sure thing?” Maybe you placed a bet, accepted a job, or went on a date because you believed it a sure thing. Sure things are dangerous because they lower your shields, raise your expectations, and leave you open to disappointment.

The recent Australian Open, one of professional tennis’s four Grand Slam titles, makes more than one excellent case for the danger of sure things. On the women’s side, the previous year’s winner, Serena Williams, was knocked out in two straight sets. In the next round, the number one ranked woman, Justine Henin, was then beaten by the eventual winner, Maria Sharapova.

An even surer thing failed on the men’s side. Roger Federer, the number one ranked male tennis player in the world appeared unstoppable with his 12 Grand Slam titles until he met Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Both are skilled players, ranked high, but Federer always appeared to dominate and many thought he was on his way to an 11th STRAIGHT Grand Slam final. Djokovic proceeded to beat him in straight sets, something that hasn’t happened to Federer since 2004.

Beyond Sports

Tennis matches are only one example of a potential sure thing that can disappoint. Over time, we start to associate this sense of a sure thing with other aspects of our lives: jobs, investments, relationships, etc. Then, when someone or something upsets a sure thing, we shake our heads in bewilderment wondering how it could have happened.

You’ve seen this scenario play out during the recent weeks and months as markets have shuddered under pressure from the sub-prime mess and fears of an American recession. We were so sure that the housing market would continue to grow that the popping of the bubble was unheard by many.

Searching for Certainty

Without meaning or planning to, we search out guarantees. We want a sure thing because we believe it gives us a lodestone in all the chaos that swirls around us. We’re particularly drawn to sure things of late because of the increased sense of chaos in our world as markets shifts and countries crumble. However, as I pointed out earlier this month, there’s something to be said for chaos:

From my perspective, chaos’ attractiveness lies in its unpredictability, the sense that anything, both good and bad, is possible….I think that our current hunger for order in all the chaos for information cheats us out of what’s possible. A top 10 list and other filters that we pay attention to skip over the uncertainty of a butterfly flapping its wings and goes straight to someone else’s interpretation of the chaos. Why waste time wading through all the different thoughts if someone has been kind enough to provide you with the answers?

If you are a lover of sure things, you need to ask yourself why. And if the answer doesn’t do you or your life justice, consider the chase after a sure thing to be a part of your past instead of your future. Perhaps it goes too far in the other direction, but any time I hear the words, “It’s a sure thing,” I want to run in the opposite direction. What will be your reaction?


(Image courtesy of Cold Cut. Some rights reserved.)


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January 2008
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