Zero to YOLO and Back

I just found out yesterday from my fellow NASCAR and Jeff Gordan fan at work yesterday that Tony Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car race on Monday.  He will definately be out for a while and will probably not make the Chase.  The issue of his and other drivers racing outside of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series has come up before and it brings up an interesting point.  Tony, like many in his profession, came up through the ranks by driving lower tier cars to get to the big show, NASCAR.  Tony and I both turned our hobbies into our professional careers but unlike Tony’s hobby my hobby-turned-career isn’t life threatening so there is no physical danger when I use my personal time to work on personal projects.  However I have had other hobbies in the past that are life threatening and went through a similar situation during the middle of my career.

One of the reasons I like racing is I have always liked the thrill of speed.  During the Dot Com Boom I was a relatively young man flush with cash like many of my peers.  Like Wall Streeters during the 80’s some of us young and single consultants were spending our money partying a little harder in celebration of our relative success and buying luxury and sports cars, property and other accoutrements of new found wealth.  I was one of the few that took the thrill seeking to a higher level and bought a sport bike.  I rode it hard and recklessly, chasing the feeling of cheating death that comes with risk-taking.  And I wasn’t shy about bragging about it to my co-workers.  Eventually that information worked it’s way up to my team leaders and eventually my supervisor and I was called into his office.

The conversation started off as you would expect, with appeals to my personal safety and admonishments about throwing my life away through risky behavior.  I was prepared for this, I had already had this conversation with other people who cared about me and responded with what is now known as the YOLO philosophy.  I was young and single and from my point of view didn’t have any real responsability to anyone but myself.  My supervisor was prepared for this and stated that, while he was personally concerned for my safety, his job from a corporate perspective was to ensure the success of the project.  Because of my pivotal role in the project my sudden absence due to a foolish bit of miscalculated and totally preventable recklessness was a managable risk and he was informing me of his intention to manage it.  I was essentially given an ultimatum to knock it off or be released from the project, which as a consultant essentially meant being fired.  Most everything I was at the time was wrapped up in being a consultant and he knew that.  I imagine Tony has had similar converstations with his team owners and sponsors in the past and this time he just might get an ultimatum similar to mine.

I realized at that moment in my supervisor’s office that our responsibilities to others beyond our personal relationships still carry significant weight.  All of our relationships come with varying degrees of obligations and responsibilities.  Even if you could possibly completely stand apart from everything, you still owe something to yourself.  I think the YOLO stage of our lives arises from that first taste of freedom from our parents and the pressures of higher education and establishing our careers.  We finally get to a point where we think we can claim that we’re free to do what we want any old time, as the song goes.  But that is never true.  The more we have invested in ourselves and relationships, the more responsibility we have not to throw those investments away.

My supervisor knew that and used it against me in the only way I would understand.  So I knocked it off.  Mostly.