A friend and I went bowling this past weekend at Grand Central Bowling in Portland. It’s a dark, neon-lit bowling alley with a sports bar attached to it. There’s a few arcade games on a balcony second floor, and the air hockey table has an impenetrable plastic shield in the middle. (It’s the details that really matter.)
The ambiance came at a price, of course. A big one. After all was said and paid for (including a little greasing to get on the lanes early), we paid $7.00 per game. Each. That’s $0.70 per strike or $0.35 per roll, depending on how good you are at throwing a round rock down an alley while wearing borrowed sneakers. What happened to the days of unlimited bowling?
A daytime party with little kids had just ended, so we inherited a lane with the bumpers already up. Maybe it comes that way? Whatever. When it was my first bowl, I aired off my good old bowling hand and picked up a 12-pound ball.
“I think I’m gonna work on my hook shot,” I announced proudly as I prepared for glory.
I continued with my approach and, thumb loose, I released the bowling ball, spinning the hell out of it. And just like it had eyes, with no sense of direction or well being, that ball clamored its way down the alley, slamming side to side off the bumpers until it guilt-tripped a handful of feeble pins to fall over at the end. It was nothing short of embarrassing.
“I guess I forgot how hard bowling can be…” We played through another frame of pity-bowling before we opted to take the bumpers down and face our failures head on.
Honestly, I’d probably gotten a little too used to the Wii version of bowling. But that’s not really bowling. It’s a motion that, for all intents and purposes, resembles a bowling approach but when applied to actual bowling, is a surefire way to injure yourself or throw a gutter ball. It was obvious that I was supremely out of practice, which again brought me back to the idea of unlimited bowling.
Seth Godin talks about the idea of unlimited bowling with Chase Jarvis on his “30 Days of Genius” interview series. Seth touches on the old pay-by-the-game bowling days when every attempt mattered to a point of excluding risk. Right down the center of the lane is safe, and boring. Unlimited bowling is taking risks without penalty. Becoming familiar with failure. Learning from your mistakes and trying again, not because the risks are the exact same the next time, but because we live in an unlimited bowling time.
“… do we have the guts to say, ‘you know, this might not work, but I’m going to persistently, and consistently, and generously, bring it forward.'” – Seth Godin
Time moves inexorably onward toward the day we die, which is why the circumstances in which we find ourselves are rarely that of unlimited bowling. There are actual consequences to trying something new and failing, because among other things, a continuing lack of results begins to build up. But if it is our true passion we are pursuing, there’s real no downside to throwing a gutter ball or two. Your passion brings out a heightened level of focus, attention, and analyzation that surpasses anything else in your life. If you fail, if you throw a gutter ball, you will think about every part of your approach and make that note to gently turn your wrist inward before releasing. You are truly invested in the outcomes of your passion, so you are eager learn from the mistakes. Nothing’s a total loss. It’s all just practice.
Teaching ourselves to embrace each opportunity, good or bad, as a learning opportunity, as unlimited bowling, is to give ourselves the best possible chance to succeed. Not because we’ll do it right the first time, but because we have the fortitude to persevere through what appears to be yet another failure. The promise of unlimited bowling is that there’s always next time, despite what happened last frame. We may not always have that luxury in the workplace, but if you adopt the growth mindset, your past results (whatever they may be) will one day fade in importance when compared to your work that lies ahead.
The most skilled bowlers will tell you nearly every minute detail about the time they rolled their first “perfect game.” The epic 300. But they won’t bend your ear telling you about the games they bowled under 50. Or the games under 25. Or yes, even the games where they didn’t knock down a single pin because they were focused on picking up a particular split or release. And just like the most successful entrepreneurs, gutter balls are part of the learning process, so you must pick yourself up and move fearlessly on to the next frame.
It is only when you are no longer afraid of failure, that everything becomes unlimited bowling.