The Art of Having Skin in the Game


A few years ago, I went to see the poet and philosopher David Whyte speak. I left the event with the following scribbled in my notebook: “The things you care about make you vulnerable. The things you care about break your heart.”

It’s hard to care—to really care—be it about a person, a pursuit, or a movement. Things don’t always go the way you want them to, and things always change. The kids move out. Your body ages and you’re forced to retire. You lose the race. The project goes down the drain. The movement fails to accomplish its aim. Your partner of 20 years receives a cancer diagnosis. Your partner of 30 years dies. This is just how it goes.

A common defense is to prevent yourself from caring. To coast instead of giving it your all. To put up a wall up around your heart, a barrier between the deepest part of you and the world. The hurt isn’t as bad this way. But neither are the joys. You miss out on a lot of richness.

The concluding track on the group Nahko and Medicine for the People’s new album, a compilation of songs about the highs and lows of a fully engaging in life, is titled “Skin in the Game.”

Wide awake
And I know why it’s taken me so long
To reclaim my power
The hurting made me strong
I’ve lost count how many times I have changed
There’s an art to having skin in the game…

…Been afraid
Of running out of fucks to give
Lowest place
Considering where I have been
It’s the simple truth that one day I will die
Or the courage it takes for a warrior to cry…

…What I want
Will rarely meet at what I need
Nothin’s wrong
With setting better boundaries
Like the softness you earn when you break your own bread
Or that playful heart that became your first defense

…Well, I know yes I know, I sure as shit know I turned some kind of page
And I will, yes I will, learn to love the side of me that holds all the shame
When I gave myself permission to feel the pain
There’s an art to having skin in the game…

It’s hard to care. It’s why setting boundaries, keeping a sense of humor, moving your body, and surrounding yourself with art, poetry, good books, and perhaps most of all, good people, is utterly vital to having skin in the game. It’s why cultivating a sense of yourself that is bigger than your ego—bigger than little you that always wants full control and wants everything to go a certain way—is so important.

In many ways, it’s also a choice to really care. It’s a choice that requires courage. I think it’s the scariest choice one can make. I also think it’s a good one.

— Brad

(For more on this topic, check out this episode of the Growth Equation Podcast, in which we unpack the above in all its complexity and nuance.)

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