Carnivals have tasty, tempting food which is bad for you. There are some rides and several games, including the ring toss game. It’s a simple game.

The barker stands inside the booth. A few feet beyond him or her are rows of cola bottles. The player pays to receive three rings. Each ring can encircle a single bottle. If one of your rings slides down a cola bottle you get a small prize. Two rings over two bottles wins a bigger prize. Three rings over three bottles earns the ginormous, bragging-rights stuffed animal.

Researchers have studied the ring-toss game. They discovered the behavior of the people who play fit one of two basic patterns: dis-engaged or hyper-engaged.

The Dis-Engaged Style

The disengaged player might stand back 6 feet from the edge of the booth. She may close her eyes, may chat with friends, might see herself as an entertainer for her companion. That behavior shows the player is not invested in maximizing the number of rings which encircle bottles. If dis-engaged players walk away with no prize at all, they’re completely content. They had no emotional investment in the game. It was purely amusement.

The Hyper-Engaged Style

The hyper-engaged style is dramatically different. Her boyfriend’s toes are against the bottom of the booth. He leans over the edge; his elbows are 18 inches inside the booth. He is serious as a heart attack. Don’t talk to him as he aims; he is on a mission. “When you’ve got a job to do, do it well.” He strives for the biggest prize.

I learned about the ring toss game more than 45 years ago, in my MBA program. Education is what you have left after all your notes are gone. Given how much I paid for that degree, the ring toss game is a relatively expensive concept. However, it is worth far more than I paid for it.

Most of us are hyper on some topics or activities, but indifferent on others. We know people who are intense about politics or religion, while other friends couldn’t care less about either.

In my day job I see both behaviors. Some people wander into my arena and by their words or actions show they’re open to becoming wealthy. “Open to” is not committed.  If I can make it easy, they will probably go along.

In contrast the hyper effective investors have considered or learned quickly what it takes to succeed. One mentor taught me that consummate professionals love the grind. In many areas of life your level of intensity and self-honesty are highly correlated to your result. Whether it’s relationships or career or investments, intentionality, and intensity matter.

A few years ago, I spent the night in the hospital after a fluke event that could have killed me. The accident was a one in a million anomaly. That brush with mortality focused my attention. Legacy had been important, but after that hospital stay, I have been far more inclined to number my days in hopes of showing wisdom to my Creator. If you could read my journal, here’s what you’d find. I aspire to boldness, courage, humility, integrity, loyalty, strength, and wisdom. My wife and my friends will testify I’ve not mastered these traits. But I am relentless in the pursuit of what really matters.

The Iditarod Dog Sled Race

The Iditarod race is held in early March. Imagine that I’m among those self-selected fanatics trying to get from one frozen bit of Alaska to a far, far, far away place, even colder. My trusty Huskies are racing our sled. My job includes packing everything we need, but nothing else. Every night I evaluate what is not worth its weight and pitch it.

When you and I were younger we had less skill, maybe less focus, and a lifetime to explore. Guess what? We’ve spent some of our decades. Today we have more capacity but less time. The hard part is not figuring out what we can do. The hard part is deciding which good things are not worth doing.

I want to live until I die.

The impactful people I want to imitate, have laser focus on very few things. Each master mentor is extremely skilled at politely declining almost every opportunity that becomes available. The opportunity may be tempting, but if it doesn’t help achieve what’s most important, their answer is a smiling “No.” Focused people know their mission and decline interesting but not their mission. Editing is a key to excellence not just in communication, but also life.

When you discover yourself in an activity where you don’t care about the outcome, maybe you should just walk away. You were created for a unique purpose. You have interests, relationships, and skills that no one can match. Most of us won’t cure cancer or invent a world-changing technology. But we can leave a long-term beneficial impact, a legacy.

What interesting opportunities have you turned down so you could concentrate on what matters most to you?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

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