Bet your life

Every purchase you make is an investment in a company’s values, so invest wisely, they say. All of your actions, like purchases, are an investment in values, whether or not you are aware of what they say. I doubt yours reflect what you think they do, mostly because actions and beliefs are typically hidden transactions. If you want a relationship between your habits and values, start making transactions with yourself. You can let the world bet for you, or you can take control of your life.


When I was little I wanted to be a writer. I dreamed up stories and books. I imagined writing them, but I never picked up the habit. The stories weren’t ready yet.

I grew older and imagined story arcs with plot twists and morals. I wanted to be the one to inspire others by painting scenes that reflected reality in a new way, but I rarely wrote. I certainly never finished a story. Nearing high school graduation, the missing work was hard to ignore, and quietly I accepted I wasn’t a novelist. 

Anyone can dream up a better life. If you want your dreams to become real, however, listen to your doubts.

Honestly, my hesitation stemmed from doubts all along that I had what it took to be a writer. Eventually those doubts became reality. Part of why my doubt seemed to prevail in my youth, was that there was some truth to them. I was afraid to accept the work needed to achieve my dream. Only, I needed to bet my life in order to learn this.


I hated that I let myself down; that I never challenged my doubts. In that emotional frustration I felt confronted with the possibility that I was too weak to be inspiring at all. I put my life on the line to prove I wasn’t afraid to succeed. I enlisted in the Marine Corps.

I didn’t know it then, but I had made my first serious bet. I forced a confrontation with the complacency that held me back from becoming somebody. I just had to survive my enlistment, to win, and winning meant progress.

I had pit my dream–to be a source of inspiration for others–against my doubts of pulling it off. The outcome of this would either clearly move me toward my goal, or push me to stop denying reality, and adjust my expectations.

When you bet your life, winning means your reality is one shade more like your goal. Losing is the wake up call to be more realistic about your dreams. Betting is the instruction manual for how to pursue your dreams. It is also a reality-check for fantasies.

Along with the discipline came many stumblings that led to better self-awareness about how I might be suited to improve lives. Unlike my hesitation to write, I actually spent time helping others understand their values and achieve their goals. I wanted to be a Psychologist. 

For this version of my dream, I set out to test it, immediately. I started full time as a Psychology major within weeks of finishing my enlistment. The proof was in the pudding. Studying wasn’t work, it was play. I loved it. In three years was off to Graduate School for a PhD.

Bets, in this sense, are a way of committing your dreams to the facts of reality. This is importantly different from making your dreams come true. Bets don’t make dreams real, because most dreams have elements of fantasy in them; something conceivable, but impossible.


First public lesson of Skilled Reflection (Fall 2019), a University club based on the Bet framework.

More accurately, betting is a protocol to guide you to reality, and if you’re lucky, you might have some liberties to make your dreams fit in.

How real will your dreams get before you die? 

No really, consider it, right now. Imagine the most realistic, attainable, best life you could have. Imagine taking the first step, and stay with the thought. Listen to the fear that surfaces. For the moment, never mind how the world has gotten in your way. How are you in your own way? See your doubts with curiosity. Now bet on overcoming them.

If you take this bet up, congratulations. You’ve completed the first lesson of the Intellectual Boot camp. In future lessons we’ll cover bets to avoid, how words are bets, and how to let others doubt you.

In the latest revision of my dream, I am an educator of bets.  I’ve been betting on this technique for years now. First, I was my own student, and then I recruited friends and eventually University students. I’ve been making the idea of Bets into reality.

I’m preparing to bet my life, again. I will need students willing to bet theirs, in order to build this school.

Maybe then I’ll write the book. Hey, a boy can bet, can’t he?


Check out Bet you life: Notes for an extended discussion about this topic, or Intellectual Boot Camp for a background on the program that inspired Bets.

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