I met up with a friend for lunch a few weekends ago. We ended up eating quite a lot of food - a few large appetizers followed by giant hamburgers. The waiter saw this and was impressed. We even talked with him about how much food we were eating, and asked him if all of his guests eat as much food as us. I ate so much that I couldn’t even finish my burger, which is rare for me to do. After the waiter cleared our table, he enthusiastically brought out a dessert menu. We joked with him that there was no way we were going to order dessert after eating so much. We asked him why he even bothered bringing out the dessert menu when we already mentioned how full we were. His reply, while simple and unassuming has nonetheless stuck with me. He said “you never know”.
Now, we didn’t end up ordering dessert. However just by being presented with the option to order dessert made me really think hard about ordering a slice of cake or an ice cream sundae - thoughts that my full stomach wouldn’t have even let me consider without being pushed. For our waiter, there wasn’t really any downside to presenting us with the dessert menu. True, it was slightly awkward after we all talked about how full we were, but seeing a dessert menu wasn’t going to offend us, or cause us to leave a smaller tip. However getting his overly full customers to order a dessert (and thus spend a little more money on our meal) would lead to a slightly larger tip for him. Although the probability was slim, the upside was compelling - and so he just went for it. Afterall, “you never know”.
The reason that the waiter's optimistic and blissfully ignorant of the odds attitude intrigued me isn’t just about his small quest to get a larger tip. In just a few words, he was able to sum up the exact mentality of being open to improbable success that I've found instrumental in actually achieving all kinds of goals - even really large ones.
When my iPhone broke last year my Mom tried really hard to get Verizon to replace it for me. It was very troubling for her to not be able to reach me because my phone wasn’t working, so she had a lot to gain by helping me get a new phone. She called Verizon a bunch of times and even went into the store a few times only to keep hearing the same message that there was nothing they could do. Just a week ago though, she said she was going in again, saying more or less “you never know”. Most likely she would get rejected yet again, but somehow her fourth visit to the Verizon store was a success, and now I have a brand new iPhone (which she can now reach me at reliably). If she had given up, and just assumed it was impossible for Verizon to replace my phone, I would still be using an intermittently working phone and be much less reachable.
Last year I got home from a trip to China only to get a phone call from an overly eager recruiter. I had been strongly advised never to talk to recruiters, being told that they bring nothing but frustration and could even distract me and delay my job search by weeks or months. Instead of listening to this advice, I kept an open mind and said to myself “you never know” and took the call - after all it would only last a few minutes. I had nothing to lose, and potentially a job to gain. A few days later the recruiter set me up with a job interview at Doorsteps, where I ended up getting a job that I’m still at today. Had I closed myself off to recruiters like I had been advised, I may not have found a working environment as conducive to learning, and not become nearly as good of a developer as I am today.
Five years ago I had a crazy idea to start a software company that would change how people organize around the causes they care about. I knew nothing about programming, product management, and pretty much everything that comes with running a company. Most people I talked to either told me what I was doing was nice (which was completely useless) or started listing all of the reasons I was going to fail. But I told myself “you never know”, after all anything is possible, and even the largest companies of today were started by people who were just as clueless as I was. Allowing myself to take this risk paid off, and our team built a very innovative product and attracted millions in investment.
These are just a few examples of how not being closed off to the possibility of success was a major contributing factor to actually achieving success. It’s all too easy to dismiss things that seem impossible, or give into self doubt and not even try to do something that you’re afraid of failing at. But “you never know” what is actually possible until you try and go for it. Whether you’re a waiter wanting to take home a bigger tip, a persistent Mom wanting to stay in constant contact with her son, a software engineer looking for their next job, or an aspiring entrepreneur wanting to change the world - you need to get out there and keep on trying because “you never know” what can happen until you do.