Lessons From the Tank
by Joe Altieri
November 9th, 2021

The Cheeseheads Are on to Something

“Excessive, inordinate zeal.”
“Entertaining wild and extravagant notions.”
“Obsessive enthusiasm.”

Did the above descriptions strike you as positive or negative? If you said “positive,” you just might be a fanatic – according to Webster’s dictionary. Whoa, wait a minute. A fanatic? Not you! Or me. Right? Well, that depends. Consider this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is no strong performance without a little fanaticism in the performer.”

You don’t become a world-class athlete without excessive zeal. You don’t build a successful business or brand without obsessive enthusiasm. You don’t come up with a new idea or invention with entertaining wild and extravagant notions.

So why does the word “fanatic” seem to have a generally negative connotation that most people don’t want to have associated with them? Maybe it’s because we often regard fanatics as “out of control” in a way. Not rational. Undignified. (There is one exception, of course, and that’s sports. We all know that it’s perfectly acceptable to paint your body team colors, put something ridiculous on your head, a giant foam finger on your hand, and scream like a maniac for 3 hours on any given Sunday.)

Sports aside, though, when it comes to our professional lives, it seems natural to want to distance ourselves from the drastic thoughts and actions of a fanatic. But Mr. Emerson’s quote got me thinking. How far can you really go without a bit of fanaticism in your life?

Obsessive enthusiasm can be obnoxious, or it can be contagious. Obnoxious when it’s rooted in arrogance or dissonance – contagious when it’s humbly authentic. For example, before I appeared on Shark Tank, I watched dozens of previous episodes in preparation. Two narratives seemed to play out over and over:
1) The Sharks were turned off when entrepreneurs were full of enthusiastic zeal but unwilling to acknowledge their dire circumstances (overwhelming debt, initial failures, poor strategies, etc.); or
2) they were drawn to the presenter and willing to invest in the person even more so than the product because they saw a genuine, unstoppable, willing-to-learn zeal, passion, and work ethic that they could not ignore.

But in all cases, the people in front of the Sharks could be described as fanatics.

So it seems, as it is with everything in life, that it comes down to balance, self-awareness, and humility, even for fanatics like me. Yes, I admit it! I’d rather be labeled a fanatic than coast through life, valuing everyone’s opinion but my own. I’d rather feel the sting of rejection or defeat than stand safely on the sidelines. And I’d rather openly share my passion and excitement than stifle what’s genuine for what’s socially acceptable.

And, if you’ve ever started a business or currently run one, it’s a safe bet that you’re a fanatic too. Because if you’re not, you most likely suffer from (or will eventually suffer from) discontent, disillusionment, and a lack of passion. Doing what we do is simply too hard without an all-in, zealous mentality.

So how’s your passion? And if it’s not what it should be, or used to be, what would it take to be as excited about what you do every day as a diehard sports fan is about their beloved team? What would it take to make you a strong performer again? Well, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, it is (in part) fanaticism. And I believe what that boils down to is this; decide to love what you do or choose to make a change.

Lukewarm is no way to live or to lead. So put the proverbial cheese wedge on your head and be willing to risk looking a fool – because that’s where greatness starts.

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