The Importance of Having Skin in the Game

“Your skin and your life.” In the case of a survival game, this phrase is used to describe how you are represented by your character. What does it mean for players when their “skin” can be taken away from them?

“The Importance of Having Skin in the Game” is a phrase that has been used for many years. The meaning behind this phrase is that you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. Read more in detail here: have skin in the game meaning.

Strip or Retire skin in the game illustration.

This simple slogan was painted above the entrance of a modest paelstra –– a wrestling school –– in ancient Greece: Strip or Retire.

Men engaged in sports and exercised in their underwear during this time. As a result, the engraving served as a challenge to every male who walked into the gym: join in, engage, and suffer — or stay out. Observers were not permitted.

To be a member of this wrestling school, you had to actually put your money where your mouth was.

A man couldn’t engage in civic life, economic transactions, war, or philosophical arguments in antiquity unless he had metaphorical skin in the game — unless he was ready to lose his life, and much more important, his honor.

In Antiquity, there was a distinction between honor and skin.

A man’s honor in classical honor cultures was concentrated on his reputation, which had to be demonstrated and verified in public. To be taken seriously, you have to put your face out there and be willing to have your credibility questioned on a regular basis. Whether or whether your remarks and reputation could be backed up was never resolved for sure and was always up for debate. Participating in ordinary life in ancient Rome entailed “gambling what one was,” as Dr. Carlin Barton puts it in Roman Honor. The amount of danger you were willing to take with your actions and words was directly proportional to their weight and power, as well as the level of respect you received from your peers. The more risk you took, the more you demonstrated that you cared about what you said, the more prestige and trust you gained.

This is why Roman orators would often open their tunics to display battle wounds; these visible badges of glory functioned as unmistakable appeals to their authority and ethos. Scars demonstrated to the audience that a guy had been in the ring — that he wasn’t encouraging people to take risks he wouldn’t take himself. His credentials were unmistakable: he had virtually sacrificed his flesh in the struggle.

According to Barton, the ancient Romans were so concerned with retaining their dignity that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to prove their words:

“The Romans weighed the stakes (the sacramentum, the ‘deposit’ or’forfeit’ that backed up one’s words) rather than an abstract criterion of truth when judging the weight of a person’s word. When the speaker’s reputation, persona, fama, nomen, and life were on the line, words had more weight. When Vitellius refused to trust the centurion Julius Agrestis’ intelligence reports, the latter remarked, ‘Since you demand some definite evidence…’ I’ll show you evidence that you can trust.’ According to Tacitus, he murdered himself on the spot, therefore verifying his statements. When a common soldier came at Camp Otho with news of defeat, the other troops mocked him, calling him a liar, a coward, and a deserter. He fell on his sword at the emperor’s feet to validate his statements.”


In other words, the Romans admired the guy who placed all he had on the line in everything he did and said.

The guy with nothing to lose, who put nothing at risk in his words and actions, on the other hand, was seen to be shameless (that is, unable or unwilling to be shamed). A shameless guy operated without regard for honor and was thus considered as despicable, dangerous, and untrustworthy. His whole existence was seen as a vanity; as the Roman writer Petronius described it, a man who refused to be tested and challenged was reduced to a “balloon on legs, a walking bladder.”

Why should any man be regarded seriously, the ancients reasoned, if he may act without consequence? If a guy has no stake in the game, why should he be listened to and followed?

Indeed, why? Despite this, we function in the contemporary world according to the exact opposite equation. Those in positions of power and influence send messages from a safe distance away from the front lines. They take little to no risk; if they make a mistake, they lose little face and go on unafraid.

The Outsourcing of Downside and the Removal of Skin in the Game

Those in positions of authority used to have both advantages and obligations, and with increased status came greater danger. It was great to be king, but you also had the “Sword of Damocles” hanging over your head; your actions may have disastrous effects, and people were always plotting to depose you. Military generals, monarchs, criminal leaders, and even well-known authors and scientists accepted increased position in exchange for the constant stress, dread, and anxiety of failing and making the incorrect decision.

This dynamic has shifted in the contemporary era. “At no time in history have so many non-risk-takers, that is, people with no personal exposure, exercised so much control,” writes philosopher Nassim Taleb in Antifragile.

Bankers and hedge fund managers make dangerous bets and deals that wreak havoc on the economy, yet they escape punishment as taxpayers foot the bill.

CEOs of corporations run their firms into the ground while collecting millions in bonuses.

Journalists contribute to support for a war or a criminal allegation by writing articles, yet they keep their employment when the statements they made are shown to be untrue.

Researchers produce “groundbreaking” papers that are subsequently retracted, but they never publicly apologize or accept their errors.

Politicians and media commentators provide analysis and forecasts about present and future events that are completely incorrect, but they continue to hold authority and speak to the cameras night after night.

Taleb adds news editors who prioritize clicks above integrity, managers who assume limited responsibility, and paper-pusher bureaucrats of all types to the list of skin-withholders above. These cosseted desk jockeys and society elites reverse the traditional order of honor; they gain position and power without risk, and cheap talk is substituted for action. They take the advantages of their position while avoiding the disadvantage — and in reality, they outsource the downside to those who aren’t paying attention. Pundits provide widely accepted views and forecasts, but they face no repercussions if they are shown to be incorrect – even if their bad advice causes genuine damage to people who follow it. They expect a pound of flesh from others while putting their own skin on the line.


What Are the Benefits of Putting Your Skin in the Game?

Those who continue to bet their whole reputation and well-being on their words and deeds, in contrast to those who retain the benefits of risk-taking while passing on the risks to others, are those who continue to stake their entire reputation and well-being on their words and actions. Entrepreneurs, company owners, artists, citizens, authors, and laboratory and field experimenters are among those having skin in the game, according to Taleb (as opposed to scientists and researchers who work only in the realms of theory, observation, and data-mining). These are the people who take their own chances and retain both the good and the negative of their decisions.

There is also a rung above this – the select few who have invested not just their flesh, but also their soul in the game. These are the people who take chances, face possible injury and suffering, and invest in something not only for their personal benefit, but also for the benefit of others. The heroic class is made up of people like these. Saints, warriors, prophets, philosophers, innovators, maverick scientists, journalists who expose fraud and corruption, great writers, artists, and even artisans who add insight and meaning to our cultural storehouse through their craftsmanship and wares, according to Taleb, are among those with soul in the game. Of course, all types of rebels, dissidents, and revolutionaries are deserving of the moniker.

Why would you want to join the ranks of individuals who invest their blood, sweat, and tears into the game? After all, aren’t those who refuse to do so just acting in their own best interests? Why would you take a risk if you can pass the negative to others while preserving the benefit for yourself?

A man of honor should either strip or resign for the following reasons:

Influencing people without having a stake in the game is unethical. “I find it extremely immoral to speak without acting, without exposure to pain, without having one’s skin in the game, without having anything at stake,” writes Taleb concisely. You express your viewpoint; it may cause harm to others (who depend on it), but you have no responsibility. “Does this seem reasonable?”

Of course, it isn’t equitable. Would you let a buddy play poker with fake money while the rest of the table used real money? Would you feel safe stealing your friends’ money while risking none of your own if you were the one using phony greenbacks and no one else knew?

One of the most basic concepts of human morality is that increasing involvement and/or authority necessitates more skin in the game.

Without risk and difficulty, there is no progress or delight. While putting one’s money where one’s mouth is good and ethical, it is not fully selfless. It also helps you – not usually financially (though it might), but in terms of improving your character and manliness. To put it bluntly, manhood is a fight. When you outsource the risky aspects of your endeavors, you become a spectator rather than a doer. While sitting in the stands is safer, it is significantly less gratifying than being in the arena, as Jay B. Nash explains in Spectatoritis:


“Adding life to years necessitates a living existence.” It entails confronting the current. Individual delight and community richness are both enhanced by the same approach. The slogan is still’strip or retire,’ as it was in ancient Greece. The one who strips for action is the one who lives life to the fullest. The bystander, afflicted with spectatoritis, provides neither pleasure nor legacy to his people.

Living is a battle, a competition – a connection of hope and dread. You can’t have pleasure if you don’t have it. Competition arises in every zestful act, not only in post. The balance that is the core of interest in this conflict is the link between the potential of achievement and the dread of failure.”

The more you put into yourself, the more likely you are to succeed. It’s true that individuals in charge of large bureaucracies — major banks and government agencies — have no qualms about advancing up the corporate ladder and earning enormous money by retaining the benefit of their ventures for themselves while dumping the negative on others. However, success in our domains is reliant on having a lot of skin in the game for the majority of us – the small folks. If you’re a writer, artist, craftsman, athlete, or entrepreneur, knowing that your success is nearly totally reliant on yourself, and that if you fail, you’ll lose big – physically, emotionally, and financially — is very motivating. It’s either do or die. Nobody will ever care more about your goal than you do, and the more risk you outsource, the less committed you become in the end result.

If you watch the program Shark Tank (which you should — there are a lot of valuable things to be learned there! ), you’ll note that Mark Cuban often declines to participate in startups that have previously gotten too much venture cash from other sources. He doesn’t have enough skin in the game to care enough about bringing the company to the next level, and he knows the owner/founder doesn’t have enough skin in the game either. The entrepreneur frequently objects angrily — “I do care!” “I am a dedicated and extremely driven individual!” Those with skin in the game — those who have everything to lose — are the ones who are up at 3 a.m. working on their company and art, not those who have a large safety net.

The issue ultimately boils down to ownership: you treat and invest in your own property differently than you do in rented or borrowed property. The sense of accomplishment you receive from taking care of something that is entirely yours is also of a different order.

Legacy leavers are those who have put their money where their mouth is. Hedge fund managers, media commentators, and knucklehead politicians of today will one day be relegated to a footnote in history books. Those who live with soul in the game are the ones who get things done, who are remembered with awe and respect – by books or by grandkids. Heroes. Soldiers. Revolutionaries. Fathers. They were willing to take on a disproportionate amount of risk in order to create a better future for others. They have a great and tiny impact on the globe, whether it’s via reshaping culture or just affecting people’s lives.


Why You Should Only Trust People Who Have Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Our present “lack of skin in the game,” according to Taleb, is “the biggest fragilizer of society and the greatest generator of disaster.” Because of the complexity of our current political and financial sectors, this phenomena is all the more pernicious. People on the ground are blind to the manner in which those in power profit from risk’s upside while imposing its cost on others. We only discover what went wrong when something eventually fails and the fragile system comes tumbling down. It’s too late by then, and the common person is left carrying the bag.

It is critical to make skin in the game a criterion of trust and influence if one genuinely desires to resuscitate traditional honor in the modern day. Having skin in the game doesn’t imply a guy will never make a mistake; it just means he will face the consequences, including personal embarrassment, if he does. If someone made a mistake in antiquity, their restoration of rank and reincorporation into society was contingent on their public repentance; the shameless had no place in civic and cultural life.

We do a great job at shaming people in contemporary society because to the power of social media, yet the Twitter mob usually only engages in mindless, ravenous anger in reaction to inflated trivialities like off-color jokes and slips of the tongue. At the same time, we let pundits and politicians in their positions who unashamedly offer false promises and prophecies, allowing them to continue acting in ways that weaken and fragilize our planet.

Only those having skin in the game should be trusted and supported; this not only strengthens society as a whole, but it also helps us make better choices in our own lives. Ask yourself questions like these when deciding who to seek advise from and spend emotion, time, and money in:

Do they follow their own advise and opinions (while acknowledging the drawbacks)?

It’s inexpensive to talk. When you don’t have any skin in the game — when you don’t have to bear the consequences of your actions — it’s easy to argue for what others should do.

Taleb tells of meeting a liberal tycoon who pushed for a higher tax rate on the rich. Taleb subsequently discovered that the individual had hidden his own riches in off-shore accounts, putting it out of reach of the authorities. Taleb compares such a “champagne socialist” to Ralph Nader, who not only campaigns for liberal causes but also lives on $25,000 a year and donates the majority of the money he makes from his $3 million in stocks to the hundreds of non-profit organizations he’s formed.

Cultural critics who advocate for a return to traditional family values but haven’t settled down; married ministers who preach chastity while consuming sugar; childless people who give parenting advice; people who vote for war but don’t want their children to fight in it; overweight doctors who give diet advice. It’s not only that these people are hypocrites — their beliefs don’t match their behaviors — it’s also that they want to maintain the benefits of their behavior (the prestige of their position; the accolades of stumping for virtue) without having to bear the costs of following their advise. They want other people to enter the stadium while they stay at the concession stand.


Nobody is without flaws. However, only those who acknowledge when they make mistakes and sincerely attempt to live what they teach should be heeded.

What do they have in their portfolio?

It’s all too easy for individuals to take risks with other people’s money that they wouldn’t take with their own money. “Never ask anybody for their opinion, prediction, or advice,” Taleb rightly cautions. Simply inquire as to what they have in their portfolio — or do not have.” Don’t put your money — or anything else — in the hands of someone who has your skin in one game and his in another.

Self-made millionaire Seymour Schulich recommends consumers to acquire shares in firms “where the executives and directors possess a big quantity of equity” for a similar reason. The more a company’s fortunes are linked to its workers’ personal finances, the harder they’ll fight to make it a long-term success, and the better your investment will perform as a result.

What would they do if they found themselves in your situation?

When ailing people are on the verge of death, they often request that every life-saving action be done to extend their lives. If they’re unable to make that choice for themselves, families will frequently make every effort on their behalf, and physicians will always do everything possible to keep the patient alive — even if it’s just barely. When physicians are asked about their personal end-of-life decisions, few say they would want life-saving procedures done on them. They are aware of the dangers, agony, and often negligible advantages associated with things like breathing, feeding tubes, and unending rounds of chemotherapy, unlike patients.

What someone would advocate in the abstract — when no one else is impacted — is often not the same as what they would select for themselves.

So, while making a choice, inquire about what others would do if they were in your situation.

Do they expose their identity by showing their face and revealing their name?

“A half-man…isn’t someone who doesn’t have an opinion; it’s someone who isn’t willing to risk it.” Nassim Taleb is a professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.

A man’s statements and acts had to be confirmed in public in antiquity. He needed to speak to individuals one-on-one so that they could judge his reputation, assess his reliability, and question his points.

The internet, on the other hand, works on the exact opposite principle: it is immensely democratic while also being completely shameless. Article writers must use their true names, expose their faces, disclose their sources, and subject their reputation to criticism with each post. Blog commenters, on the other hand, may provide anonymous, risk-free disagreement. They are not compelled to provide evidence for why they should be believed, and their credibility cannot be verified. On the internet, anybody may claim to be a “former Navy SEAL” or a “medical doctor.” Anyone can sound clever by using sarcasm and wrath. And if they’re incorrect, they’re not held liable, and their personal reputation isn’t harmed.

For this reason, I’ve avoided having comments on the Art of Manliness for a long time. Nonetheless, I kept them because I thought they had a few advantages for both myself and readers: some people enjoy them (more clicks for me! ), and people occasionally leave helpful comments (though even on a site like AoM, where the comments were a cut above the rest of the internet, the ratio of useless to useful comments was still about 5:1). But, after much thought and writing, I’ve come to the decision that, although it may irritate or disappoint some, and may even affect my financial line, I cannot continue to host what is fundamentally a dishonest medium of speech on principle.


It, if you want to discuss and debate our material in the future, please do so on Facebook, where you’ll have to use your actual name, give your opinion in front of your friends and thousands of others, and back up your remarks with a little more skin in the game.

It’s either that or retire.



The “skin in the game meaning origin” is a phrase that means having enough skin in the game to be able to withstand any and all losses. The term originated from poker, where it was used to describe how players should have more money than their opponents in order to make up for any losses they might incur.

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