Recently, I was
watching my youngest son's (10 years old, and we'll call him Mitty) basketball
practice. The practice was full of the standard fare: layup drills, free
throws, and every kid's favorite: wind sprints. In case you have never had the
pleasure, wind sprints are when you line up at one end of the basketball court
and sprint to the free throw line; you then bend down and touch the line and
run back. As soon as you get back, you turn around, bend down to touch the
line, and run to thehalf court and
back. You repeat the sequence with the far free throw line and back, and then
to the far end. Sounds like fun, right?
image courtesy of BigStock.com
During each of the
drills, my son was leading the pack. Well, leading all but the wind sprints,
that is. Like most parents, I am super proud of all my children; but it is an
absolute fact when I say that Mitty is an exceptional talent. He is frequently
recruited and plays on a travel team. The only thing that holds Mitty back is
that all that talent is packed into a short stout package. So, I can guarantee
to you that he will make every layup, sink most free throws and jump shots, and
come in near last on wind sprints. Be that as it may, I found myself watching
him in awe and really contemplating how he could still be so exceptional even
though he was short and slow.
The answer came to
me while I was watching the wind sprints. As the kids started their sprint to
the first foul line, as expected, Mitty is bringing up the rear. The fastest
kids are already halfway back before he reaches the line. He is running his
heart out. He bends down and touches the line, and sprints back. By the time he
gets back to the starting line and touches it, the other kids are already off
toward the second line. The fastest kids start to separate from the pack. My
eye is drawn to the kids as they reach the half court line. Some of them are in
a dead heat and they quickly turn around at the mid court line and swipe their
hand at the ground as they start to sprint back. As Mitty reaches down and
touches mid court line, some boys are getting ready to hit the starting line
for their third sprint.
As they turn around some of them don't even
feign much of an effort to touch the line. They are too concerned about losing
the race. On the turn around and the last sprint, near all of them don't touch
the line. But Mitty is still running as fast as his legs will take him and he
is sure to touch the line every time.
And that is when it
hit me: Mitty is great at basketball because doesn't pursue the win. He is
great because he pursues personal excellence. The win is merely the fruits of
that pursuit. Mitty is exceptional because he makes sure he touches the line, every time. It would be so easy for him to just
stop, bend over a little bit, and then turn around to run again. Everyone would
understand after all: He's a star player in every game, everyone one loves him,
and he wouldn't be hurting anyone by doing it. Any but himself, that is. And
this pursuit extends off the court to nearly everything the young man does. Any
given day where the weather cooperates, you will find him outside practicing.
He makes sure his mom has him at least 15 minutes early for games and practiceHe studies his spelling words, until he
knows them perfectly. He even takes his jump rope outside, unbidden, to get
jumps in just because someone told him it would help him get faster. He does
whatever is needed to be done in order to ensure he is in the best condition to
win, even when no one is watching. He touches that fantastic line, every time.
And I see how this
extends to being successful in life and in business.It is critically important that you do not
pull up short, but that you go every last inch of the way.
Do you cut corners in your
craftsmanship, or do you touch the line?
Are you commonly late to
meetings, or do you touch the line?
Is ensuring customers see the
value you promised them someone else's problem, or do you touch the line?
Do you leave mentoring people
in your company to someone else, or do you touch the line?
Do you see something wrong
and remain silent, or do you touch the line?
Do you walk by garbage in the
floor of the office, or do you touch the line?
Do you let a coworker
struggle, or do you touch the line?
There was a time in
my life where I would not have "touched the line" on most of those.
And I was rather unsuccessful then, as well. But now I enjoy a modicum of
success, and I can say that I would feel a great deal of shame and
disappointment if I were guilty of any of those things. Since that day, there
has been a few times where I would have fallen short of my standard of personal
excellence, but the image imprinted in my mind of Mitty reaching down and
touching that line compels me to do the same. May we all strive to always touch
that fantastic line of distinction, even when no one is watching.