Monday, April 27, 2009

Finish what you started

We can learn from those who succeed at anything that perseverance is what’s key to crossing the finish line. That finish line can be anything: completing a project at work, seeing your children mature into adults, or actually crossing the finish line at a sporting event.

(Teamwork is an important topic to cover at a later posting. Today I want to focus on one’s perseverance, to make a point on its effect on personal development and achievement.)

Each one of us begins as equals. Not one of us was born with a towering vertical leap, a blazing pitching arm, a smoking sprinting stride … you get the picture. How many times have we heard of the star athlete’s story where he/she grew up in a small town and have been playing a particular sport since childhood and are now known worldwide as a champion of that sport? List some of the most popular cities in the US along the left side of a sheet of paper. On the right, list some of the widely known athletes and their hometown cities. The list on the right will prove my point.

To make a team, one needs to practice. To stay on a team, one needs to develop. To win a championship one needs to persevere. Rewards go to the last one standing. Remember, it’s the last step of the race that counts the most. It is when the winner is determined. It is when the reward is given. If you took every step of a race, and you stopped and didn’t take that final step to cross the finish line, it’s as if you never took that first step. With the finish line in sight, winners say, “Finish what you started” … whiners say, “I’ve gotten this far, and I’m tired.”

You don’t make it to the championship to coast to a win; you leave everything on the field and come out as champions. It will not be easy; it will be tiring … since the other team will have the same goal as well. That’s what makes watching a championship game more interesting: when both sides are battling it out, giving the spectators a great show, and providing immeasurable rewards of accomplishment to the winners.

US statesman Robert Strauss is quoted, It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired." We all start strong, with lots of energy and enthusiasm to finish a task. Those who have given up at critical two-minute warnings let the gorilla get the best of them. Those who have given up on their teen’s problems let the gorilla get the best of them. Those who have given up at gold medal games let the gorilla get the best of them. Success in family, in business, in sports, or in anything, is because you were determined to, not because you were destined to.

Sports Illustrated’s “greatest sports moment of the twentieth century” was witnessed on February 22, 1980, during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. (I highly recommend the movie, Miracle, for this inspirational story.) The Soviet Union had won every ice hockey gold medal (but one) since 1956. Soviet players were professionals, led by ice hockey legends. The United States had amateurs led by Coach Herb Brooks. Moving their way up the round robin brackets the two teams were to finally face each other. To prepare for the game, the Soviet coach decided to rest most of his best players and to have them study plays instead of skating. Coach Brooks continued to skate his players hard, and continued to berate them for any perceived weaknesses. In that famous showdown, the Soviets led most of the contest. However the US players’ tireless training and conditioning, along with their relentless determination, showed towards the end of regulation, taking the lead and holding on to defeat the dominant Soviet players, with the famous sports announcer’s call to tell it all: “Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Success doesn’t demand more than we have, but ALL that we have. When the clock winds down, did you leave everything on the field?


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