Perseverence

When Your Best Isn’t Enough

We’ve all been there.  All of us.  At one time or another, we have all attempted something and come up short.  It might have been something as small as a grade on a paper or a test when we were in school.  It might have been something bigger like training for months to set a personal record in a half marathon.  Or it might have been something truly life-changing like taking a high-profile new job in an unfamiliar place halfway across the country.  Big or small, there is something especially painful about investing your time and energy into something, working hard, truly doing your best, and having it not be enough.   We’ve all been there.

I am not talking about that time I signed up to do a 5K and then never really got around to training.  That’s on me.  I’ve jumped head-first into plenty of endeavors only to find myself too busy to really invest the needed time to do it well.  I have a collection of hobbies in the garage that never really made their way into my daily routine.  Of course I am not an expert with my bow and arrow.  I’ve hardly ever used it.

No, I’m not talking about those things.  I am talking about the things that mattered.

I am talking about the things that were worth the time and money and patience and heart to get right.  I am talking about the things that got you up at 3:45 in the morning, the things that sent you back to school, the things you obsessed over and read about and journaled about, the things that convinced you to walk away from a safe job in a familiar place with people you knew only to start an adventure with an uncertain ending.

I’m talking about the pain that comes when one of those things doesn’t work out, when your best isn’t enough.  And we have all been there.

In those moments you have a choice.  You can choose to be defeated.  You can choose to wallow and retreat and shut yourself away.  You can choose to stop taking the big risks.

Or you can stand up, face the reporters (literal or figurative as they may be), and explain that you did your best.  You can continue to wake up at 3:45 and to take the big risks.  You can choose to hold your head up, maintain the highest levels of class and grace and dignity, and honestly mean it when you say that you would not have traded the experience simply because it did not end the way you had hoped.

“That wasn’t the measure of the experience.  It’s just the way it ended.” (Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing)

#Goals

I hit a major milestone this week in a goal I’ve been pursuing all year.  I walk.  This year I’ve been walking a lot. I’m working toward a mileage goal, and it took me until the last day in August to be on track to hit the goal.  I’ve been behind for 8 months.  Eight months!  And I honestly have no idea if I can stay on track for the rest of the year.  But I’m there right now.

I’m part of an online community all working toward this goal.  I’ve been watching person after person hit the year-end goal all summer.  Most of the people in this community are runners.  The other people I know personally working on the goal are runners.  Good runners.  They finish miles so much faster than I do. It can be frustrating at times.

It’s hard to set a goal, work toward that goal, and watch so many other people beat you to the goal.  But such is life.  No matter how fast you are, someone is always faster. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Okay Theodore Roosevelt said it, but I’ve agreed with him many times.

Our goals are our goals.

I spend too much time wishing I was a runner.  The runners I know are amazing!  They are dedicated, passionate, motivated.  They have cool running gear, and they talk a lot about shoes and watches.  They are fit.  Man are they fit. It is impressive.

I walk.  I walk a lot.  That’s what I can do.  And I can certainly get cool walking gear and talk about shoes and watches.  And I can be dedicated and passionate and motivated.

Our goals are our goals.

The only person we are meant to compare ourselves to is the person we were the day before.  We do not have to be faster or thinner or wealthier than anyone.  We do not have to have a better job or a bigger house or a fancier car to be worthy.

Our goals are our goals.

I have some good friends who are competitive. Several even have competition in their top five Gallup strengths.  Competition is different from personal comparison.

Competition can be healthy.  It can show us what’s possible.  It can push us and challenge us to be better than we ever thought we could be.  I’m not discouraging competition, but we should not be judging ourselves based on a comparison with others.

I am enough.  You are enough.  Right now.  Just as we are.

So set some goals that will be hard to reach.  Challenge yourself to go farther or faster than you thought you could.  But appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the world.  Just the way you are.

Take Your Shot

img_3818

We are in the middle of the high school basketball season.  Last night I watched an outstanding and previously undefeated team fall.  No doubt the coaches and players will analyze the game period by period.  Technique will be studied.  Plays will be debated.  And the halftime correction will be praised.  So many things factor into the outcome of a basketball game, and no doubt each one of them will be evaluated.

But there is one thing that has intrigued me week after week in game after game.  All of the players miss free throws.

Are you kidding me?  There is nothing more fundamental to the game of basketball than a free throw.  If you allow a five year old onto a basketball court, they will almost without fail take the ball to the line and take a shot.  Every day in cafeterias all around the country, middle schoolers rush through their lunch to have just a few extra minutes at the free throw line in the gym before going back to class.  Every elementary team, every high school team, every select team expects players to drill on free throws.  College players and NBA players all know that at any given time they could be standing on the free throw line, the game at stake.  Yet even in the NBA, most players only make 70-80% of their attempts.

So how is it that all of the players miss free throws?  Not just some of them, all of them.

Well, it’s not as easy as it looks.  A little like life.

Free throws and life require practice.  It is not easy for anyone.

Free throws and life require a routine.  There is comfort and  predictability in routine.  Variety is the spice of life, but muscle memory gets most things done.

Free throws and life require an uncluttered mind.  Too much anxiety, too much worry, too much overthinking takes away from our best work.  Meditation, quiet walks, and time to just disconnect allow us to be our best selves.

Free throws and life require balance.  I’m on record as saying there is no such things as a perfect “balance” between work and life. But a balanced person is on solid footing and has time for the things that matter to them.

Free throws and life require keeping your eye on the target.

Free throws and life require follow-through.

Free throws and life require style, and “granny style” is a style.

Free throws and life require getting back to zero.  Absolutely everyone misses shots.  All of us!  Take your shot.  Make it or miss it, move forward.  The next shot is waiting.

And most importantly, free throws are unopposed.  This is perhaps the most interesting thing of them all. It is about you and the ball and the basket.  You are the one who makes it.  You are the one who makes you miss.  Most of the really important things in life are between you and you.  Know yourself.  Know your goals.  Know the work needed to get it done.

Then take your shot.

You will make shots.  You will miss shots.  Such is life!  Even Stephen Curry only makes 90% of his free throws.

REACH

imageI am a creature of habit.  Routines, predictability, and rituals all make me feel safe.  There is comfort in knowing what will happen next.  Every Sunday I clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills, and water the plants.  It happens like clockwork.  If the routine is disturbed, I don’t feel like the week will go as well.  Yep.  There is comfort in our habits.

But there is not growth.

img_3190Our bodies know this instinctively.  The same 30 minute walk on the treadmill feels good.  But it does not take long before our bodies adapt to the routine and no longer reap the same physical benefits.  We have to add an incline or vary our speeds.  We have to add weights or swimming.  Mixing it up produces results.  It is harder, but it is better for us.

The same is true in other areas of life.  It is too easy to get comfortable in our routines.  It is too easy to stay safe in the same job, the same hobbies, the same predictable habits.  It is only when we reach beyond that we grow.

What were your dreams as a child?

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  (Robert H. Schuller)

This week challenge yourself to try one new thing.

Trying something new is hard.  There is risk in the adventure.  But it is only when we are willing to risk that we can truly grow.

“And That’s as Good as I Am”

image
Rarely do we get opportunities as plentiful as the Olympics to witness strength and perseverance and commitment in action.  Over and over again, we see the results of countless days, weeks, months, years of dedication to a sport.  We watch as the best in the world push themselves to be even better for this one moment in time.

There was something magical in watching Simone Biles and Aly Raisman  land perfect floor routines.  And we all reveled in the almost flawless performances by Michael Phelps.  But for me, it was not the moments of perfection that were the most powerful.  It was the moments when everything seemed to fall apart, the split seconds that went completely off course, that were the real lessons of the games.

Etenesh Diro from Ethiopia finished the semifinals in steeplechase wearing only one shoe.  After a collision with another runner, she struggled to get her shoe back on. When she couldn’t, she just took it off and threw it into the grass.  She pushed on wearing only one shoe to finish 7th in her heat.

Mo Farah of Britain won gold in the 10,000 meters after literally falling down in the middle of the race. Halfway through the competition, Mo was accidentally tripped by a friend.  He sprang back up, retook the lead, and won the race.

Michael Phelps was seconds away from anchoring the men’s 4×200 meter relay when his swim cap ripped.  In a sport where victory is measured in fractions of a second, the drag from loose hair makes a difference.  He grabbed Conor Dwyer’s cap and led the team to victory.

Often the greatest lessons come in the moments when things go wrong.  Because in life, more often than not, things go wrong.  It is not how we perform in the moments that go as planned that make us stronger people.  It is how we perform in the moments of struggle that define our greatest success.

And in these games, I learned more from someone who didn’t medal at all than from all of the medalists combined.  For the first time in history, all three women on the US women’s team finished in the top ten of the women’s marathon.  A spectacular finish- but no medals.  Years of eating clean, training daily, and let’s be honest, suffering serious blisters, and they walked away empty-handed.

In an event that didn’t exist before the 1980s because surely women could not compete at that level in distance running , the three US women were all in the fight.  At the 1/3 mark, Des Linden was actually in the lead, but as some of the other runners began to surge, she fell behind.  Despite what appeared to me to be a super-human attempt to regain her position, she ended the race in 7th place.  Des Linden would have every reason in the world to be upset, but she wasn’t.

“I put everything out there.  I’m not upset at all. I wish I were a little bit better.  I wish I would have been closer.  But we went all in.  And that’s as good as I am.”  Des Linden

image

It’s not about the moment someone puts a medal around your neck.  It’s not about a few seconds on a podium or the national anthem.  Those moments are fun, no doubt.  But what lasts, what matters, is the moment you realize that you are capable of the hard work and the commitment and the perseverance necessary to honestly say, “that’s as good as I am.”  And that will always be enough.

Little Shop of Letdown

image

Major milestones in our lives offer an opportunity to reflect.  Such has been my spring. And as I have been reminiscing, I have been reminded of the many ups and downs that make up a life.  For me, for my friends, and for my family, life has not always turned out the way we thought it would.  Woven through the fabric of the many celebrations and achievements in our lives are a fair share of failures.

As we celebrated an impressive freshman year and an outstanding grade in college calculus, I was reminded of the struggles it took to get through my daughter’s first AP course.  School was not as easy for her as it was for her older sister.

As we celebrated awards and honors and some amazing achievements as she graduated college, I was reminded of the devastation when my oldest was cut from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” her junior year without ever even having the chance to read for the part she wanted.  She cried for days.

As I transition to a new job, I am reminded of the year I was so ready for my first administrative job.  I’d earned the degree.  I’d done all of the preparing, and I was sure the next administrative job was mine.  When circumstances caused me to miss the interview and someone else got the job I believed should have been mine, I was disappointed.  I was more than disappointed.

But as strange as this is going to sound, I am so grateful for the failures.  I may appreciate them even more than the successes.

With my daughter’s struggles in school came a strong work ethic, an ability to persevere, and an understanding of how to “do school”.  With my daughter’s loss of a part in the musical came an even greater ability to be humble, compassionate, and sympathetic. Having to wait for my first chance to lead as an administrator helped me learn patience and taught me that with time things work out.

My children are the amazing human beings they are today not because they have always been successful but because they learned how to respond with positivity, grace, and grit when things went wrong.

Failure is not an option.  Failure is a guarantee.  At some point we all fail.  Reaching for our dreams, imagining a different future, trying something new all mean risking failure.  And when we fail, we learn.

Take risks.  Try something that scares you.  Set what one of my friends calls stretch goals. Imagine that you can go well beyond what you thought was your limit physically, intellectually, or emotionally.  And decide now that when you fail, and you will, that you will maintain a positive attitude, persevere, and  learn from it.

Every experience, every success, every failure make us who are.  Appreciate them all!

50 Years from Now

256px-Bumblebee_Transformer_-_Flickr_-_andrewbasterfieldMy family laughs at me every time the movie Transformers is on TV.  Almost without fail, I jump into the story at the exact same moment…the point of inspiring motivation and life-changing wisdom. Do you see now why they laugh at me?  I may be the only person in history who has ever described Transformers as life-changing, but it is.

There is a scene early on when the first Transformer reveals himself as Bumblebee, an alien robot.  (And with that, the rest of you start laughing at me as well.  A movie about alien robots shares life-changing wisdom?)  But when Bumblebee invites the young heroes into his car, leading to unknown adventure and considerable risk, one of the main character hesitates.  The other one utters the words that I’ve been saying to myself ever since…

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

Life is full of choices, chances to try something new.  These opportunities can also be filled with risk.  It is not easy to take a leap and jump into something unknown.  It is not easy to take a chance and know that you could fail, but nothing amazing was ever achieved without risk.

From our earliest years, we have to make choices about what adventures we will tackle and which ones we will let go.  Auditioning for the school play is a risk.  Trying out for the football team is a risk.  Taking an Advanced Placement course is a risk.  But those risks are necessary to create the best possible life.

Say yes!

I am a terrible bowler, but I always have a good time when I play.  I am not a runner, but I’ve finished three half-marathons. Stand directly under the frozen, powerful waterfall at Smith Falls on the Niobrara? Every time!

When people are asked about their greatest regret, they almost always list the things they didn’t do.  At the end of our lives, it is not what we tried and failed to do that haunts us, it is the times we failed to try.

Embracing this attitude is essential not just for the day-to-day things, but it is key to living the best possible version of your life.  Taking risks is necessary in order to find success.  Go back and get the degree.  Apply for the job that seems beyond your reach. Volunteer to be the one who fills in at a meeting or on a committee.

Every day there is a chance to say yes.  “Want to go to lunch?”  “I have an extra ticket to the game, want to come?” “We need someone to lead this project, are you interested?”  A good meal, a new relationship, a powerful experience might be the result.

Something we learn as we get older is that things will not always work out when we say yes.  There is a winner and a loser in all epic battles.  We only have one President.  We only have one state champion.  We only have one gold medalist. But without the risk of failing, we cannot succeed.

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

 

Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

image

Peyton Manning may or may not have played his last professional football game, but his performance this season added to his legacy in ways no one can deny.  His skill, his leadership, and especially his resilience cemented his place among the best of the best in football history.  What Jerry Rice brought to the game physically, Peyton Manning brings to the game mentally.  They might both be described  as genius in their chosen field.

I am a big believer in finding your sparks, your genius, and tirelessly working to become the very best at them. There are those among us who have taken their passions and pursued them relentlessly, seeking perfection.  What do they have that we don’t?  Yes, some of them have physical prowess or intellectual ability beyond what most people possess.  But those are not the things that set them apart.  It is their passion, their drive, and their persistence in the face of obstacles that makes them the best.

Say what you will about Steve Jobs, but there is no one who worked harder to make his vision a reality than he did.  The stories of his drive are legendary.  Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Steve Jobs, is known to be just as tenacious in his pursuit of perfection.  He revises his scripts right up until the moment of shooting.

As troubled as Michael Jackson’s private life might have been, he is at the top of almost every list of the greatest performers of all time.  No recording, no stage set, no dance number was ever good enough.  He knew there was always room to make it even better.

Why is it that some people set the alarm to go off at 4:04 am every day and climb out bed to finish a run or complete a workout before heading to work?  They’ve done more before 7:00 am than many will do all day.

Why is it that some people rehearse dance seven days a week, or practice their instrument for hours on end, or write fifty pages a day, every day?  Some people have made a commitment to be the best at what they do.

I’ve wavered on the title of this blog all week.  I struggle with the conflict between done and done perfectly.  In pursuit of perfection, we are sometimes paralyzed.  “In pursuit of excellence” may, in fact, be the better title.  The goal is to be the best you can be, not necessarily to be better than everyone else.

None of this is easy.  Sleep is easier than waking up early to go for a run in the rain. Sitting on the couch is easier than heading off to the dance studio to practice the same routine for the hundredth time that week.  Snapping the quick shot is easier than waiting for hours for the perfect light to get the best possible photograph.  This relentless pursuit of perfection takes stamina and persistence and grit.  There are some people though who embrace the suck.

I don’t have competition in my top five strengths.  (We’ll pause as those who know me best say it must be number six.) But I certainly want to succeed at whatever I do.  My sparks are teaching and learning…and writing.  I was rejected by my first publisher this week.  I submitted a book proposal, and I got a polite email on my birthday that they did not feel the book would be appropriate for their readers.  I am undaunted.  I will continue to work on the manuscript.  I will finish it, and I will revise and revise and revise in a relentless pursuit of perfection.