Want to be great? Always Touch the Fantastic Line
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 the half 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?
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 practice He 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.