A few months ago, a group of us were preparing for half- and full-marathons, when our schedule was somewhat disrupted by bad weather. In addition, there were the normal conflicts of life, which make devoting hours to training runs of more than 10 miles difficult. As we gathered together and were checking-in, one woman, a mother of three with a demanding job quietly reported, “I had to do my 20-mile run on the treadmill because of my schedule.” The rest of us were a little stunned in disbelief. This was followed immediately by a bit of humility as we realized that the amount fortitude required to spend three hours by yourself on a treadmill to do a training run pretty much dwarfed our minor training issues.
We are all born with certain physical and intellectual qualities, and then given parents and an upbringing which presents us with a gift or a challenge. One thing that is entirely under our control, however, is effort. A few years ago, I came upon a pre-game pep talk given by Ray Lewis to the Stanford University basketball team. Leaving aside grammatical and extraneous issues, it made my heart beat faster and I was ready to run through the proverbial brick wall for a noble cause. My daughter, realizing the effect of this talk on me, transcribed it and gave it to me for a gift. Here is an excerpt:
Effort is between you and you, and nobody else. So that team that thinks it’s ready to see you, they think what they’ve seen on film, they ain’t saw what film shows, because every day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment. So now you’ve got to go out and show them that I’m a different creature now than I was five minutes ago, ’cause I’m pissed off for greatness. Cause if you ain’t pissed off for greatness, that just means you’re okay with being mediocre, and ain’t no man in here okay with just basic.
Several days a week, I do a workout with some pretty amazing instructors. It is short and intense and relatively expensive. Sometimes these instructors will say, “This is your workout, don’t cheat yourself.” Here’s the thing, though: only I know if I’m cheating myself. The difference between all-out effort and almost doing my best may be a fairly imperceptible 1/4″ depth. When I walk out, the degree to which I am satisfied is entirely dependent on the effort I’ve given.
More than 30 years ago, I was associated with a graduate program which was fairly competitive in its selection of students. One woman was a particular curiosity, in that she came with the highest of recommendations but truly atrocious standardized test scores. She made no excuses for these tests; she just admitted that was not a good test-taker. Nevertheless, after much consideration, she was admitted to the program and ended up winning its highest academic and character award. She proved that effort matters to a huge degree.
One of my favorite quotes of all-time comes from Jerry Rice: “Today I’ll do what others won’t so tomorrow I will do what others can’t.” I mentioned this quote to a couple of teenagers who come to our gym at 5:30 A.M., when most of their peers are still asleep. They had told me that they come early because they have baseball practice and homework after school. This sort of effort inspires me.
Too often we look at business CEOs and sports stars and talk about how “lucky” they are. The truth is, luck is seldom involved. The road to success is littered with those who could have completed the journey had they made the effort.
This picture would not be complete if I didn’t mention the relational aspect of this. Having others who help us put forth our best effort is essential. In my next post, I will talk about the relationships which make us better people, but let me mention this: In every difficult challenge I face, I look to do it with others. Whether it is some technical task at work or the previously-mentioned gym class, having others there creates a synergy of effort beyond which we could produce alone.
In the end, though, you and you alone hold the pen to writing your future, and that pen is labeled “effort”.