Towards the end of my last post I commented that we need to be committed to doing our best. To work harder at being smarter. It’s all about committing to and living up to the United States Army’s recruiting slogan (1980-2001), “Be All You Can Be.”
Doing our best doesn't require a competition to sort out the winners and losers. In business and in life, what is more important is your drive and mindset. Winning a contest is about who is the best on a given day. A winner’s mindset is about improving, about making a realistic assessment of where you are right now and what you need to improve – and to work at getting a little better every day.
Even when people with a winning mindset compete, they lose some contests along the way. At elite levels of sports, the differences between athletes are incredibly small, and those small things can make all of the difference. The very best don’t try to get by on their natural talent alone, they are always preparing themselves, studying the game, looking for and working on developing an edge.
I recall a magazine article years ago about basketball player Larry Bird. Someone noticed him by himself on an opposing team’s court, dribbling a basketball over every square inch of the court. This person asked Larry what he was doing, and he replied that he was looking for a soft spot on the floor, where the ball wouldn’t bounce back quite as quickly as you would expect. If he found a spot like that, he would make a mental note of it so that during a game, if someone dribbled a ball on that spot, he had a better chance of making a steal.
That’s a solid commitment to being prepared, of thinking about and studying the game so that you can contribute to a win! Of course, we all aren’t Larry Bird. I’ve entered plenty of sports contests in my day, but as an athlete, I’m not in the upper end of the spectrum. But that doesn’t stop me from committing to and preparing to be my best.
For example, when I was in college I entered a team triathlon event with a good friend. We were young and athletic at the time, but we weren’t exactly listed as being the top athletes on any college roster. We still managed to pull off an eighth-place showing. And we sought to improve over the next few years. While we never won, we did manage to place fourth overall in our final year. We learned, trained, and got a little better each and every year (moving up one place each year), despite the competition improving each year.
When it comes to being a true winner, it’s not about the contest. Contests are a measurement of where you are at a given point in time. It’s the spirit of a winner that is important, of striving to understand what it takes to be the best and applying yourself to reaching that standard.
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