From the time I was a five-year old child I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I inherently knew that no one could just show up and be a professional. I knew it was going to take work, lots of work. I would get up early on Saturday mornings, grab my glove and a tennis ball and throw “pitches” against our garage door, aiming at the tile squares. I imagined myself pitching in the World Series against the best players. Pitching for my favorite team, the Milwaukee Braves.
My professional baseball dream never came to pass as I had many challenges. First, I was in the upper Midwest and our summers were short. I didn’t have the time to perfect my craft. Second, I was short and very slight. I was consistently one of the smallest in my class. And third, I was born with one arm shorter than the other. Not to say, I couldn’t overcome these challenges, but the odds were stacked against me. That didn’t stop me from trying. I learned to enjoy challenges at a very young age, which set the stage for how I approached life.
As I grew up, I found other ways to challenge myself. I was a pretty good runner, so I started training for marathons. I was fortunate enough to qualify and run the Boston Marathon in 2003. Then I set my sights on triathlons. I had to learn how to swim well enough to complete open-water swims. My stretch goal was to complete a full Ironman Triathlon, 2.4-mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. I conquered that in 2006, celebrating my 50th year around the sun. Next was trail running. I found it to be challenging and took on some of the most difficult trail races. I did pretty well amongst an incredibly supportive and fun trail running group. I completed a 50-mile race and the six-day, 120-mile Trans Rockies Run. All this to say, I continued to take on physical challenges despite my thoughts on odds against me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was following what researcher, Angela Duckworth, penned as Grit. Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance. Her research shows that deliberate practice by making it a habit are the keys to Grit or sticking to your purpose in life. As my title indicates, there are no easy roads or paths to follow, however there are similarities in how the top people in their fields get to where they are. Dr. Duckworth describes the basic requirements of deliberate practice as:
· A clearly defined stretch goal
· Full concentration and effort
· Immediate and informative feedback
· Repetition, reflection and refinement
Returning to my childhood baseball story and how I followed deliberate practice without having any idea that’s what I was doing.
· Though it may have been a bit misguided, my stretch goal was to be a professional baseball player. At the very least I wanted to be one of the best players in Little League.
· When I practiced on my own, I created a story around it that took my full concentration and effort when I threw that tennis ball against the garage door.
· I received immediate feedback by making one of the square tiles my target for my pitches.
· In order to get better, I repeated my efforts day after day, week after week. I emulated professional ballplayers to see if that would help me. What I lacked was a coach to encourage me and a frame of mind to not get angry or disappointed when I didn’t do well.
I stuck with baseball through high school and even a year into college. I was never the best player on my team, but it never stopped me from trying. I was consistently one of the smallest players and had to find ways to be successful without being a star. Once I realized that my dream to be a professional baseball player was not going happen, my goals changed. In my professional career in the YMCA, I was responsible for youth sports leagues, including baseball. I realized that my love for the sport translated into making sure kids had a place to play and develop their skills. To this day, I still look for a day when I can be a volunteer coach for a high school team.
In my readings, I have found a tremendous amount of intersection with some of the best research psychologists: Angela Duckworth and Grit, Brene’ Brown and Dare to Lead, James Clear and Atomic Habits, and Daniel Goleman and Marc Brackett’s work in Emotional Intelligence. Their work inspires me to better serve people by the knowledge I gain and by practice, practice, practice along with being present in the moment and bringing my best self to each and every encounter. I hope to leave people a little better than how I found them. I’m not perfect, or even good at this. I try to take on what James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits, be 1% better each day. I realized that I laid the groundwork to work on life challenges as a young boy aspiring to be a great baseball player.
Passion, perseverance, commitment to a purpose, getting a little better every day, effort and sweat, creating positive habits, being vulnerable and knowing thyself are the teachings that drive me to be better and translate to my service to others! A new challenge awaits each day. This past year has allowed me time to truly reflect on my response to challenges and how I can help others through their challenges.
Contact me to find out more about Emotional Intelligence for Leaders or coaching.