“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To finish the evening we’re going to give the Craig Penley Athlete of the Year Award to the most outstanding senior athlete.” Our high school athletic director was not the most eloquent man in the world, but he could not have spoken any sweeter words.
“The recipient of this award exemplifies what we coaches feel is the best in performance both on and off the field,” he continued, “and shows us what a student athlete is intended to be.”
I sat there with my best friend and chief rival, Dave, and waited for what we both assumed was a foregone conclusion. Since kindergarten, he and I had stacked awards between the two of us. The night of the athletic banquet at the end of our senior year was no different.
Throughout the course of our high school careers, we had matured only slightly from our primary school battles. I had a bit more natural ability but lacked Dave’s tenacity and work ethic. The absence never bothered me because when we went head-to-head athletically, I typically won. Advantage me.
The tables always turned when there was a vote involved. Dave was more diplomatic, cool headed, and frankly, likeable. My lack of self-confidence put a chip on my shoulder, which made me less approachable and seemingly arrogant. It didn’t matter though, because numbers don’t lie and that’s what sports is about… numbers.
According to the numbers, I had the award sealed and everybody knew it. I set a new stolen base record, lead the team in batting average, and runs batted in. I set new records in the long-jump, 100 meter dash, and few others for added measure.
Dave easily nudged me in basketball as our point guard and floor leader. I lead the team in hustle points, floor burns, and technical fouls, but everything else weighed too much in my favor. I got ready to accept the crowning achievement of my prep career.
I heard our athletic director say, “The winner of this year’s Craig Penley award is…” as I shifted in my seat to stand, “David Hall.”
The air was nearly sucked out of the room. Sheepishly and with obvious discomfort, Dave rose to accept the award. I couldn’t look at anyone or say anything. My ears throbbed and my vision tunneled. I felt like a boxer who took a massive shot to the head. Nothing made sense and I just wanted to find the ropes to steady myself.
What freaking planet were my coaches on! Couldn’t they add? Didn’t they see the same obvious math as everyone else?
I came back to reality when I felt Dave sit down next to me. Without turning my head, I reached to pat him on the back. He turned the plaque toward me, pointed to his name and said, “We can buff that off.”
See! Even Dave new there must have been a mistake!
But there was no mistake. That simple act of friendship just exemplified why he deserved the honor.
A few days after our athletic banquet I qualified for the State Championship Track Meet in four events. No one from our school’s proud athletic tradition had ever done that. When I climbed on the bus after the meet, medals clanging on my chest, my AD (who was also our track coach) looked at me and said, “Pretty good day’s work.”
I said, “Like you would know to stupid SOB! You wouldn’t know athletic excellence if it punched you in the mouth!” Of course, all of that was said on the inside. On the outside I could only manage a weak nod and feigned smile. I had never felt so empty.
The State Meet was a joke. I didn’t even want to be there and it showed. I lacked purpose, vision, gratitude, belief, forgiveness, and awareness. Six of the seven building blocks for success, missing. That same lack of… everything, lasted 10 more years.
Only when I was introduced to self-improvement and began studying the most successful people I could find did I realize what that whole episode was about. In our tiny gymnasium, with what felt like the entire world watching, I got the lesson of a lifetime and missed it.
Moreover, there was no one available to help the lesson land. That award exemplified a difference in two approaches to life. One concerned with scores and being better than those around you. Call it comparative excellence.
The other focused on personal bests for the individual and bringing personal bests out of those around you. This is real excellence.
While I strove to gain significance by being the best as far as I could see (not past the edge of my ego), Dave sought to make our teams better by raising the game of others. The same lessons define excellence in our lives, companies, and organizations.
Striving for our best is what matters. It doesn’t always require that you be your best in order to be number 1, but what kind of habits does that build for the rest of your life? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In a life where most people run and hide from challenge and growth, someone who reads a book per year is pretty amazing by comparison. But is that all you’ve got?
When we get our minds right and outwardly pursue our best self without fear of failure or retribution, we liberate those around us to do the same. They might not take the liberty and use it, but that isn’t our concern. Our example is what we control.
Challenge yourself to 10 days of excellence. See what happens when you give your best each day. Pick one task in a day and make sure you do the best job you can and see what happens.
Your life is waiting and your reward is much more than a plaque.
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PJ McClure helps aspiring entrepreneurs to multi-million dollar business owners destroy roadblocks and seize opportunities to achieve their ideal vision of success. He is an award-winning speaker and the best-selling author of Flip the SWITCH: How to Turn On and Turn Up Your Mindset and Unlock Your Life: How to go beyond Time-Management to the Life of Your Dreams. You can download a copy of Flip the SWITCH for Free by clicking here.