During one of the final high school meets of the year, Lee Cahoun knocked over one of the hurdles near the beginning of the race, which he hadn’t done all season. His misstep allowed his competitors a considerable lead, but Lee gutted it out and managed to take fifth, which give his school the championship.
After the race, he was offered a scholarship to North Carolina Central University, his only college offer. Lee, unsure of why he would receive an offer after what was not his best performance, questioned the recruiter. The reply speaks volumes into our lives.
“Because of the determination I saw in you. You are not the type of person who would quit, …and that’s the kind of person I want.”
That determination pushed Calhoun on to become a gold medalist in the hurdles at both the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.
The biggest lesson in Lee Calhoun’s story for me is that of perspective. I’ve stood just down the track from the finish line, staring back at the length I’ve just run, knowing I didn’t give my best performance and feeling like dirt. At that moment, I was wrapped up in my own little world and thinking, “the only thing anyone watching would have seen was a loss.”
When you are the one on the track, it is difficult to see anything other than wins and losses.
In the stands; however, you can see so much more. You can see someone overcome a slip or fall and regain position…even if they don’t finish first. It’s possible to tell if the person who falls or gets a bad start decides to just coast it in because they can’t win.
Lee Calhoun’s recruiter obviously knew that he was a talented hurdler before seeing him run in that particular race. This isn’t a Cinderella story. But what he saw that sealed the deal was an intangible that made the physical talent worth more. A sense of character that carries far beyond a single win or loss, which set Calhoun apart from those that finished ahead of him.
Our challenge in life is to see ourselves from both vantage points.
On the track, in the arena, we have to know in our hearts what level of effort we are giving. “Am I laying it on the line with all I have or am I giving just enough to get the job done?” Both are okay depending on the situation, but we have to be honest with our inner competitor. “Was this a real win based on my effort, or the lack of competition around me?” “Regardless of my position, did I run hard to the finish?”
In the stands, the recruiter’s view, we look at ourselves critically to see what we can’t from the track. We are looking for the qualities of our performance that show our long-term strengths and weaknesses. It’s less about where you cross the finish line and more about how you cross. “Is there a character flaw that causes me to pull up if things aren’t going according to plan?” “Do I look like I’m running to beat those around me or to perform my best?”
We can, and should, use a coach or trusted 2nd party to help us develop this dual perspective, but we need to see them both for ourselves too. When we have the awareness of what we are doing in the moment and can pull the lessons we’ll need to build going forward, our own private gold medals can’t be far behind.
Be your best,