I am blessed to have maintained a precious relationship with three colleagues with whom I worked over a number of years as part of an exciting community development initiative called ACE Communities. Although we are all now self-employed we continue to connect via monthly group Skype calls. Our conversations are a mix of personal and business but always always reflect deep, rich learning, and probably a little too much fun.
In anticipation of an upcoming call this week, one of the group suggested we provide a bit more structure by having each of us address three questions. One question triggered a memory from many years ago that never fails to make me smile. That question was, “What one moment stands out for you that’s been life-changing?”
I was 18 years old and in my second year of serious competition in track.
With some of my key contenders competing elsewhere, I managed to win gold at the Eastern Canadian meet in the 400 metres and to everyone’s surprise, especially my own, qualified for the national championships in Winnipeg.
Although my coach was really positive and never really said so, I knew I was in over my head. Whereas the pre-printed program listed qualifying times for the other competitors, mine was blank. One look at the times of the competitors and I knew the coach had omitted my time to save me being embarrassed.
Nervous but not ready to give up and motivated by the very real possibility of finishing last, I blasted out of the starting blocks in the semi-final, led the pack for the first 300 metres, then tensed up, died in the final stretch, and barely hung on to qualify for the final.
Downplaying expectations but pleased that I had qualified for the final, my coach stressed the importance of the race as “experience” telling me to go out and do the best I could. I figured that was a nice way of telling me there wasn’t much hope of me winning the race!
Disappointed with my near choke finish in the semi-finals, but not really giving up hope of a respectable finish, I figured it was time for a change.
Knowing I couldn’t handle the pressure of leading the pack, I opted instead for another strategy.
This time when the starting pistol blasted, instead of going all out, I began a strong, steady, and very relaxed run, settling in at the rear of the pack. I cruised, cool and calm down the backstretch, before starting to dig in. I drove into the final turn and motored into the homestretch picking up speed as I went.
To this day, I have never forgotten the wonderful disbelief I felt, as having passed all other runners, I suddenly realized I was in the lead. A goofy grin on my face, I flew down the last stretch to win an upset gold medal at the Canada Games in by far the best time I had ever run.
Although I know that in the big picture of life, it was, after all, simply a race, it taught me two extraordinarily important life lessons.
First of all, I learned I could do what I set my mind to doing. Having beaten the odds and proven the experts wrong in obtaining a dream, I knew it could be done again. I learned that if I knew what I wanted, stayed focused, and worked hard, dreams do come true. What an incredibly important lesson for an eighteen year old to learn.
The second and just as powerful lesson…..”sometimes winning a race means change not chance”.
The logic of sports can be applied to everyday situations. If you aren’t winning anyway, what have you got to lose by changing? If your job, a relationship, business, or simply your golf stroke isn’t working…don’t be afraid to change.
That goes for visions of the future as well. Hang on to the dream, keep your eye on the prize, but revisit your plan or strategy for how you are going to get there.