Tag Archives: focus

Roger Bannister – Making the Impossible Possible

There are certain names, achievements and events that just simply are.  Neil Armstrong,  first man to walk on the moon.  The Wright Brothers, the first to fly.  Roger Bannister, broke the 4 minute mile barrier.  In these stories of great achievement, of individuals doing what moments before seemed impossible, come great lessons.  Roger Bannister died Saturday.  Though he will forever be remembered for breaking the 4 minute barrier, it is the lessons he shared that I found myself reflecting on this weekend.

Once the impossible is made possible, it becomes common.  History is riddled with things once thought impossible.  Flight, going to the moon, running a sub 4 minute mile.  All examples of things that could never be done.  While they might not be entirely common, they are certainly not impossible, and short of the moon, not even news worthy.  If one believes something is impossible, it will never happen.  But if one accepts that something is possible, they are on the path to achievement.

Amazing achievement demands sacrifice.  So much goes into that simple sentence, but breaking the 4 minute mile barrier is a story of sacrifice and pain.  It hurts to run fast.  Any runner suffers, but running fast for any amount of distance really, really hurts.  The mental fortitude to endure such self-inflicted pain is the true strength of a runner.  Running at an elite, world-class level, is a monastic existence.  Roger Bannister sacrificed in all other aspects of his life to achieve his goal.  Things thought impossible are not made possible without unfathomable sacrifice.

Focus and Commitment.  It was the most amazing part of the entire Roger Bannister story…he was going to medical school when he broke the 4 minute barrier!  It was the era of “Amateur Athletics” – one could not profit from athletics; it was unseemly.  Roger Bannister was in medical school, would train over his lunch hour (an hour to change, run, cool down, shower and change – an hour), and then occasionally run at meets strictly for the competition and only when his academic schedule allowed.  There were no endorsements, no shoe contracts, no government programs or athletic assistance.  He had to cover his own costs, buy his own shoes, sharpen his own spikes, all of it.  He had to focus and commit to the goal, then do everything required to achieve his goal.

Nothing is ever done alone.  The track optimizes individual effort.  It is the runner, on the track, against the clock.  Yet in his efforts to break the 4 minute barrier, Roger Bannister had help.  He had a coach and trainer, he had teammates and mentors, and on that fateful day he had pacers.  There literally were men who went before him, breaking the wind, setting the stage for his final lap push to finish in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  Nothing, even the most solitary of endeavors, is every done entirely alone.

Competition.  Having rivals.  Being pushed.  Having someone to chase, someone nipping at your heels.  It matters.  Roger Bannister was not the only person chasing the 4 minute mile.  The rivalry with American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy was en epic contest.  They all were running in the 4:02 range and were desperate to be the one who broke the barrier.  They each pushed the other, chipping away, gradually going just a bit faster, training a touch harder, honing their craft and demanding more from the others just by competing.  Just as it was a “space race” to the moon, so it was with Bannister, Santee and Landy, and so it is with each of us who compete.  Thank the competition, they make you better.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb was the book that introduced me to the full story of the 4 Minute Mile.  Like most everyone, I knew Roger Bannister broke the barrier, but knowing what it took, how it was done, the rivalry with Landy and Santee, the worldwide quest to do it, the mental and physical barriers.  That book sets atop one of my book shelves for a reason.  It is that good and taught me so much.  Sir Roger Bannister made the impossible absolutely common.  Yet when asked, he holds his work in medical research as his greatest personal achievement.  That last part is what makes the loss of Roger Bannister so great and the lessons his quest illustrates all the more telling.  He was a regular, and by all accounts, a good guy, who repeatedly did amazing things.  He achieved because he believed, he sacrificed, was focused and committed, had and accepted help, and embraced the competition.

You know, all the things any of us can do.

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Just Keep Pushing, or Spinning, or…

Two reminders in two days.  One unfolded in almost complete isolation and anonymity over the course of hours, and the other…well about as public it gets and it took all of 17 seconds.  A lonely road in the Mt. Hood Classic stage race, and the Stanley Cup Finals.  Two extremes yet the same lesson – never quit.  You stop working at it and your fate is sealed.  You press on and maybe, just maybe you will reach your goal.

First there was this line from a buddy as he described the last stage of a bike race on Sunday:

“Just spin and finish and all will be well!”

He was 50+ miles into a 70+ mile final stage when his body started shutting down and he lost contact with the leaders.  As he described it, he could pull over and quit, which every logical thought told him to do, or he could pedal.  Needless to say he rode through the pain.  He kept spinning, eventually caught back onto the leaders and ultimately found himself standing on the podium.  At that dark and lonely moment he had the choice:  Quit or Continue.  He carried on; slow at first, but gradually gaining speed, and ultimately gaining strength and finally success.

Then there was the Blackhawks.  The biggest stage in hockey.  An international audience.  Time was running out in the game, the Blackhawks had a choice – play on or  let the last 90 seconds wind down and head back to Chicago for game seven on their home ice.  Not only did they press on, they pulled their goalie and went all in to try to tie the game.  The video is just too good not to post…sorry Bruins fans, but the action is just too good:

Nothing too complex really…just keep grinding.  Keep moving.  Keep pushing.  Keep working it.  Keep playing.  Never give up and never quit.  Yet again the clichés of sports: “race through the finish line”, “play to the whistle”, and of course “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”. There is a reason clichés become, well clichés.  They are based in fact and have withstood the test of time.  Yet again, thanks to sports for reminding us all to stick with it, even when it seems all is lost.

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What Zig Ziglar Shared…at least with me

Zig Ziglar. Sales. Success. Positive Attitude. All synonyms really, and that is one great legacy. For almost anyone that has spent time in sales, client service, or just in business, Zig Ziglar is sort of legend, or at least a myth. The books, the seminars, the podcasts, the videos, motivational series, or just the stories of having heard or seen him at a conference are part of the fabric of business.  Even if you never read one of his books or saw him in person, the name itself is just memorable.

15+ years ago I saw Zig Ziglar at a seminar, and I think I saw him at least a few other times at various training, leadership or motivational rah-rah corporate conferences.  Maybe they were videos – I just don’t remember the specifics.  I have read or skimmed several of the books.  Though I was no great fan, I knew enough to recognize a good thing.  He was folksy, grandfathery, sort of like the colorful and fun uncle, or the small town guys out front of the barbershop spinning tales and sharing wisdom.  He was neither threatening nor flashy, yet he was animated and engaging.  He had that disarming quality of seemingly sharing homespun wisdom in a manner that just draws people in and appeals to almost every audience.

Over the years I realized Zig Ziglar was not terribly innovative, original, or even profound.  However what he was, and in my opinion why he resonated, is that he told you what you already knew but were afraid or unwilling to acknowledge.  He spoke of a truth that resides in everyone, yet it is a truth that is very difficult to recognize and even harder to accept.  Zig Ziglar was the mirror that we were forced to look into; he challenged his audience to do what needed to be done.  He forced his audience to acknowledge what they knew deep down had to be done.  And he did it in the nicest way possible.

What Zig Ziglar spoke and wrote of was simple really: work hard, do the right thing, focus on what is really important and go the extra mile.  In sales he would tell you to fill the funnel, to deliver what you promised and to ask for the order.  He was all about being positive, recognizing the good and getting rid of the bad.  He put the ownness on you; it was up to you to be positive, to take responsibility and to do what needed to be done.  What needed to be done in life, in business, and in relationships.  Again, not terribly innovative or original, yet something everyone to one degree or another needs to hear occasionally.

Impressive really, the ability to tell people what they do not want to hear and have them like you for doing it.  The real genius of Zig Ziglar:  he was able to do the above AND have you pay for it!  Yep, that guy could sell, no question.   Literally tens of millions of books in print, countless hours of seminars and presentations on video, an entire company built around the man and his theories.  All told an impressive legacy.  Not bad for a small town salesman.

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Olympic Lessons and Too Much Television

As expected, there has been a lot of “tv time” over the last two weeks.  Sleep patterns are off, productivity is down, and I really want a kayak and my own white water slalom course.  But above all, it is the lessons the two weeks of athletic competition teach and remind us of that is the real benefit.  Now the geography and cultural lessons are not a bad benefit either.

So, what have we all learned?

– If you are going to be involved in something where there are winners and losers, rankings and awards, do NOT do it in a field that is judged.  Utter committment to something to have your fate determined by others – no thank you.  Give me points scored, targets hit, times recorded, or whatever quantifiable scoring system you wish, but not judges.

– Clearly, Ryan Lochte wanted to beat Michael Phelps in a head-to-head race in the Olympics. Once he did it, he never raced as well.  Motivation and goals are funny things.  It was interesting how much better Michael Phelps swam after loosing a few races.

– Hope Solo, and really anyone who struggles to control their emotions, needs to stay off Twitter. Though it will rarely if ever make you millions, I am confident Twitter can cost you millions.

– It does not matter what you have done. It only matters what you do in the moment. #1 ranking, reigning World Champion, world record holder, being the favorite – none of that matters when you are in the moment.

– The general public LOVES to be spoon fed their entertainment. Tape delay, knowing the results, sappy back stories and profiles – it has all been consumed at an unprecedented level. Easy and prepackaged – it’s what people want.

– There is now, and probably always has been, just a certain percentage of folks who will never be happy.   They just have to snipe at things.  The irony is that all of the snarky comments and criticisms are usually delivered while the person is doing the thing they are criticizing.  The bashing of the Olympics was done as folks were sitting and watching.  Really?

– Misty and Kerri.  First off, when you can go by one name, you have truly “made it”.  But it is that reminder that loving what you do, and with whom you do it, is the key to greatness.

– Just be nice – it makes such a huge difference.  Gabby Douglas will be the face, well certainly the smile, of these games.  Not only did she perform when it mattered most, but she did it all with a smile.  Everyone likes the positive, warm and just plain likeable person…especially when they win.

– The corollary to the above is also true – not everyone will like the arrogant and cocky person, but they will certainly respect them IF they deliver.  Say what you will about Usain Bolt, but there is no doubt that guy delivers.  Flat out amazing.

– Yet again, it is proven that everyone loves Canada.  Who, other than the host country, always gets the loudest ovation at the Opening Ceremonies?  Canada.

For all the obscure events, sappy stories, P&G commercials, and endless pitches for NBC’s fall programing line-up (Matthew Perry anyone?) it has been a great two weeks.  Yes it was all tape delayed, but it is still an amazing thing to see absolute perfection in motion.  The way Bolt runs, Phelps swims, and Douglas flies, or any of the other folks who toil in total anonymity, it is an amazing thing to see.   Thanks for sharing.

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Olympic Opportunities

Yes, I am an Olympic geek. Totally admit it. I like the whole thing – the spectacle of it all, the competition of course, the culture, the sob stories, the history, the international spirit and ideal, the obscure events (Modern Pentathlon), and of course the raw commercialism and pure excess. It is great entertainment for two weeks, served up in wonderful prepackaged clips and snippets.

But what I love most about the Olympics is that sometimes there is a very special someone who comes along and has “that moment”. They rise to the occasion, they not only win, but they capture the moment, they create a legacy and memory that lasts a lifetime. But it is how they then go on to literally make a business and career out of that moment –  the business side of me is always in awe.

Think about it – Bruce Jenner, Mike Eruzione, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci – all had their moment a generation or more ago, yet they all quite literally live in our public consciousness. They have made a career out of their moment. Pitching products, reality television, motivational speaking, coaching, consulting or just flat being paid to be places, they have parlayed a moment in time, one opportunity, into a lifetime of success. Pretty amazing really.

For all of us, there is a moment of opportunity that is out there waiting to be seized. Granted, it might not be on a stage quite as vast as the Olympics, but that moment is out there.  It might not be on the track, in the gym or on the ice; it might be at work, at home, in the community, or quite literally anywhere.  The key for everyone is to be ready to seize that moment when it comes.

It is easy to poke fun and say that “they only did that one thing…once”, but there were years of toil and sweat, practice and pain, sacrifice and focus that went into earning their opportunity.  They were ready to seize their moment.  Then to parlay that moment into a lifetime of success…just amazing.  It is available to all of us if we follow their Olympic example and seize the opportunities that are out there.  Prepare, train, focus, perform, achieve…and maybe parlay that moment into a lifetime business.

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Odin On…Traits of Success

As anyone who knew Odin will attest, he was intense.  Intense in absolutely everything he did, but especially when it came to play.  There is a term that is used in assessing dogs called “play factor”.  Odin did not have a high play factor, he had an insanely high play factor.  Off the charts to use a cliché.  He was all play, all the time.  He loved to play; he had to play.  And we always joked, if only we could teach people to have his level of intensity, focus and passion, business would boom.

What we realized over time is that Odin’s ability to focus, to have such a relentless intensity on play was just him being him.  Play was his passion.  He loved everything about it.  Frisbee, footballs, sticks, twigs, pine needles, bark chips, other dogs, and of course the classics of running, jumping, chasing, and just plain old “doing dog things” was what he was all about all the time, and he was relentless in his pursuit of it.

Being told “no”, to “go lay down”, or an occassional “Odin damn it” was crushing to him; he hated to be told no.  But that emotional loss and defeat was very short-lived.  He would quite literally shake it off and be back in the pursuit of play within minutes.  A “no” was nothing more than a temporary roadblock, a brief bump on the journey to the ultimate goal.  He never lost sight of that goal to play – ever.

But above all else, Odin loved to play with others.  Yes, I think maybe he liked me best, but truth be told he loved everyone with an opposable thumb who could throw things.   Then of course other dogs were without question great to share time with, as were cats, rabbits, and really anything else with a pulse.  He was a social boy who loved the company of others.

What was a joke to use early on became a great lesson on what truly makes a successful person.  It was all about his particular passion – passion to play, to pursue play, to be with others, and an ability to allow the passion to trump the “no’s”.  He was intensely focused on play because he loved it and all that it entailed.  Truly successful people are absolutely passionate about what they do and whom they do it with.  They never lose focus and they never let the “no” keep them down for too long.

Not a bad lesson from a dog.  Doubt the CPA will let us take all our dog expenses as a write off, but we will share the lessons for business anyway.  Who knows, maybe it will become an entire series, “Odin On…”, but for now it was one great case study on the traits of successful people.

The one downside of such focus – he could stare a hole into a wall

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Great Moments…

…are born from great opportunities.  It is one of those great quotes and lessons, and now along comes “Linsanity” to remind us that Coach Brooks knew exactly of what he spoke.  Talk about someone earning an opportunity and maximizing it…what a week it has been.

I am not an NBA fan, not even a casual NBA fan.  I am not even a basketball fan.  Sure, March Madness is a blast, and I loved watching the Jordan era Bulls in the finals, but otherwise I am indifferent to basketball.  However, the Jeremy Lin story is absolutely amazing – it is not a Cinderella Story – it is so much more.  Lin is the overlooked grinder, the hard worker, the fighter, the one who battles insane odds clinging to the idea that maybe one day he will get a chance.  Well, he got his chance.

No college scholarship, no NBA draft, repeatedly cut by teams, and above all always discounted.  It is the Rudy story, but it is real, not just a one-off feel good play or two.  Lin is leading a team, both on and off the court.  He is making the sum of the whole greater than the individual parts…in the NBA…the land of egos, guaranteed contracts and figurehead coaches.  It is staggering really.  Who knows how long it will last, but no matter what, Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity” is proof that yes, all it takes is opportunity.

Rocky, Braveheart, The Pursuit of Happyness, Dead Poets Society and “carpe diem”.  Stories, sayings, speeches and other Hollywood sap aside, it is a fact of life – all we can ever ask for is an opportunity.  Yet asking is not enough.  The lesson of Jeremy Lin is that opportunities are not given to those who ask.  Rather, they are earned.  Lin tried, he failed, he tried again.  He practiced, he focused, he fought and he persevered.  He earned his opportunity.  We all know of it because his opportunity to perform came in Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks, a storied franchise, on the largest stage in the largest media market.  All at a moment in time when there are literally no other sports stories – crazy!

The only thing I think any of us would ask of Jeremy Lin is to not go completely Rudy on us. Your story has been amazing, there is no need to overplay it.

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