I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very talented. I wasn’t blessed with superior intellect, physical stature or athletic skills. I’m average in just about every way except one. I don’t quit – for any reason – but in truth, that hasn’t always been true. I was once a quitter. I had to learn not to quit.
I was a late bloomer – I got my driving license when I was 15 years old, midway through my freshman year in high school. On that license, it was noted that I was five feet, zero inches tall and 100 pounds. I was a runt and because of that size, I was always the last picked for anything and always rode the bench at every sport I participated in. I tried hard to play football and basketball but I was too short and too small to be a real player – but over time that changed, as all things do.
Since I was small and short, I practiced my ball handling skills and evasiveness. I learned to read my opponents and anticipate where they were going and what they were going to do. I learned that everyone has a “tell” that telegraphed their next move – and more importantly, I learned to hide mine. I learned that I didn’t have to be fast, I just had to have the fastest first step because once I got past them, they would never be able to catch me. I was never a fast shortstop in baseball but because I studied the opposing players, 99% of the time, I knew (based on where their feet and upper body were positioned) where the ball was going to be hit. I was always able to break – even before the ball got to the plate – to be in position to make a play on the ball.
I did the same thing mentally. I read. I studied. I learned. I understood that it was just as important, perhaps even moreso, to have a quick mental first step. If I knew more, read more and studied more than my opponents, the same thing would happen in life as happened on the baseball field and the basketball court.
This was a four-year process. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had grown over a foot and gained 75 pounds. I was six foot one and weighed 175 pounds and thanks to all my work over the preceding years, I was actually a pretty good athlete and student. My problem was that I realized it too late to be as good as I could have been.
There are sure times when I have wanted to quit. I have humblebragged about my participation in the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in Park City yesterday. It was truly 16 miles of the hardest terrain I have voluntarily run, crawled and scrambled over. I finished last in my age bracket – but I finished. That was my goal. At the same time some of my friends were just getting geared up to play golf or were still having coffee and reading the paper, I was 7 miles into 2500 feet of altitude gain and standing at the base of the final pitch up to the top of Jupiter Peak, staring up at nearly 3 tenths of a mile at a 550-foot vertical climb (a slope of around 55 degrees). I wanted to quit. I had not trained adequately, not having time to run trails or many runs over 5 miles on flat ground but this was literally and figuratively a mountain I wanted to conquer.
Knowing that there was another 10,000 foot peak the mile after I made it up this one, I almost turned my back on the challenge and started back down. But I didn’t. I wanted it too bad. It didn’t matter that I would be last in my bracket. I wanted to be able to say that I did it. Strangely enough, I thought of this quote from Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
People have asked me to what I attribute the success I have been blessed with. I think that quote from Coolidge says it all. I don’t know when to quit. This is my advice to anyone who wishes to achieve anything. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Keep learning, practicing and trying because there is truly nothing that can take the place of persistence.