May 312011

You Won’t See Them Practice or Prepare …

Unless You’re One of Them

It does not matter your field of endeavor. You could be an entrepreneur, an athlete, a scientist, a musician, or the CEO of any size company, but unless you are one of them, you will not see the “greats” practice or prepare. They are up early or they stay late, in order to perfect their “game” and bring it to its highest level.

I am in the midst of an in-depth study of “greatness” throughout the ages. This includes taking a close look at the lives of hundreds of history’s greatest people in a wide variety of fields and endeavors. It also includes interviewing dozens of contemporary “greats” throughout sport, business, science, music, art and beyond, and looking for common threads in how they have reached such heights.

One such common thread is that those who reach an extraordinarily high level of achievement in their field almost uniformly are preparing when the rest of the world, including their competitors and often times colleagues or teammates, are sleeping. They shoot free throws, they do extra workouts, they prepare speeches, they create, they analyze, they synthesize, and they hone their skills to levels that others only hope to achieve. This is the time they “steal” to take their game to the next level.

Does this mean that they don’t do all the other preparation that their teammates, colleagues and competitors are doing throughout the rest of the day? Of course not. They’re doing that too. The pre- and post-workday “workouts in the dark” and preparation are fueled by their dedication and drive to become the best they can. Sometimes it’s as though they cannot stop themselves from additional preparation in the “off hours”. They are driven by something deep inside that pushes them to put in all that extra work.

Is such drive and dedication something that can be imposed from outside? No. It must come from within. Sometimes it’s hard to even understand the source of this drive. But in the “great” ones it exists. Their bodies and their minds become “vehicles” of greatness, pushed by a force larger than them to do their best and always try to take it to the next level. Does it feel like a burden or extra work to them? Sometimes. But most of the time, it just feels natural. It feels like what they’re supposed to be doing to fulfill their dreams and accomplish all that they can, individually and for their team or organization.

So, if it comes from deep within, can you try to find it? Can you look for a formula to become great? Well, there’s no simple formula or recipe, like if you were going to bake a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies. One thing is clear, however, based on my experience as a coach and as a researcher in the area of “greatness”: before you can find this drive and become “great,” you must first find the endeavor or pursuit that will allow you to bring out your own greatness. It must be something that “lights the fire” within you. It may take a while and it may show up when you’re least expecting it, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll know when you find it.

It is not something that can easily be forced, even if you have the aptitude. Sure, we try to force it all the time, on ourselves, on our kids, on those around us. We focus on what we think we want or what we think society wants or what we think we “should” do. Trust me; this approach will not work. Yes, you can become good at something because others want you to, but you will not become “great”. The only way anyone becomes great at anything is if THEY want it, and only if they want it REALLY bad. Only if they want it so bad that they will not stop at anything short of greatness. Again, the drive MUST come from within. You can receive guidance and support from those around you, but the drive has to come from WITHIN.

What is the source of this desire? From what I’ve seen, it varies widely. For one person, the drive and desire may come from having been told they cannot do something. For another, it may come from following a family tradition of greatness in a particular endeavor. For yet another, their “why” may come from early childhood exposure to a sport or other endeavor that lights a fire within them. Frankly, this question of “why” is one of the hardest ones to understand. It’s a highly personal and individual driver. There really isn’t a lot of uniformity, but there are some common threads. More on this later, as my study into “greatness” continues.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin