Giving back

homestead girls xc 2015Remember that big trophy case in your high school? You know the one; it houses all the awards from sports and band and club competitions. It’s filled with statuettes and plaques and medals and team photos, and you always stop to look at it when you go back for a visit. Heck, my daughter’s school is big enough that it has a trophy case for each sport.

Except hers.

No matter how hard you look, you won’t find any awards on display for the girls’ cross country team, even though the team has historically been successful. Heck, this year alone they placed ninth at the state finals, piling up wins and places along the way. So where are the trophies? Where are the ribbons? Does the school hold girls’ xc in complete disdain?

Nope.

When I attended Awards Night, I saw all the hardware displayed in its shiny glory. One statuette must have been at least two feet high; it stood on the table like a beacon, luring the girls to come back for another season, another success. And that was only one of the awards. The spread on the table would have wowed anyone.

By the end of the night, it was gone.

That’s because the coaches felt that since the girls had earned them, they should keep them. They’ve made it a tradition to present each senior runner with one of the awards from the season, choosing according to some anecdote that matches each girl with a particular race.

These aren’t just the varsity runners; they’re ALL the senior runners. That includes seniors on JV who may never have earned an individual award in their high school careers. By the end of Awards Night, everyone had something to commemorate her contribution to the team.

That’s pretty selfless of the coaches, if you ask me.

After all, they’d have one impressive trophy case if they accumulated all that hardware in a single location. They could revel in their success every time they walked past. Look what we’ve accomplished! Don’t we produce great teams?! 

Instead, they tuck their successes away in their hearts and memories and give the credit to the girls who showed up every day and worked their tails off. To the girls who ran two and three and four hundred miles over the summer to stay in shape. To the girls who collapsed after crossing the finish line because they had nothing left.

Don’t get me wrong. The coaches worked their tails off, too. They poured hundreds of hours into the season–after teaching all day. They ran and biked alongside the girls. They gave up time with their families. They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every practice and meet. They praised and prodded and encouraged, even when they were mentally exhausted. They earned those trophies, too.

That’s why giving those trophies to the girls means so much. The coaches taught the girls how to stretch, how to eat, how to race, how to persevere, but the most important thing they taught them was how to give back.

We gain so much more from giving credit than from taking it.

Thanks, Coach W and Coach B.

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Roadblocks

FEMA_-_40322_-_Road_Closed_signHigh school wrestling season is almost over in Indiana. We’re in the regional week of the state tournament, and that means that anyone who didn’t advance past sectionals is done. Boys not moving on don’t have a lot of motivation to continue practicing with the team.

An injury, rehab, and some extenuating circumstances have kept my son on the bench for the latter half of the season, so he is not one of the boys still wrestling. Of course, he’s disappointed (read: heartbroken), and initially I found myself concerned about his commitment to the sport.

Silly momma shouldn’t have worried.

When I asked Wrestler Boy whether he planned to continue to go to practice (a lot of guys beg off when their season is done–not cool, but it happens), his answer stopped me in my tracks.

I have to, Mom. The guys need me.

Not completely getting it, I probed further. What do you mean they need you? To cheer them on, you mean?

Mom, they need me on the mat. If no one shows up to practice, they won’t have anyone to wrestle so they can keep getting better for state.

What a selfless response.

All season, that kid wanted nothing less than to advance to the state tournament. When he found out he couldn’t, he was crushed. I even thought he might want to quit.

I forgot that he wrestles because he loves the sport. I forgot that he wants to keep getting better. I forgot how important it is to him to see his friends succeed. I forgot that he’s resilient.

Not only did he prove me wrong, but he also taught me a lesson: the world is bigger than me. When my own path to success meets a roadblock, I can still help others find their way.

And the next time I hit the road, I’ll be that much better for it.

More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Camp notes

jrobA little more than a week ago, I delivered my son to wrestling camp three states away. For a month. I know it sounds crazy, but unlike many moms, the idea of separating myself from my firstborn for a month never gave me pause, even for a second. Truthfully, I was just as excited about it as he was.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not looking to get rid of him. He’s actually a pretty cool kid–the kind I’d like to spend more time with, not less. But I digress.

This camp is pretty hard core. When my son didn’t check in with me as promptly as I thought he should have the first couple of days, I poked him a little via text message. His response? Sorry, Mom. I’ve been sleeping every possible chance. They work the kids hard. They teach them the real meaning of hard work, dedication to a cause. Alongside the intense physical sessions (running/lifting twice a day, four times a day on the mat), they also provide classroom instruction on topics ranging from goal setting to time management to handling money. And they expect the kids to learn life skills along the way by having to take care of themselves for a month sans parents. In fact, as my son and I approached the registration table, the parents were told we had to step aside. For the duration of the camp, the kids have to be responsible for themselves and their actions. *gulp*

So what’s my point?

Something the camp founder said during the incoming parent meeting really stuck with me and really explains everything. In a hoarse voice, he boiled 36 years of camp experience into this:

Everyone has a PowerPoint these days, but you don’t get tough sitting in a room talking about getting tough. To get hard, you have to live hard.

And that’s it. If you want to become something, you have to live it. You can talk about it and plan it all you want. You can learn the technique and study the experts, but you’ll never, ever master it until you do it yourself.

Forget the wrestling part. I’m excited to see the character changes in my son when he returns from camp. I expect to see a more confident, more capable, more wizened young man when he returns. I’m already seeing it in his communication with me after a week; how will he look after another three?

You don’t change by talking about something. To get hard, you have to live hard.

Not my day

mini bibsNo one wants to talk (or write) about a bad race, least of all me. In fact, I’ve been trying hard to put my dismal performance at Saturday’s Indy Mini out of my mind ever since I crossed the finish line. Alas, something in my psyche just won’t let me bury it until I ‘fess up. It plagued me in my dreams, and I woke up this morning turning over opening lines for this post in my head.

So here’s the deal. For the second year in a row, I fell apart. It wasn’t my body that let me down this year. The weather was nearly perfect, I stayed reasonably fueled up along the course, and I was more faithful to this year’s training regimen. No, it wasn’t my body; it was my head.

Somewhere along the course, doubt began to seep through the folds of my gray matter. You still have a long way to go. You don’t really want to be doing this, do you? Why did you come out here? You’re going to need to stop soon. I tried to ignore the voices. I turned up my iPod. I even silently screamed back at them. Shut up! I’ve done this before! I’ve got this! I don’t have that much more to go!

I couldn’t fight the voices. 8.5 miles into the course, I took a break. I geared down to a walk, but I told myself I’d just regroup and then finish strong. I refueled with water and Gatorade, and a half mile later, I took off. Two miles after that, the voices had me walking again. I followed that start-stop routine to the finish, though thankfully I was able to gut out Victory Mile at my usual pace. The thought of walking past the throngs of people waving the runners to the finish line was apparently enough to drown out the jeering in my head.

I finished, but I didn’t accomplish a single one of my goals for the year. I’m embarrassed by my performance. Yeah, I know that a lot of people would have been happy to finish at 2:03, but I know I’m capable of more: I finished my first Mini at 1:44.  This year’s performance clearly wasn’t my best effort, and that’s how we should be grading ourselves, right? It doesn’t matter what someone else does; I have to compare me to me.

This year’s top female finisher ran the course in 1:12. I know I’ll never accomplish that, and I don’t feel bad about it. The last place finisher crossed the finish line in 4:29. In my current physical condition, that won’t be me, either. If, then, first and last don’t matter, then neither does any position in between. That means that the only real measuring stick of my success is whether I performed to the best of my ability.

Now I have to begin the process of figuring out why I didn’t. I have to find the right switch in my brain and flip it from What are you thinking?! to Heck, yes, you can do this! And I will. It may take awhile, but I will.

So here are the lessons I learned THIS year:

  1. Like most things, a huge part of running is mental. My psychological game plan is just as important as my physical one.
  2. I am my own measuring stick.
  3. I shouldn’t have to relearn lessons I learned last year. Even so, I only just now–well after the race–revisited them. (You can, too: Click Redefining success and Victory.)

Nope, Saturday wasn’t my day. But today is still up for grabs, and I’m going to make it mine.

P.S. My son also ran on Saturday, and he had a great race. My momma-pride helps take away some of the sting. Way to go, Jake Davis!

Persistence vs. perseverance

perseverance2“Mom, isn’t there some rule of salesperson etiquette that says when a customer tells you ‘no’ three times, you stop trying to sell him something?”

My son asked me that question last night as we left a store. We had just purchased a mirror for his room, and the sales clerk wanted to partially bag it to offer some protection from the freezing rain outside. She asked us every way possible, and we politely declined each time. We finally capitulated when we realized that the scene would go on forever otherwise. That woman just wouldn’t quit.

One the surface, I totally agree with my son. She kept pushing; we kept saying no. She eventually got her way, but we left feeling mildly annoyed. Annoying your customers doesn’t seem like an effective long-term sales practice. Somewhere there’s a line a salesperson just doesn’t cross–and it’s called respect.

On the other hand, the world is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, people whose perseverance eventually earned them wild success.

So what’s the right path?

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that complicated; I think an effective salesperson (and we’re all selling something, right?) does both. When a customer says no, particularly when he says it repeatedly, a salesperson has to honor that. Continuing to push is not only inappropriate, it’s also disrespectful. And it’s lazy.

That’s where the two strategies converge. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing, a salesperson should back off and reevaluate. Something about his pitch isn’t working. When it becomes clear that it doesn’t appeal to the customer, the salesperson should look at the issue from the customer’s view and make sure he’s speaking the customer’s language–and in ways that are meaningful to the customer. The salesperson needs to find a new strategy, and that takes work.

The key is that we’re trying to capture the customer, not the sale. When we look at it that way, we should be willing to take a few NOs in the short term to get to the bigger YES in the long term. It’s the difference between being persistent and being perseverant.

Excuses, excuses

Estel-Rumsfield03One of the most useful quotes I’ve ever heard went over like a lead balloon when it was originally articulated:

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to
have at a later time. –Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, December 2004

Although it may have been an ill-advised retort to the question presented (google it if you don’t remember), I have often used those words to guide my actions at work, at home, everywhere.

It came to mind again after I spent a couple of days in planning meetings. As we attempted to converge on the projects that would take precedence in the coming year, I noticed that much of the ensuing conversation centered on why we couldn’t accomplish those things today. Well, we could if we had this… or We won’t be able to do that until… There was always something we didn’t have that seemed to hamper our progress.

That’s when I thought of Rumsfeld.

All of the goals we had identified were important. The outcomes were necessary to our success. Were we really willing to forgo that success for a tool? In my (not-so-humble) opinion, there should have been two facets to the discussion. First, what do we need to accomplish and how do we get there with today’s “army.” Second, what tools could we buy, develop, or implement to make accomplishing our mission easier OR sustain it when we get there, i.e. how could we beef up our army along the way?

Too often we want to use what we DON’T have as an excuse. Instead, we should evaluate what we DO have and how we can use it to accomplish our goals. Sure, we can add tools as we go, but we need to start TODAY. If we wait until we have all our ducks in a row, technology or circumstances will change and we’ll have to find new ducks. Of one thing I’m absolutely certain: if we don’t start, we’ll never get anything done.

Forget the excuses; go to war.