by Darrin Schenck

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by Darrin Schenck

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I am an ordinary guy who figured out how to do some extraordinary things.

This means that you can too.  I didn’t come from a wealthy family, far from it at times.  I wasn’t born with the typical athlete body, six feet tall with lots of lean muscle and hops that would let me put a quarter of top of a backboard.  I didn’t have access to personal trainers, a QB coach, or specialized training to get where I wanted to go.  I wasn’t crafted into a business mogul or an accomplished athlete.  In fact, it was just the opposite in many ways.  I was a small-framed, skinny kid, was allergic to everything, scared of a lot, and came from a town in Pennsylvania that still only has about 12,000 people.  I moved to Phoenix when I was 12, and was lost in a sea of people at the middle school I attended.  I did my best to blend in, to not draw attention to myself, to be a face in the crowd.  I existed under the radar as best I could.

As I moved from my life at middle school into a high school environment, things changed.  I was now walking the halls amongst people much different than I.  Some of the guys were men, big and strong, played football or baseball, and drove trucks.  Despite a failed attempt to make the wrestling team, and an injury taking me out of that sport altogether, I knew that I had to find a way to make myself different from others.  I developed a desire to stand out, to be different than the masses.  I can’t pinpoint for you exactly why, but I knew I needed to do something to be different, to be noticed.  After my neck injury, I wandered around in a haze, as it felt like the one thing I had figured out was abruptly taken away from me.  I was a face in the crowd once again.

Once I discovered the game of racquetball, things changed.  Very early on, despite being a complete beginner at the sport, I knew I had found something that a guy of my stature could do well at.  My first tournament was part of a Pro Racquetball event; I played the lowest amateur division available and got smashed in the first round.  But I watched some of the Pro’s play, guys my size who were in the upper echelon of the sport, and I knew I had found what I was looking for.  I discovered a sport where there was a level playing field.  A tall guy with long reach had no particular advantage over a smaller guy who was fast.  The court was a finite amount of space, and as long as you developed a game style that was within your ability to execute, you could be successful.  It took ten years from that fateful day, but I too turned Pro and eventually made it into the top 20 in the world.

As it turns out, the things I learned along the way of this journey were the recipe for success in other areas as well.  What mattered was not rocket science, but not always obvious either.  What I learned along the way in my racquetball career was that it wasn’t the “spotlight” moments that made you, it was the ability to toil in the dark, do the work when no one is looking that mattered.  This really made you “eligible” for those spotlight moments.  Many who played the game didn’t want to do the work, weren’t willing to grind, to experiment and fail, and try again.  Some never improved, but rather stayed at the same level of play for many years.  A few did the work, and it showed.  Those of us willing to struggle, to improve, to ask questions, to put in the long hours, to sacrifice short term results for long term success, those were the ones who rose to the top.

In my professional career off the court, I took a winding path to success as well.  I didn’t leave the small world of racquetball and leapfrog into success in the corporate world.  I avoided the corporate life, not wanting to dedicate everyday to someone else’s bottom line.  I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie, and I didn’t want to claw my way to middle management.  I didn’t want to work all year just for two weeks of vacation.  I wanted to make my own rules, to carve my own path and to make my mark in the same fashion I did on the court.  I toiled in the darkness, I traded money for time, and I honed my new skills in the sales world to slowly become the best at my craft.  It seems I run circles around my peers in the same space now, and I do it in less time and with less effort than most.  Only after years of hard work is this possible. It took me eight years to win my first small Open tournament (the highest amateur division) and it took me about that same time to do the equivalent in my sales career.  I tried different things, I experimented and failed, I backtracked at times.  But eventually, I found my way to the top here as well.

If there is one thing I wish to share out of this, it would be the following:

No one is born complete. 

All of us are a work in progress.  I believe that we all have some sort of potential skill or gift that could be developed.  The most talented people often don’t succeed. In some cases, if things come easily to someone, they never develop the work ethic needed to continue to succeed.  At some point they hit their talent hits a ceiling, and they don’t know how to work hard enough to break through to the next level.  You may know someone who literally peaked in high school, whether on the field or socially.  We are all a work in progress, and in most cases success will take longer than you expect or want it to.  And this is really the key takeaway, you just have to keep working at whatever your chosen endeavor is.  While this does not guarantee you will reach the top, at whatever point you stop, you have guaranteed that you won’t.   Quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Not everyone is going to truly excel at something, there are too many trying to make it to the top for everyone to get there.  But some will get further than others, and a few will breathe rarified air.  How you approach your endeavor of choice is largely what matters; whether it is sports or work or another skill, give yourself time to develop the tools needed.  Be patient, but doggedly persistent.  I have endured some very difficult and dark times to end up where I wanted, and in my opinion, there is no other way.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  One of the key skills you will (and need to) develop along the way is belief in yourself.  If you can trust yourself to figure things out, to not need to see the entire path, you are well on your way.  If you can learn to get somewhat comfortable just seeing the next step, instead of the entire staircase, you can begin your ascent.

Never let your circumstances dictate your future.  Lots of people have come from more difficult backgrounds than you and still did amazing things.  You can make your mark.  You may not make it with your first choice, but what you learn along the way will set you up for a better chance the next time around.  My brief time as a wrestler was the catalyst to being one of the hardest working players in the sport of racquetball.  I developed skills on the court that eventually lead to success and those same skills translated very well into ALL other things I have pursued since.  The journey is worth it.  The struggles and set backs are part of the process.  Embrace them, they are necessary.  I know it stings, but I have learned more from my failures than I ever did from my victories.  Enjoy the ride, and understand that life in general is temporary and this endeavor will be a short time in the grand scheme of things.  Take things as they come, pivot when necessary, but above all…keep grinding.  Do the work, and you too can ascend the mountain.

I wish you luck in your climb to the top.

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