You can choose to be world class, live differently, and separate yourself from the masses. Or you can choose to fit in with the rest of the world, but you cannot do both.
There is a price to pay for greatness. There always has been. There always will be. Lazy people do a little and think it it is enough; winners do more than anyone and are always concerned if it is enough. You cannot rely on talent alone to be the best in any chosen endeavor, someone with almost as much talent and a good work ethic will beat you before long. You can’t give an inch to your competition when you are even in the same league, let alone a direct competitor.
When I was in my reign of terror (as I like to call it) during my racquetball days, I dominated pretty much everyone in the local events in AZ. I went 135-9 in a five year period. But I had one guy that I was a nearly dead even match-up with. So many of our matches we decided by two points after a ninety minute battle, and I used this as my motivation. I KNEW if I didn’t do the work between tournaments that I may falter in the end of one of those matches. This would get me to the gym Sunday night for a workout, despite it being a rest day. I would sleep in, be good to myself and recover as much as possible, but Sunday night I was headed to the gym to make sure I was one workout ahead of Pat to start the week. I would say his name when finishing a rep I was struggling with, just to make sure I tied the effort and the “win” of finishing that last rep despite being on the verge of muscle failure with his name. I assumed he was doing the same, as much as me, maybe more. I never knew, and I never asked him later on. I like the idea of it being exactly as I pictured instead of learning that he put little effort into his prep and still made my life so difficult.
If you desire to be the best at something, you have to work. HARD. Instead of being at the night club on Friday and Saturday night, I was at the racquet club getting practice reps in. Over the course of my racquetball career I estimate I hit a million forehands and a million backhands, and a million serves. That number sounds huge, and it is, but it doesn’t count tournament play. This million number mark was ON THE PRACTICE COURT alone. I have no way to calculate how many of each of those strokes I hit during play, maybe it is the same amount, who knows. THAT level of commitment is what it takes. Now, you cannot practice bad technique and low percentage shots, you need to learn and sharpen your skills as you go. You have to learn, evolve, adjust. You must improve your mind and your heart, your desire to win. You need to learn to love the spotlight, crave the battle, and relish the attention, both good and bad.
Anytime you elevate yourself from your current group of friends, there will be resistance. These people don’t want you to leave them behind, and will (in some cases) unknowingly sabotage your efforts. They will beg you to take a Friday night off for their birthday happy hour or skip a tournament to go party in Vegas instead. It seems harmless to them, after all, it is only one night, right? WRONG. See my example above… If you are pursuing excellence, the break in mindset is damaging to the process as well. Your mindset cannot waiver. Yes, you need rest, you need time away from your pursuits, but these are EARNED. I wasn’t in the gym on Monday after playing a tournament all weekend, especially if I won. Winning a tournament in both singles and doubles divisions is a LOT of racquetball, and I knew I would need recovery time to allow my body to bounce back to full capacity. I would not schedule lessons on Monday morning, and I would stay off the court and out of the gym until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest. Then I would be back at it, full bore.
I’ll paraphrase the late great Kobe Bryant said:
The deal was made. There is no negotiating with yourself. You lay out the workout plan for the summer, and then you go do it. You do not wait until you feel like, you go do it. That is what makes you a professional.
Here is the link to the one minute YouTube clip in his own words.
Have you seen videos of Tiger Woods hitting golf balls in the pouring rain? Michael Jordan winning EVERY line drill on the practice court? NFL greats Aeneas Williams was the first guy on the practice field and the last guy to leave. Jerry Rice ran a two mile hill in the off season to “stay in shape” and rarely did anyone he invited to join him ever come back on the second day to do it again. THAT is setting the bar too high for others, DESPITE Rice’s peer group already being uncommonly good athletes. As David Goggins likes to say: “Be uncommon amongst uncommon men”
If your friends are not looking to elevate themselves to a higher level, that is fine. We all have to make choices in life. I choose to have no regrets and pursue the things I wanted to pursue to the fullest extent. I choose to not lay on my deathbed and feel bad for all the things I DIDN’T try or do. This clearly is not the easy path, which is why most people never take a step in that direction. Their comfort zone is a little too familiar to them, and they struggle to see the benefit of straying from it. These people can be your friends, but they cannot help you get to where you want to go. You will need to add a new group of warriors to your circle. You need the support of others who are equally crazy and driven like you are to get ahead You need to assemble a team of sorts, even if the others on the team don’t even realize their role. Your trainer who never lets you slack off or miss a rep, your work out group that pushes you to do more than you think you can today, your significant other who supports your efforts and does things to help you stay focused. Everyone is helping more than they may realize, but you cannot walk this path alone.
Despite none of your current friends not wanting to join you on the suffer trail, there are those who will. Find them, and bask in the aura of their desire for excellence. Take a deep breath, steel yourself, and run that hill one more time. Puke at the top if you need to, it’s fine. That is weakness leaving the body. As a side note, it was always my goal to make an opponent of mine throw up during a match, and I fell disappointingly short of this as it never happened. Only later did I realize that I was the only one of us on the court willing too die there. No one else had the level of desire I did, therefore no one else could have pushed themselves to that point. I could have. I did it on the practice field during workouts, I KNOW I could have done it on the court. The court time was a vacation compared to some of the stuff I did in preparation for a tournament. THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES.
A slight word of caution, as I wrap up my thoughts on this: Enjoy the ride. I did not do a great job of this, and I did let me desire to be the best cloud my enjoyment of what I was accomplishing along the way. I regret that portion of my journey. I did the best I could at that time, with the knowledge I had. Hindsight is 20/20, so it is easy for me to sit here and look back at that time and pick at those kind of things. But please learn from my error in this area, as I do not want you to have that same regret later on as well. I still firmly believe that my focus and effort was on point, but I just should have realized sooner how fortunate I was to be on that journey in the first place. Only later did that set in.