I always remember when one of my mentors and coaches (Coach Bijan) who had a huge impact on my game and life always used to say to me “be the first to arrive and last to leave practice or workouts”. This was something that instantly resonated with me, and from then on I did my absolute best to show up before anyone else at practice and stay after everyone was gone to get some extra work in. This point was further reinforced after reading about Ray Allen’s legendary pre-game routine that allowed him to become the NBA all-time leader in made 3-point field goals.
However, after I finished my high school basketball career and transitioned into my NCAA track and field career I started losing faith in this powerful statement. Initially, I tried to put in extra work on the track and the weight room once I began competing at Boston University (BU). However, that was the worst thing I could have done, as I was wearing out my body in the pre-season before even starting the rigorous indoor/outdoor NCAA div 1 track season. This was especially problematic during the indoor season in which BU hosts some of the fastest and most competitive meets in the northeast. If you do not bring your A game to these meets you are going to get beat very badly. This further compounded the problem of my body breaking down as it seriously destroyed any semblance of confidence I had in my own abilities during my first season. It seemed to me at that time that this statement was unrealistic and idealistic as just working harder will not solve your problems. In some situations if you do not give your body and mind time to rest and decompress it can be detrimental to your progress.
But yesterday I ended up needing to stay late at UBC to finish up some work for a final project paper on a friday evening, and this experience made me understand the above statement at a much deeper level. Do NOT get me wrong, I am absolutely not advocating unhealthy workaholic tendencies or to ignore your friends and family. Family is the most important part of my life, and a strong and supporting social network is the best predictor of long-term success and happiness.
But the wisdom in this statement is not in the literal interpretation of the phrase, but the underlying meaning. The true meaning and power of this statement is in regard to the importance of developing grit and resiliency. The essence of this statement is perfectly summed up by this interview of will smith below.
“I am not afraid to die on a treadmill, I will not be outworked.” – Will Smith
This is such a powerful statement, and it is no fluke that Will Smith is one of the most successful entertainers ever. One of my favorite stories that perfectly describes his unparalleled drive and work ethic is that when beginning to film Fresh Prince he memorized everyone’s lines so he could best play his part in relation to the rest of his crew. You can see in the first few episodes that Will Smith is mouthing the words of the other actors. This concept goes back to a concept I mentioned in a previous post about worrying about what you can control and ignoring what you can not control. Do not worry about the obstacles nor your disadvantages, focus on what you can do, which is putting your best effort forth in everything you do and displaying the resiliency and grit of a champion and soon enough you will be a champion. Being successful and happy is much less about what you do or accomplish and is much more about WHO you become.