As a kid, being on non-winning teams was a past time of mine. It didn’t matter the sport- baseball, football, basketball (heck, our chess club team was pretty cruddy, too). It didn’t matter if I was on a school team or a city park league team, it was the same result- losing. In fact, if it weren’t for a magical run for by baseball team when I was ten (being the low seed and winning three straight in our tournament to finish one game above .500) I would have never been on single a team with a winning record in my life.
So when it got to my senior year and I was finally on a football team that was good- really good- I was thrilled. We were winning games, not but luck, but by actually being better than other teams. But something my teammate Bobby said to me after a game stuck out to me, and has stayed with me ever since. Bobby was a big dude- 6’1, 225 or so (sorry, Bobby, I don’t have any old programs), who could run through a brick wall. I remember in film study one time where the coach paused the film. Bobby was playing linebacker, and had two offensive linemen in front of him, a full back coming in, and then the running back with the ball. The coach hit play on the projector. Bobby pushed his way through the two big linemen, got by the full back (it was unclear if the fullback just missed the block or dove out of Bobby’s way in fear), and ran down the running back for the tackle. Just a beast of player, and a big reason we were so good.
As I mentioned, that year we were winning, but then one Friday night under the lights we played a really good team, and it was just their night. I was playing defensive back and standing on the near side of the field by Bobby. The final seconds were ticking away, and it was clear we were going to lose. In my head, I remember thinking, “Well, at least we still have a winning record.” Just then, Bobby took off his helmet, and with the most pained look on his face I’d seen on him, said “Man, I don’t want to just beat bad teams!”
I’d been happy just to be good, hopefully a little better than average. Bobby wanted to be the best. It didn’t matter how good other teams were, he wanted us to be better. He didn’t want to be satisfied being average. That thought has always stuck with me. It’s not that I hadn’t worked hard to even get to that point of being someone who was playing for a really good team. It’s more about the mindset than just physically working hard. But I realized there was another level to strive for, and that’s carried through to today. When I started at my current company, we were probably the 150th biggest in the industry. We often compete with other companies for the same business, and whenever I’d find out I was company with one of the top two or three companies in our industry for business, I wouldn’t shirk back. I’d go after that business even harder. I really wanted to beat the best, and luckily that quite often happened. Now we’re probably top five in the country.
Thanks, Bobby, for the great advice all those years ago!
(This is the first in a series of great things I’ve learned from friends in my lifetime that have helped me be a better person.)