Saturday, August 8, 2009


“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…..” This lilting jazz standard written by George Gershwin in the 1930’s evokes the feel of a lazy gentle summer day. You can almost imagine swinging in a hammock, sipping lemonade, or a leisurely stroll. Ahh, summer. Personally, it is my favorite season.

Besides the opportunities for quality lounge chair time, the treats of July include two things of which I am a HUGE fan: Le Tour de France, and The Blue Angels annual air show during Seafair in Seattle. There is nothing like these two events that fuel my inner sports fan! I marvel at extraordinary athletic accomplishments, and these two events are right up there for what it takes to perform. My personal sporting life is all about the leisure and amusement for others, largely due to my complete lack of eye-hand coordination. (No snickering from those who have seen me fall countless times, please.) Neither of these events are without some controversy, but at the very least each requires unique remarkable ability to accomplish, and can easily end in disaster if not executed with proper precision. I have to believe that even the most physically adept among us appreciates a world class performance like this that only few achieve. How do they do it?

I became an avid follower of Le Tour after reading Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.” The book was a gift from my cousin in 1999 who was battling breast cancer at the time. She found it inspirational and thought it would help me understand her battle with the insidious disease. Love him or hate him, with seven Tour wins and a foundation devoted to wellness, Lance has quickly become a modern day icon among those battling cancer and fans of the elite bike racing circuit. The Tour, if you don’t know, is a month long bike race through the valleys and Alps of France and neighboring countries during the month of July. This is no unhurried pedal through the Loire, folks, it is a grueling 2,000+ mile bike race that includes inclines so steep they are beyond classification! Fast! In the heat! Are you kidding me?! Shift your vision quickly to the impact of chemotherapy on someone’s physical stamina and assume if you must that it takes a good year or two for the average person to regain daily stamina. Back to the Tour, seven wins in a row after *that*?! That, my friends, takes more than devotion to bike riding. Let’s not forget the other 150+ guys that actually finish the race every year (out of 180 or so who start.) Surely they have top of the line equipment, coaches, sponsors, and countless hours of training, but where does the motivation come from, why, and how?

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s elite jet demonstration team. They frequently perform at air shows mostly around the US and are known for their grace and precision, flying up to 700 miles an hour with the jet wings seemingly inches apart, sometimes upside down, sometimes side by side, sometimes flying directly at each other, and usually 6 in the air simultaneously. The fortitude required to endure Mach speeds alone can sideline the physically adept, and usually claim some local news reporter’s lunch when they are treated to a quick guest ride when filming for the local media. You think a baseball hurled at 90 miles an hour is scary, imagine the skill and precision it takes to twirl a fighter jet in the air like a baton…without dropping it, ever!

Accomplishment in the aforementioned feats is certainly not possible without focus. It has to be much more than that to reach this cream-of-the-crop level. Focus can be defined by its fixation on a vision, goal, or purpose. It is the clarity of the sight line. It is a critical element to reaching the pinnacle and achieving any goal. What does it take, and how do we build this for ourselves to achieve the greatness we are reaching for in business or in our daily lives?

o Goal: Articulate what you want to achieve and believe in it. Make it actionable, tangible, achievable, measurable, and most importantly, make it your own. Unless you are passionate about your purpose, building motivation and sticking to your plan will feel like an albatross.

o Skill: Equip yourself with the knowledge and ability necessary to be credible. Technique and skill can be learned through “practice, practice, practice” as my mother reminded me when I played the viola. Apply yourself to mastering manipulation of the equipment and push yourself to learn its limitations and possibilities. Blue Angels pilots do not wear a Mach suit and are required to have a sophisticated knowledge and skill in flying a jet. Thankfully they have simulators for a learning environment, but the rest of us are more like Lance in that the pavement reminds us when we get it wrong. The important thing is to acquire the skill, and in every situation that takes trial and error.

o Performance: Learn by doing, repeatedly. It’s part of the skill mastery process utilized in the real world. You might not come in first every time, but only by performing outside of the wind tunnel will you know what it truly feels like to battle a head-wind and internalize what you have to do in the moment to get break through consistently.

o Precision: Doing the same thing repeatedly gets you nowhere if you can’t execute it cleanly. Lance talks about this in his book in understanding why he lacked consistency in his hill climb times. A random approach is behind why it was not always working out for him. Even in a three week bike race, winners and losers are sometimes separated by mere seconds.

o Endurance: Tasks are solitary actions. Goals, regardless of the timeline, require commitment to the purpose for some duration. Be prepared to stick to it, and understand that you probably need more than an adrenaline rush to get the job done. Learning to deal with setbacks and course corrections will equip you for the long haul.

o Determination: Goal attainment requires work and discipline of effort. You have to want to succeed and be willing to hold vigilant in working through obstacles. Don't even think about quitting mid-stream. If you stand still everyone else will blow right by you. Motivation is your friend and fosters momentum when the going gets rough.

The great thing about bringing focus to what you do, who you want to become, or a goal that you want to achieve, is that you can create and follow your own sense of purpose. It may seem big, inordinately challenging, and complicated. Focus helps you to spot the blur and tackle that which obfuscates your success. Focus makes extraordinary results possible. Just ask Lance.

No comments:

Post a Comment