On Moving the Ball I

Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.

Winston Churchill

About the only sport I enjoy watching on TV is college basketball.  I went to UCONN, in the 1990s, when the women’s and men’s teams were just beginning to create the legacies of today.  My claim to fame is that as a college undergraduate I partied with Ray Allen. He was in one of my philosophy classes with about 150 other students, and one day I SAT NEXT TO HIM. That’s how I was invited to the after parties (well, my college boyfriend was also an elite athlete in that world, but that’s another story.). I also play basketball, not well, but of all the sports I do play, I probably play it the best. In graduate school, I was playing with my fellow students and faculty in a “faculty against students” pickup game.  I remember going in for a layup, and my PhD advisor was watching me make the shot.  After I released the ball, he exclaimed “I don’t ever want to go up against you!” I was baffled and said so. I mean, let’s be real. I’m 5’ 3” and I suck at basketball.  He replied, “You looked like you were going to sink that ball, and you’d let nothing get in your way.”

There are things that people say to you that just stick in your mind.  I still remember that statement decades later. Perhaps because of all my personality traits, determination is the one that serves me the best.  When I reflect on my life and those of others, one of the common denominators in whether a goal is achieved, be it small or large, is the will to keep going. Perseverance. Determination. Persistence. Grit. I call it the “last man (or woman) standing” trait, or in Highlander terms: “there can be only one.”  Pick up any self-help book on success, and you’ll probably read the same.

I work with some of the smartest people on the planet (yes, I mean you, Bob), who are extremely talented in a high risk, high reward environment. It can be daunting, but when you look at the landscape of who gets shit done versus who doesn’t, the ones who keep at it, regardless of smarts and talent, are the ones who move the project forward (yes, I also mean you, Bob).  As my boss says, I don’t care if you aren’t sure what to do when you encounter a road block, just do something and keep the ball moving. We can readjust course if needed. There are many reasons why people may fail at a goal, but a non-starter is lacking the will to keep the momentum rolling, even if it looks like you’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  To see things to the end, be that a success or a failure.  And if you can learn from that experience, what went right and what didn’t?  You are setting yourself up for future success.

As for my shot? No, I didn’t sink the ball that time. But, I still play. And the next game? I made a 3 pointer.

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