Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building a Boat

Abraham Lincoln once said, "I will prepare, and some day my chance will come." When his chance came, he was ready.

During his seminary years, one priest-in-training owned a favorite T-shirt. Across the front was emblazoned: "Expectant Father." His chance came and he, too, was ready.

When your chance comes, will you be ready?

I know that sports stories don’t speak to everyone, but if you’ll indulge me, I think Wayne Gretzky has something powerful to teach us about preparation. Former ice hockey superstar Gretzky knew the value of being ready. He broke almost every record imaginable and is generally thought to be the greatest hockey player of all time.

“The Great One,” as he is often called, is not particularly big – he stands at 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed about 170 pounds during his career. He never skated particularly fast, his shot was not high-powered and he often placed dead last on regular strength tests administered to his team. So what made him so great?

Gretzky attributes his stardom to practice and preparation. He practiced stick handling in the off-season with a tennis ball, as the ball was harder to control than a puck. In practice he innovated. He practiced bouncing the puck off the sideboards to his teammates until that technique became a regular part of his play. Then he worked on bouncing the puck off the net. He became so accomplished at these maneuvers that he sometimes said, "People say there's only six men on the ice, but really, if you use the angle of deflection of the board, there's seven. If you count the net, that's eight. From the opening face-off, I always figure we have 'em eight-on-six."

The Great One was so great because, when his chance came to make an impact, he was ready. And because he was ready, chances came again and again.

I’ve learned this: it doesn’t matter what awaits me just across the sea if I haven’t built a boat.

Many years ago a friend and I were talking about a speaking engagement I had accepted in Los Angeles. “I’d love to go places and speak or lead seminars,” she said.

I asked her, “What would you speak about? What do you want to teach?”

“I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to write a book and lead seminars,” she said, “but I’ve never gotten around to it.”

I’ve heard her speak – she has a great ability to relate to people. She has a charismatic personality. She is intelligent and articulate. I have no doubt she could excel in such a field.

We talked about her need to develop expertise in an area about which she is passionate. We talked about how she might look for opportunities to lead local seminars and teach courses. And we talked about steps she might take toward writing her book, something she had wanted to do for a long time.

But a number of years after our conversation, she has still done none of those things. If her chance comes, she will not be ready. And more likely, since she is not ready, her chance will probably never come.

I often hear people say, “If only I had a chance.” Maybe it’s a chance at a new position, a bigger challenge or to do something different. Perhaps they are waiting for a chance to prove themselves or a chance to really make a difference.

But I wonder -- if I were offered that new challenge today, would I be ready to meet it? Am I prepared to take full advantage?

It’s not enough for me to dream about exotic, new places. I need to build a boat.

Steve Goodier

Image: Zimny


Unknown said...

Sounds like a re-affirmation of:"Luck is where opportunity meets preparedness". Good advise anyway you say it.

Unknown said...

Thanks Steve for reminding me, how important is to be prepared. Most of the human beings I know are just waiting for miracle to happen. But real life is hard work, is to be prepared all the time. And that`s the joy, isn`t it.
Thank you for all smart reflections you are sending us.
Have a beautiful beautiful day :-).

Unknown said...

Steve --

"Building a Boat" was in my "inbox" this morning, and may I say it was an incredible way to begin my day (as always, when I read your articles)! So moving, profound, and invigorating!

Thank you so much!

Mary Ann O'Herron Celelli

Steve Goodier said...

I think it is true that much of what works well for us (the practices and beliefs that govern our lives) is not original. Finding a new way to say it, or simply being reminded from time to time can be useful, however. Thanks for the comments.