My eight-year old son, Gregory, is in his first year in competitive gymnastics. Yesterday, we all attended our first-ever gymnastics meet, with my wife and myself in the stands, and the boy making the “olympic rotation” around the events in this order: floor, pommel, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. His team’s slot in the rotation started on pommel, so he and his crew finished up on floor, following the standard sequence one step ahead of the default order. It was one of the fastest four hour periods I’ve ever experienced, where Gregory’s five minutes of activity was interspersed with lots of other young gymnasts doing likewise on all events running in parallel.
If you put in serious time and effort, you can obtain serious results.
We all walked away from that event realizing how much time and effort the best gymnasts put into their training and learning. We saw numerous 6 and 7 year-olds do things that most of us can’t even fathom, and saw some of them execute them with perfection and considerable grace. In those same events, I also saw plenty of young people going through the motions (at this level, there’s little or no improvisation, where most competitors simply learn a set routine, then execute it to the best of their ability). The difference between some performances was striking: the best competitors took the routines and executed them with flair and joy but also enough control to bring all the pieces together into a cohesive whole, while those with lesser skill (or, I have to believe, less effort, time, dedication and discipline) made the very same motions but without inhabiting them fully, or executing them without flaws and mistakes.
As I think about what this all means, I’m struck by the incredible power of time invested, and serious effort expended, in learning how to do something, and then taking the necessary time and energy to learn how to do it really well. I walked away from the meet thinking that even for us IT folks, the willingness to invest time and effort in learning new skills and knowledge, and then taking the additional steps to become highly proficient in using them, lets ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things.
As you approach your own career planning and development, remember that you’re going to have to put in some time and really put yourself out, if you want to accomplish something more than going through the motions. Those of us who are lucky and focused enough to be able to do this, should also remember that anything worth doing is also worth doing as well as one possibly can. If you can pull this off, you will come out of that exercise with something genuine and valuable to show for your time and effort. This has to be the real payoff to help offset the financial outlays or “opportunity costs” involved in investing in oneself and in developing one’s skills and knowledge. Anything else, as the old saying goes, is simply unacceptable!