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Clearing the Hurdles

“Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It’s your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.” — Andre Agassi, Open

When you witness excellence in action, it’s hard to comprehend the work that went into the performance. Seeing Sydney McLaughlin destroy her own 400 meter hurdles record is awe-inspiring because she does the incomprehensible. But the work that brought about the moment isn’t ours to see, or feel. The hurdles aren’t the only obstacle she had to clear on her way to a record-breaking performance—she had to clear every other distraction along the way to get to it. People like McLaughlin or Agassi or Tom Brady are anomalies to the rest of us. They’re obsessively focused and a bit quirky in their habits. Most of us balk at the price of greatness, for them it’s simply the act of doing your job.

Disciplined routine is the answer. Doing your job is the moment-to-moment bias towards productive action and good decisions. Anyone in New England will hear Bill Belichick’s own words ring in that Agassi quote. Do your job… and do it well. It’s a simple thing to grasp, must harder to execute with an undisciplined mind. We must get up daily and do the work that calls to us. No excuses needed, you either do or do not, there is no try (thanks Yoda). This is a tough mindset to acquire, but it’s required for reaching excellence.

“Excellence is the next five minutes”, as Tom Peters put it, “or nothing at all”. We get too caught up in excuses that lie beyond the immediate. Surely we must know where we’re going, but we must then get beyond long term thinking, for it’s a form of procrastination. We often kick things down the curb that we ought to be doing right now. Planning isn’t doing, so we mustn’t tell ourselves what we’re going to do, we mustn’t tell ourselves anything at all, really. We must friggin’ do it.

There are so many obstacles to navigate in life that it can be overwhelming. But most of it is BS playing on a loop between our ears. The only way to break that loop is with a viable habit loop that forces us to execute in the now. Excellence is the next five minutes, or maybe the next 50.68 seconds, or maybe just this very instant. What we do with this moment determines so much of who we’ll be at the finish line. Don’t regret the moment.

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