Winning When You’re Not Ready

Agence Rol [Public domain] , via Wikimedia Commons
The 1912 Summer Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden, proved to be a busy one for American Jim Thorpe. An accomplished athlete, Thorpe was scheduled to participate in four events – the long jump, the high jump, the pentathlon, and the first-ever decathlon. Combined, he was set to compete in 17 different contests, each with potentially multiple heats, over two days.

Born in 1887, Thorpe was a natural athlete. He started playing football in high school; but soon added baseball and lacrosse (along with ballroom dancing) to his resume’. However, it was his performance on the football field that made him a household name. He earned collegiate All-Star honors in both 1911 and 1912. Carlisle Indian Industrial College won the 1912 national championship largely due to his involvement – he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points during that season.

It wasn’t until the spring of 1912 that Thorpe turned his thoughts to competing in the Olympics and began training. Just a few months later, he now reached for his shoes in anticipation for his first event. There was just one problem, though.

His shoes were gone.

Thorpe’s track shoes – his most valuable pieces of equipment – had been stolen. But there was no time to track them down. The first event was about to start. If Thorpe didn’t report to the starting line quickly, he would be disqualified. The starting gun simply would not wait.

While few of us can relate to the pressure of competing in an Olympic event, most of us can understand feeling ill-prepared for the starting gun. Maybe it’s a big work presentation, an important client meeting, or the start of the next sales cycle – despite your best efforts, you can find yourself feeling not quite ready for the clock to move forward. Numerous times over my career, I’ve found myself feeling like I need a time-out in order to gather myself before launching into something big.

Perhaps one or more of these scenarios seems familiar to you.

  • You’re feeling swamped. Sometimes the pressure of too many things on your plate can make you want to call for a time-out. When the calendar is full and deadlines start getting close, the pressure can be overwhelming.
  • You’re feeling thrown off guard: Sometimes you think you’re ready, but factors outside of your control move against you at the last minute. Family issues pop up, market conditions change, and coworkers let you down. All can leave you feeling off-balance.
  • You’re feeling ill-equipped. Equipment can fail. Supplies can prove to be inadequate. Help can be out of reach. Finding yourself without key resources can be a significant setback to even the best of us.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself between a rock and a hard place; between the need for more time to prepare and an unmovable deadline. Maybe it’s now, at the end of the year with less than a week to the end of one year and the start of the next.

What do you do?

Try following Jim Thorpe’s lead.

  1. He didn’t give up. As tempting as it must have been to throw in the towel, Thorpe didn’t. He didn’t forfeit. And he didn’t spend time worrying about what had happened to his shoes. Don’t waste precious time dwelling on things outside of your control. Focus on what you can do.
  2. He found an alternate solution. Thorpe pulled two mismatched shoes from a garbage can. He put extra socks on his left foot to compensate for that shoe being too big. Don’t let the absence of a perfect solution hold you back. Find a way to move forward.
  3. He ran like a champion. Thorpe shook off any self-doubt he had and resolved to get the job done. More than that, he resolved to win. Don’t just participate. Compete to win; no matter what it takes.

Thorpe won four of the five pentathlon events wearing mismatched shoes and earned the gold medal. That same day, he qualified for the high jump final and took seventh in the long jump. The next day, he placed no lower than fourth in all ten events of the decathlon and received that gold medal as well.

The New Year is upon us. The starting gun is raised. Like it or not, the game is about to start. What do you say champ? Ready to race?

“Jim Thorpe, 1912 Summer Olympics” by Agence Rol is licensed under PD-1923.

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