In high school I considered myself quite a track runner, unfortunately that self perception didn't match up to reality. I would always win my heat in sprints but I always ran in the slow heat because my coach thought I was lazy and not fast enough to run in the faster heats. I would think I did a great job in the 200 yard dash , beating the competition by 2 or 3 strides but when my time was compared to the faster heats I would never even place in the top 6, re-enforcing my coach's belief that I stunk. During the city finals I was lining up with my (slow) heat when the fastest girl on my team started to chicken out about running in the fast heat. She was afraid that she would get beaten in front of everyone. I offered to give her my spot and she happily accepted. Before my coach had a chance to see, I took her spot and ran with the fastest girls in the city. I could hear my coach screaming at the top of his lungs as soon as I left the starting block "what the hell are you doing in the fast heat?!" I saw how fast the girls were running and as they started pulling ahead of me I found a strength from within and ran faster than I even had before. I ended up getting second in the heat (I swear the first place winner had legs that can only come from steroid use).
What does this have to do with your career in philanthropy?
- When an opportunity for you to reach beyond your comfort zone and ability level comes, take it. I never would have done so well in the race if I had stayed where I was supposed to and the same can be said about my career in philanthropy. Popular wisdom says that I should have waited another 10 years until I was "fully prepared" to begin looking for a job in philanthropy but an opportunity in the field presented itself and I decided to swallow my fear and go for it.
- Run against the best. Running with the slow heats made me lazy and complacent because I knew I was faster than my immediate competition. I wasn't doing my best because I didn't have the best to compare myself to. Are you the most successful person in your personal or professional network? Then you need to expand your network to include some of the best so that you rise to the challenge.
- Second place is OK. A fairy tale ended would have been me winning the race and getting carried off by my teammates, in reality I was eating the dust of Miss McGwire and getting yelled at by my coach. Despite this I was happy because I knew I did my best and was challenging myself to the limit. You may not always win in the work you are trying to accomplish at your foundations and in the community but as long as you are doing what is truly your best, you can't go wrong.
P.S. I won't have a Thursday post this week because I will be in lovely Bermuda at a conference on issues facing black men and boys. I'll give you an update on that important topic next week.