Preparation

One Shining Moment

I love March Madness – three weekends of great college basketball filled with drama, athletic prowess, underdogs and Cinderellas.  Between TV, radio, print and the web, each team’s journey through the NCAA tournament is chronicled hundreds of times.  We learn about universities, individual athletes and coaches.  Often times, these stories propel people into the national spotlight and we never forget them.  I vividly remember Jim Valvano taking North Carolina State to the Championship in 1983, delivering the speech of a lifetime in 1993 and succumbing to cancer just eight short weeks later.  There was “the shot” – Christian Laettner’s last second jump shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional finals.  How about UCLA guard Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast drive with 4.8 seconds left to push them past Missouri and ultimately to the 1995 NCAA title?

In all the flurry of games and fascinating stories, there’s one thing I always look forward to.  At the end of the championship game, CBS plays a compilation video of the championship team’s rise to the top of the college basketball world.  There’s nothing quite like the “One Shining Moment” video.  This year (2011) will mark the twenty-fifth time David Barrett’s “national anthem of college basketball” will immortalize one team’s achievement of the ultimate college basketball dream.  I can’t wait to watch.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about “one shining moment” – not the song, but the fact that so many lives are defined by one of “those” moments – and not just in athletics.  I just finished reading Sully Sullenberger’s book.  His life will forever be defined by the moment he successfully ditched his disabled US Air passenger jet in New York’s Hudson River in January 2009 saving all 155 people aboard.  After being injured on her previous attempt, American gymnast Kerri Strug landed a spectacular vault in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  After nailing the landing, her ailing ankle gave way and she collapsed on the mat.  Her performance guaranteed the Americans a gold medal.

Around the time of Christ, Seneca, the Roman philosopher, opined that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”  That thought has surfaced often as I’ve pondered “one shining moment”.  Was Sully Sullenberger lucky when he piloted the plane to safety in the Hudson?  Was Kerri Strug lucky when she landed her medal-winning vault?  Was Christian Laettner lucky when he hit the game-winning jumper?  I’ve got to think not.  That one life-defining moment was the result of hundreds of hours of sacrifice, study and practice.  While others enjoyed the love of family, the companionship of friends and the enjoyment of recreational activities, these people spent an extra hour in the flight simulator or in the gym.  For these folks, and a relative handful of others down through history, it was obviously worth all of the blood, sweat and tears.  But what about the rest of us?  More than likely, we’ll labor in obscurity until the end of our career or the end of life.

I want to spend the rest of my post putting in a shameless plug for preparation as if your “one shining moment” was guaranteed and was imminent.  If I were to orchestrate life, I’d move from one success to the next, each one building on the previous one.  But I don’t orchestrate life and that’s not the way it works.  Instead we alternate between success and failure, victory and defeat, prosperity and leanness, peace and strife.  The method of the “lucky” is to wring every bit of learning from each of these – continually adding new skills and knowledge to our bag of tricks.  We learn from those who went before us – successfully and unsuccessfully.  When we’ve leveraged everyone of life’s experiences into deeper levels of understanding, we’ll be ready when or if our “one shining moment” comes.

But what if it never comes?  Will all of the work be worth it?  A million times over – and here’s why.

  • The relationships that are strengthened, the wisdom that is gained and the discipline that is built are far more valuable than the fame that comes from the “one shining moment”.
  • In almost every case, “one shining moment” comes looking for us, we don’t go looking for it.  Our only responsibility is to be ready when it come.  The readiness for “one shining moment” makes us ready to tackle with excellence the multiple obscure moments we encounter every day.
  • “One shining moment” almost always comes in the course of carrying out our regular responsibilities.  In the examples I cited earlier, each of these folks experienced their “one shining moment” in the context of something in which they were already involved.  They were just doing their jobs and their “one shining moment” swooped in unannounced.

 

The odds of filling out a perfect NCAA bracket are about 1 in 9 quintillion – a 9 followed by 18 zeroes – and that’s not counting any play-in games, just the main 63.  I don’t know what the odds are that any of us will experience “one shining moment”.  But I do know the odds of getting value from a life of passion, purpose and preparation – they are 1 out of 1.

We can prepare for a public “one shining moment”.  Maybe it will come and maybe it won’t.  We might never be immortalized while David Barrett’s music plays in the background, but we can build value in the people and organizations around us.