What Makes Things Great

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. – Jimmy Dugan; A League of Their Own

Tom Hanks as fictional baseball great Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own”, 1992

I love baseball!

As a kid it was the only sport that I was even remotely good at.  That’s not saying much.  My batting average was well below .250, and I was stuck out in left field, otherwise known as the no man’s land of defensive positions for kid’s baseball. 

My saving grace was the fact that I had a good eye, or maybe I was just too timid to swing the bat and ten-year-old pitchers aren’t exactly known for their control.  As a result, I batted second and walked a lot.  I also scored a lot of runs because I was almost always on base when our best hitters came up.  Defensively I was fairly decent at running down fly balls, but my arm was horrible, so all the opposing players had to us was tag up and they were reasonably assured of advancing at least one base, maybe two if my throw was weak or off line, which it usually was. 

But I still love the game.  Maybe also because as a Canadian kid who could never master the art of ice-skating and hated to be cold, playing hockey was out of the question.  So I stayed inside and waited for spring when all the kids in town turned their attention from skating and black rubber hockey pucks to running and white leather balls.

As I got older, I noticed something else about baseball.  It’s really hard. 

Baseball is deceptively hard because at first glance, with the exception of the pitcher, it might not look like the players are really doing all that much.  But hitting a ball, that’s approximately two and half inches in diameter, coming at you at 80-90 plus miles per hour, with a wooden club, keeping it within a 90 degree area in front of you and sufficiently away from 9 defenders so that you can run 90 feet without getting caught… is hard.  Really, really, hard.

Success in baseball is measured in ratios.  For a batter a ratio of .300 (or 30%) is considered good.  That’s why it’s three strikes and you’re out, giving a hitter any less than three attempts would be unfair, and really boring to watch.  That’s also why hitters are obsessed with their number of at bats.  Most hitters will tell you they need to get up to bat at least 4 times in a game before they can have a reasonable expectation of contributing anything to the success of the team. 

My baseball career ended when I was 14.  My sub .250 batting average and rubber arm made me a liability that the increasingly competitive teams in our area just couldn’t take a chance on, so I retired.  But the lessons I learned on the diamond have served me well in life and as we prepare to move into a New Year I’ve been thinking about a few of them while I’ve worked on my business plan. 

Here are 4 things I learned playing baseball that have applications in business and in life. 

1 – Do Hard Things

You never learn anything if everything you do is easy.  John F. Kennedy, when he announced the United States plan to put a man on the moon in 1962 put it this way. 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It took seven years, but the things NASA learned along the way contributed to their success and have served humanity in ways many of us will never fully grasp. 

The term “moon shot” stems from this moment in history.  Pick a goal that is hard, that if you were to try it right know you are practically guaranteed to fail at and put all your energy into learning about it and getting better over a long period of time and you just might succeed.

2 – Success is Failure

Or put another way, every failure leads you one step closer to success.  What happens when a batter strikes out?  They come back the next time even more determined to hit the ball.  I’ve done the math, nearly every success is proceeded by a failure, sometimes many failures.  The key isn’t to try and knock the ball out of the park every time, it’s just to get a little better every day. 

3 – Never Stop Learning

Professionals are always trying to get better at their chosen craft.  Athletes study game tape and pick apart their performance, then they hit the gym or the practice field and work on their mechanics.  They are constantly learning in order to get better. 

Between 1962 and 1969 NASA launched 10 Apollo missions before they ever attempted to land one.  Why?  Because they needed to learn as much as they could first, people’s lives were at stake.

Business people read and test new theories all the time.  We are always learning.

4 – Results Matter More

When I played baseball, I quickly learned that no matter how I did it, getting on base was the real goal.  “A walk’s as good as a hit!”, my coach would call from the dugout as the umpire called out “Ball Four!” and I trotted down to first base.  I soon led my team in walks, hit by pitch and runs scored.  While walking isn’t nearly as fun or flashy as hitting a frozen rope over the head of the short stop, the result is the same. 

Pick a result or set a goal and then do everything you can to achieve it.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.

And remember, just because it’s hard doesn’t make something not worth doing.  The hard… is what makes achieving things great. 

Happy New Year – see you in 2019.

Run All The Way!

Have you ever watched a baseball game and seen a player give up on a play before it was over?

Watch this video for an example of what I’m talking about…

Sports bloopers are funny but when you really stop and think about it most of these errors are the result of players, who get paid millions of dollars playing a kid’s game, giving up too early.

When I was a kid I played both T-Ball and Softball just about every summer until I was 14.  One thing the coaches always drilled into us was the need to run out a play all the way to the end.

If it looks like you’re going to be out, keep running, you never know if the other player will drop the ball or miss the tag.  If it looks like a ball is going to drop or the runner is going to beat the throw, keep running, you never know what the other players are going to do.

I’ve carried this lesson into my professional life.

I work ten hours a day, five days a week.  My goal for every weekday is to hold two meetings, reach out to forty contacts, and send 5 cold emails.  On the weekends I spend time with family and friends, go to church, and do research.

Some days, I can get all my work done quicker than others.  On the days I’m done early I keep reaching out, sending more emails and booking more meetings because you never know when you are going to have a day that you don’t get anything accomplished.

But just as often I get toward the end of the day and it looks like I will fail in my goals.  On those days I keep pushing right up until quitting time, which for me is 7:00 pm.  I “run all the way” because you never know who’s going to pick up the phone or respond to that email at 6:59 pm.

Last Friday was a perfect case in point.  I had been out most of the day meeting with clients and had only managed to reach out to 33 contacts.  It was late, and to be fair, on Fridays I do tend to quit early.  But I hadn’t reached my goals and had only booked one meeting so far.  Three calls later, on my 36th reach out, 5 minutes before quitting time I got a prospect on the phone.  We talked for a few minutes and then he said, “It’s Friday afternoon, why don’t we continue this conversation over coffee in my office next week?”

I could have given up 3 calls before I dialed that guy’s number.  But because I am committed to running all the way I kept going and as a result I booked that meeting and reached my goal for the day.

So that’s all I’ve got for you today.  I hope you are as inspired to “Run All The Way” as I am!

Tell me a story in the comments below of a time when you ran all the way, or failed to, and what the results were.  I look forward to hearing from you.

I love watching sports bloopers too, feel free to send me your favorites and give me a laugh.

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

Try Easy

I’m a huge baseball fan.

Ever since I was about 8 or 9 years old I have loved the game of baseball, mainly because as an introverted kid it was the only game I could practise all alone for hours on end.  I must have driven my mother crazy tossing a tennis ball against the side of the house practising my pitching and fielding, every day all summer long!  I was never much of a hitter, mostly because you need two kids to practise that and like I said, I was an introvert.  But I could pick-it with the best of them!  Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Fernandez had nothing on me.

I think in part it was my love of baseball that helped set me up for a career in sales.

You see baseball is a game of failure.  It’s the only major sport where you can fail more than 70% of the time and still be considered a superstar.  There is hardly a pro-ballplayer alive who wouldn’t be satisfied with a .300 batting average over the course of a season.  In sales you can fail upwards of 90% of the time and still be considered a superstar in your chosen field.   At the end of the day in sales as in baseball it’s all about playing the percentages.

A few weeks ago I heard former major leaguer and colour commentator for the Toronto Blue Jays, Pat Tabler comment that just about every ball player at some point in their career needs to learn the meaning of the phrase “Try Easy”.  Tabler was a member of the 1992 World Series Champion Blue Jays.  He was a career .282 hitter, who over the course of 12 years in the majors hit only 47 home runs.  He didn’t have a lot of power but in baseball terms, he was consistent.  But he failed nearly 72% of the time and almost never hit the ball more than 300 feet.

According to Tabler, the phrase “Try Easy” is a reminder that baseball is a game of percentages.  If you’re patient and keep doing the work sooner or later you will get an opportunity to contribute.  Sooner or later, the pitcher will throw a strike right down Broadway, or hang a curveball.  Sooner or later, those line drives will drop in the gap.  Sooner or later, if you stay patient, stay alert and keep swinging, good things happen.

That’s what it’s like in sales too.  On average I reach out and touch 40 people a day, existing clients, new prospects, whatever.  That translates into one appointment and I generally sell on every fourth appointment.  Your industry may be different but the concept is the same.  You have to consistently do whatever it takes to be successful.  You don’t need to try hard to close every sale, that doesn’t work.  Try easy, because every no gets you one step closer to yes.

Sooner or later somebody’s going to hang one.

Watch this video.  It’s is possibly the best clutch at bat in baseball history.  You can’t get more pressure packed than this.  It’s Game six of the 1993 World Series, bottom of the 9th, down by a run, one man on and facing the best closer in the game.  Listen to the commentator at 0:55, the batter Joe Carter is 0 for his last 7 at bats, (failing more than 70% of the time) but he hangs in there, he waits, he tries easy.

What happens next still gives me goose bumps 20 years after I first watched it live.  This is the stuff legends are made of…

Meekonomics and Meritocracy

Last Sunday while I was mentally preparing myself for the message and working through some of the implications of what I’ve been studying lately I had an interesting thought.  What does Meekonomics have to say to the notion of Meritocracy? 

The way I see it there are two over riding systems of governance in this world; a class based, elitist, hierarchy in which moving from one “band” to another is extremely difficult or an egalitarian and pragmatic meritocracy in which the mobility if individuals is based solely on their ability to perform specified tasks or “merit”.   The problem is that as I work through the implications of what it means to take a Jesus centered approach to economics neither system can stand up for very long.  

I have long held that meekonomics is a “third way” and nothing illustrates that point better than they way in which meritocracy and meekonomics diverge.

I’m a huge baseball fan and professional sports teams are the ultimate example of meritocracy at work.  The best pitcher, strikes out the most batters, wins the most games and generally ends up the end of the year with the Cy Young award.  The best hitter has the highest average, ends up on base the most, scores the most runs and generally ends up the MVP.  The best defender commits the least number of errors and ends up with a Gold Glove.  You get the picture.  These numbers are obvious, easy to measure and not open for debate. 

In theory, meritocracy is supposed to work the same way in the economy.  The brightest and best are supposed to rise to the top.  However we all know that isn’t always the case.  There is something else at play here that needs to be explored and understood.

Before there was meritocracy there was feudal society.  In a feudal society, there are levels or bands of opportunity.  You are born into a band; you are either, royalty, nobility or peasant.  Except in extreme circumstances it is next to impossible to move from one band to another.  Aesop’s fairy tales are full of examples of peasants becoming noblemen through extreme acts of valor and bravery but fairy tales are fairy tales and the actual documented cases of such things happening are practically non-existent. 

As much as we like to think otherwise in the democratic west, much of the developing world is still very feudal in nature and if you dig a little deeper into our own society we notice that the bands that separate the uber wealthy from the middle and lower classes are extremely difficult to cut through.  We don’t use outmoded language to describe it but really, is our system of economics that much different? 

The United States was arguably the first fully merit based society.  The Declaration of Independence begins with the famous lines – “We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident; That All Men Are Created Equal…”  What could be more merit based than that?  And on the surface it appears as though society does work well when opportunities are handed out based solely on merit.  But dig a little deeper and it becomes painfully apparent that many opportunities aren’t even offered to huge segments on society, based solely on some other socio-economic criteria.  The Declaration of Independence itself was written by an elitist group of men at a time when Women did not have the right to vote and slavery was legal in all 13 colonies. 

Meritocracy says in essence, work hard, get a good education and the opportunities will come.  But education costs money and what if you can’t afford it?  You may be the smartest kid in the room but without the money to go to school and get an education you may never have the opportunities that some wealthier families can give their children. 

At the end of the day it is simply not possible for mankind to set up and operate a true meritocracy.  There are too many other things at play here for it to even begin to work.  Meritocracy is thwarted by jealousy, greed, lust for power and a desire to see one’s own children better off than the rest. 

Nothing illustrates the failings of meritocracy more than a look at the public and private school systems.  The public school system is funded by tax payers and made available free for everyone but it is human nature to pay as little tax as possible so the system is chronically underfunded, teachers who aren’t paid enough are apathetic, buildings are crumbling, the newest and most innovative technology is simply not available and the quality of education suffers.  The private school system is funded by user fees and tuition that only the wealthier members of society can afford.  The teachers are paid better and therefore more engaged, the buildings are kept in top condition and everything is kept up to date, it’s no question then that the quality of education is better and children coming out of private schools have a leg up on the competition when they hit the work force.   

So what is a meekonomist to do? 

With everyone in a meritocracy obsessed with getting ahead, a meekonomist must be willing to pause and look behind.  The question on the lips of every meekonomist is not, “what can I do to get further up the ladder?” but “how can I help you to catch up?”  If you slip back as a result of laziness or some preventable action of your own doing, that’s meritocracy at work but if you can’t even get on the ladder through no fault of your own then every one of us should be ashamed and pause long enough to make sure you have an equal shot. 

Even though the authors of The Declaration of Independence themselves didn’t really get it, “all men (and women) are created equal.”