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My wife was a high school and college athlete, and she was good. She still runs several miles a day and actually enjoys it! Now my seven year old daughter is running cross country and recently ran a 3 mile Turkey Trot with her mother. We were surprised at her disappointment at not winning this 3 mile run. After all, there were adults, teenagers and other children running, all at various levels of fitness and skill. Did she really expect to win? Yes, of course she did.
As Stacey and I discussed this event, she shared with me a coaching strategy she experienced as a high school track runner. She was the fastest 400 runner on the team. In fact we believe she still holds her school record. She was not, however, the fastest 800 runner on the team. Nevertheless, her coach made her run the event and not to win. Her coach made her run the event to get 3rd place. You see track is a team sport. Each runner earns points based on their performance and at the end of the meet all the individual points are added up, and the team with the most points wins. So, it was my wife’s place to get the points for third place while a better 800 runner on the team got 1st.
There is a lot of talk about knowing what you are good at and doing that to the best of your ability. The idea is that you should find your voice and excel there. Forget the things that you are just OK at and do the things that you will come in first for doing. That talk, that philosophy is driven by an individualistic focus, and while it is not wrong to focus your energies where you can excel the most, it is wrong to forget that sometimes the team needs you to come in third.
Think about it, most of us are part of a team of one sort or another. Imagine if everyone on the team only did what they were the best at. The team would loose, especially if the coach has done a bad job of creating diversity on the team. Vince Lombardi is reported to have said “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Sometimes the individual commitment requires the team member to strive for first place, other times it requires that same team member to come in third, to give 100% effort in an area they have no chance at winning, but where the team still needs that 100%.
You’ve probably thought a lot about your sweet spot; that area where you can win most often. But, have you thought about the places where others need you to focus and invest yourself even though you are not at your best, even though you don’t thrive, even though you don’t find as much joy there? You should. I should.
My wife and I want our daughter to learn that sometimes running the race isn’t about winning it. There are other reasons why we do the things we do. In this case, she was running the race to spend 45 minutes doing something fun and unique with her mom. Sharing that time together was more important than winning. She may be a better sprinter than distance runner, but its hard to sprint and enjoy someone’s company. It’s a little easier to settle into a steady pace and share an experience with someone else. There is a time for winning and there is a time for coming in 3rd. Sometimes coming in third is better for others, than leaving them behind and coming in first.
Image courtesy of zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net