This month we bring you a very special article from Chris Cowan, a car enthusiast who has some significant experience in coaching and leadership. I had the pleasure of meeting Chris at a local car meet and felt that his experience could bring value to our readers and therefore asked him to share his perspective on various aspects of Success. This is his first installment and we will hopefully have him write more from his point of view. – Don Sabatini
What do Michael Jordan, Mother Teresa, and Albert Einstein all have in common? They are all quitters. And I mean BIG TIME quitters. Colossal, mega, super-quitters. In fact, one could argue that it was their unique ability to quit that made them successful.
Imagine this – it’s 1977 and you’re a college student living in Queens, NY. By day, you work as a furniture mover and are working part-time on an accounting degree and by night you perform stand-up comedy in some small local clubs. By all accounts, you are almost completely average at everything you do. Seeing your lack of progress, your parents force you to make a decision; either focus on your accounting degree or focus on your comedy. Thankfully, Raymond Romano decided that accounting wasn’t for him (which is too bad because he could have used that accounting knowledge to help him with the almost 500 million dollars he made over the course of Everybody Loves Raymond).
Now, most of us don’t have parents like Ray. Most of us are so afraid of the word, “quit” that we would never dream of dropping something that we invested a lot of time into. And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that so many people fail to succeed. Why? Because in order to achieve something spectacular you have to have a laser-like focus on it and you already know that you can’t focus on several things at once. Confucius said, “he who chases two rabbits catches neither,” so if you want a rabbit, you’re going to have to decide.
Our problem is that we want to dabble in this and play with that. We want to try some experiments and we want to explore some possibilities. By this of course, we intend to play it safe and I’m as guilty of this as anyone (probably even more so). We want to “try.” We want to try so that when things fall apart we can easily jump ship. This is what separates those who achieve great things and people who almost achieve great things. Successful people know that in order to surpass their peers they need to be more focused and more committed than their competition. But what most people forget is that you only have a limited amount of resources. And if you’re going to focus on one thing, then you’re going to have to quit something else. In my coaching, I’ve found that learning to quit is one of the hardest lessons to learn, especially for high achievers.
So, in order to help you let go, let me remind you that being “good” at something doesn’t get you anywhere. A “good” basketball player may run rings around the guys at the local rec center, but he’s not getting endorsement deals. Being a “good” businessman just means that your company survives. It doesn’t mean that your company is truly adding value to its customers, employees, and the community…consistently. You may be “good” at a lot of things and while that may impress your Facebook friends, the world at large doesn’t care. The world only cares about excellence and the only way to achieve excellence is to focus. No one has ever built a statue to honor a dabbler.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, it means that you need to do some serious soul-searching. You need to figure out what kind of business you need to be in and equally importantly, the kind of business you need to get out of. Look at each piece of your life and make a decision to either quit or commit. Figure out what’s most important to you and put your time, money and energy there – forget everything else. If you have a hobby or you do something to have fun or relax, then by all means keep doing it. We all need to enjoy ourselves. Just don’t deceive yourself into believing that what you dabble in will amount to anything more than that.
Your time and energy are your most precious resources. It is the great equalizer. However, once spent, you never get them back. Ask yourself honestly, where do you spend your time each week and are those things moving you forward in the areas that are most important to you? If not, then I guarantee that you’ve got some time wasters in there. Cut those anchors loose and give yourself the freedom to pursue excellence in your chosen area.
In 1908, after eight years of hard work and learning the ins and out of his trade, Albert Einstein quit his job at the patent office to focus on his scientific research and teaching. In 1946, an Albanian nun named Teresa left her position in the convent to live among the poor of Calcutta. 33 years later she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, Michael Jordan quit the Chicago Whitesox to rejoin the Chicago Bulls winning three additional national basketball championships in the process.
They were all average people who were “good” at a lot of things. What set them apart though was an above average clarity about who they wanted to be. They committed to that vision and they quit everything else. Every time you hear someone quote Vince Lombardy’s line, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins,” just smile quietly. You know the truth. A winner quits lots of stuff.
Info on the author: Chris Cowan is an executive coach and an expert in adult and organizational learning. He is currently working as a consultant with the Federal government. He has previously worked for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Leadership Development and the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Previous consulting clients include, Fannie Mae, Samsung USA, the United States Air Force, and Microsoft. He has written or co-authored 13 articles on adult learning and is a certified action learning coach and training evaluator. Chris received his Masters from Harvard in 2005 and is currently writing his dissertation on transformational leadership at the George Washington University. He currently drives a 2008 Dodge Viper. Feel free to contact him with questions at Chrcowan@gmail.com.