When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for the football team. Kinda, sorta.
Let me explain: There was a kid in my class just like me. He was skinny and nerdy, but he loved playing football. One day as we were recounting our glory days of catching touchdown passes during elementary school recess games, we came up with the craziest idea: “Let’s try out for the team!” We both knew we’d be the laughingstock of the school, but we at least had each other for moral support.
We signed up for tryouts and the coach immediately had us hit the weight room. For two months, my friend and I hit the weights as we tried to beef up our scrawny little bodies. Surprisingly, all the bigger guys on the team were really supportive and encouraging. They would tell us things like “Keep at it” or “Everybody starts off weak. You’ll eventually get stronger.” As inspiring as their words were, I gave up after those first two months. I wasn’t seeing results and the whole process felt more painful than rewarding. It just wasn’t worth all the inconvenience.
Fast forward to senior year. I’m walking down the hall one day and I pass my old football buddy from freshman year. He looks like a total alpha dog. His body was cut and carved better than any Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever seen. “Man!” I said. “Remember when we were both super skinny? I thought I was leaving you behind, but I guess you left me behind.” My friend laughed it all off and said “You should’ve stuck with it, bro.”
His words stung like a bee. Usually, it’s easy for me to come up with some kind of explanation for why another person succeeded when I failed. But this situation was different. I couldn’t lie to myself this time because I knew that my friend and I started in the same place. As good-looking and physically fit as he was, he started off as a scrawny geek just like me. The only difference between him and I was that he stuck with the process. He didn’t give up.
Look around you. Look at the people at your job, in your school, in your family, or whatever. Just take inventory of all the people you interact with on a regular basis. Many of those people, as of right now, are equal to you or inferior to you in terms of skill, status, and success. Many of those people have the same advantages as you or less.
Now consider the following: Five years from now, someone in your life is going to be totally crushing it. When you look at their level of skill, status, or success in comparison with where they are today, you’re going to be blown away. And the only reason that’s going to happen is because right now they’re busy staying faithful to a bunch of unglamorous and seemingly unrewarding routines day in and day out. And when they pass you by, you’re going to marvel at their progress just as I marveled at my friend’s physical transformation.
It’s been said that “the definition of hell is meeting the person you could have become.” If you don’t start focusing on your own personal and professional development today, you’ll meet the person you could have become in about five years. And that person will take the form of an old friend who started off in the same place as you, but who refused to quit.
When that day comes, I hope you’ll be celebrating your progress together instead of regretting the fact that you didn’t take advantage of the same opportunities.