In the past year I have become a father to my fiancé's ten year old son Aaron. I had previously never had any experience as a father, and certainly no real exposure to ten year old boys. It has been a challenge that I have been struggling with, and I can only hope that with time I will improve as a Dad.
Monday was a beautiful day, and while Aaron was sitting on the front lawn I decided to get out the basketball and shoot some hoops. As always I was hoping that he would join me, and suspected that he would for a few minutes and then lose interest; it is not that I have no faith in him, rather that I have great faith in his consistency.
As he sat on the lawn and watched me make some and miss some, he said 'I wish I could find something that I was really great at.' I started to think about that, and tried to remember something that I was great at the first – or second or third or fourth time I did it. I couldn't come up with anything.
As much as I wish it were not so, the reality is I am not and have never been a natural athlete; if it is ever in one's genes then it was not in mine. I happen to have loved playing sports as a kid, and when I put my mind to it I became good at a lot of sports, and at one point or another I played organized hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, and track-and-field. The greatest individual accomplishment of my high school athletic career was Most Improved Player on the basketball team. I was good and got better by spending lunch hours, after school, week-ends, free periods, and holidays practicing… not for a few minutes at a time, but literally hours and hours on end.
I tried to explain this to my boy, who looks at me and sees me excel at any number of activities. It is not easy. The reality is that while some people may have a natural inclination to things – whether it be athletics, academics, art, or music, nobody is actually great at it the first time out. It takes practice, dedication, more practice, good teachers (coaches, role models, etc…), more practice, aptitude, coordination, and still more practice. We seldom learn anything when we do something right, so we have to make mistakes – a lot of them. We have to do things wrong and make slight changes and then eventually do things right… and then repeat a thousand times.
What is required to achieve greatness? dedication. Frankly I have inherited from my parents the hope that my boy will be dedicated primarily to his academic endeavors before athletic ones. However because of the love I have had of sports over the course of my life I admit that I would not be unhappy if he did develop a love of sports… and you can be sure that even if he rode the bench I would be out there for at least a couple of his games cheering like a proud dad!
I do not think the search for greatness is a question of finding something you are great at… it is about finding something that you would like to be great at and then giving it all you've got. I have wanted to be great at a lot of things over the years and although I have probably not succeeded, I have gotten to be pretty good at many of them. For basketball, baseball, golf, and singing that has always been enough for me to really enjoy doing them. For some of them the journey continues (I try to golf as often as I can), and for others I will have to live with the memories… and in those I seem to get better at them every year!