I’ve never told anyone this (except my wife—she knows everything about me), but I once harbored a secret, passionate desire to be a shot-putter on the U.S. Olympic team. It started in high school. I was a fairly good shot-putter then, and even though I attended BYU on a football scholarship, I still dreamed of someday being an Olympic team member.
Because spring football practice conflicted with track season, it was impossible for me to try out for BYU’s track squad. Besides, I wasn’t a good enough football player to miss spring drills for some other sport.
Nevertheless, I still had my hopes, so one winter afternoon I purchased a 16-pound shot. I spent a few spring and summer days throwing the shot, but my shot spent most of its time gathering dust and rust in the bottom of my locker in the Smith Fieldhouse.
But I enjoyed throwing the shot, and I figured that once my football career was over, I’d focus my efforts on becoming a world-class shot-putter.
Eventually my football eligibility was used up, I graduated, and moved with my wife to Ogden, where I began my first job teaching English and coaching track. My Olympic dream hibernated for a while.
That spring, when track season began, I decided I would have time to train seriously for the shot put. I spent some time in practice throwing the shot with the kids I was coaching, but before long other coaching duties took me away from the throwing area and my shot went back to getting rusty and dusty.
After that school year, we moved to Arizona to take a different teaching position. My dream didn’t die; it just slipped into a coma. Every track season I revived my Olympic aspirations, but by the end of the season, the dream became dormant again. My old shot, by then very rusty and very dusty, was used less and less.
Before I realized it, I was too old, too married, and too out of shape to even fantasize about the Olympics. Now my shot sits in a dark cobwebbed corner of my garage. I doubt if I could even pick it up anymore.
I never realized my Olympic goal, and I’m a little disappointed.
A couple of my friends on the BYU football team had similar aspirations. They hoped to someday play in the National Football League. They were both starters on our team, and one of them was named to the all-conference team his senior year. Their entire careers were filled with hard work and dedication that they hoped would launch them into the NFL.
They were good players—not great players—so at the end of their collegiate careers, neither was drafted. They didn’t accomplish their goal, and they were disappointed too.
Why didn’t they achieve their goal? Men were born to succeed not fail. What else could be expected of children of God? But if men were born to succeed, why do they sometimes fail to accomplish goals that would make them successful and happy?
There are several reasons. Many goals are never realized simply because they’re unrealistic. Had I ever seriously analyzed my own talents and physical characteristics, I would have discovered that my chances of making the Olympic team were extremely remote—not impossible—just very, very unlikely.
My football buddies, despite the fact that they were talented, never considered that only a small fraction of college players make it in the NFL.
Unrealistic goals, like mine and my friends’, can result in wasted effort and frustration. If I had realized that my Olympic goal was impractical I might have spent my time becoming a better football player. Similarly, my football friends might have better prepared themselves for some other career when they understood the likelihood of not making the NFL.
But some goals are realistic, worthy, and even righteous. Why aren’t they always realized?
Many factors block success, but the most common blocks are laziness, ignorance, lack of discipline, and lack of courage. For example, a number of my students in my classes want to get straight A’s. They are bright and capable students, so their goal is very realistic. It’s unfortunate that each semester a few of those bright students are disappointed because they don’t get the marks they hoped for. They have the brains, the ability, but they fail because they’re lazy.
No one can be successful without work. In many locker rooms hangs the saying, “No formula for success will work unless you do.” It’s true. Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without effort.
Other people fail, not because of laziness, but because of ignorance. They have great aspirations, yet they never take the time to learn how to achieve them.
When I was a student at BYU, I was required to spend two weeks observing a seventh-grade class at a local junior high. There was one young man in the class who was the embodiment of a teacher’s nightmare. He swore, he cut class, he smoked at lunch, he refused to work, and he was unruly. In short, his reputation as the school troublemaker was well deserved.
During my two-week tour of duty he turned in only one assignment, a short essay titled, “What I Want to Be in Ten Years.” When I picked up the wrinkled, stained, illegible paper, I expected ro read about his dream of leading a motorcycle gang or becoming a gangster. Instead he planned, as far as I could decipher, to be an orthopedic surgeon. How ironic, I thought, that a kid who’s rejected everything needed to meet his goal, would dream of becoming a surgeon. His ignorance prevented him from seeing that he was already choosing a path that would lead to a life very different from that of an orthopedic surgeon.
Successful people are knowledgeable, and although schooling doesn’t equal knowledge, it can be a useful prerequisite. Knowledge can be gained through schooling, experience, study, or a combination of all three. Some people ignore that and fall short of their goals because they are unwilling to learn how to be successful. Ignorance breeds failure.
Another stumbling block to success is lack of discipline. As a coach and as an athlete I’ve watched many young men who were blessed with superior talent fail to become great because they were undisciplined.
A BYU teammate of mine was a running back with tremendous ability. When we were freshmen he was moved up to the varsity team for several games. As a sophomore he became a starter and was named national back of the week for an outstanding performance in an early season game. Unfortunately, as the season continued, he started to get into trouble because he could not follow the team’s training rules.
Eventually he withdrew from the university and, as far as I know, never played another down of football. It was a tragic waste of talent, but undisciplined talent is largely useless.
More subtle than lack of discipline is lack of courage—not courage to face danger but courage to meet challenges. Great people became that way because they accepted challenges and worked to overcome them.
Many students fail to excel because they deprive themselves of academic challenges by enrolling in easy classes. I’m ashamed to admit that for two years I fell into that trap. During my freshman and sophomore years at BYU I was more concerned with finding easy classes than with learning anything. Prior to registration each semester I checked out my prospective professors with the “academic grapevine” to find out who was the easiest. I cheated myself out of many worthwhile experiences by dodging academic challenges.
Don’t you be lulled into the same trap. When everyone else is seeking the easy path, be brave enough to take on the challenging one. You’ll be glad you did.
Once you’ve overcome the blocks to success, you’re ready to develop a systematic approach for success.
First, decide what you want to do, to be, or to have. Examine your goal and make sure it is a realistic and practical one for you. Write it down and remember it.
Next, rank your goal with your priorities. Nothing will be accomplished if it’s not important to you. One reason I’m not an Olympic veteran today is that shot-putting never ranked high enough on my list of priorities. Other things—family, church, career—superseded my Olympic hopes. Before you start your road to success, decide how important the destination is.
Third, consider what the trade-offs are. Tradeoffs are things that must be given up in order to have something else. The adage, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” is an application of a trade-off. My Olympic goal wasn’t reached because I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices required to become a world-class shot-putter. Likewise, if you decide to become a concert pianist, you should realize that you will exchange thousands of leisure hours for hours of practice at the keyboard. Is it worth it?
The fourth step is to plan your progress. Ask yourself, “What will it take to accomplish my goal?” If you want to become an orthopedic surgeon, you must plan now to do what’s necessary to accomplish your ambition. “Fail to plan,” the saying warns, “and plan to fail.”
Finally, when you’ve prepared yourself in every way, you must work, work, and work some more. Success does not generally come as a gift or a blessing; it’s a direct result of preparation and intense, continuous, patient work. There is no way around it.
You were born to succeed. When you do all you can do, the Lord will help you realize your righteous ambitions. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be a concert pianist, an orthopedic surgeon, or even an Olympic shot-putter.