Dropping the baton

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.
Aesop
C 550 B.C.

I’m not sure if you remember the 2008 summer Olympic Games, but in the track and field category, there was one event that was particularly disappointing: the 4 by 100 meter relay race. For those not familiar with a relay race, each team has four runners. One runner starts the race and carries a baton. At the end of 100 meters, there’s a transfer zone where the runner hands the baton to the next runner. If the hand off isn’t completed in the designated zone — or if the baton is dropped — that team is disqualified.

Americans dominated this sport for years, but in 2008, the team lost in the qualifying round — not because some other team was faster, but because the baton was dropped.

In high school track, our coach drilled us on the fundamentals of passing the baton. I wasn’t fast enough to take part in the races, but he taught everyone the basics. His philosophy was that it was okay to get beaten if some other team was faster than ours. But he absolutely did not want our team to lose because of an elementary mistake.

What’s the lesson here? It’s very simple, but I see it every day in real life situations. We often focus on the prize and allow ourselves to be distracted from the basics. We drop the baton and are out of the race, not because of our qualifications or the competition, but because we forgot to take care of the fundamentals.

It’s helpful to keep the goal in mind, but the people who reach their goals are the ones that pay attention to the basics. They don’t get caught up in winning the race before they get to the finish line. They understand that winning the race, no matter what sort of race you’re in, depends on staying focused on the minute details that must be completed correctly. It doesn’t matter how good you are; if you don’t take care of the fundamentals, you can easily be disqualified.

The American relay team had literally spent years training for the Olympics. Yet their hopes for winning a gold medal were dashed in a split second, simply because one of the runners failed to focus on the immediate task at hand. He was so concerned with the next step that didn’t take care of basics.

No matter what lies ahead, make sure you devote all your abilities to the current task. Take care of the basics; in the long run, it’s the surest way to win.

To do two things at once is to do neither.
Publilius Syrus
1st Century B.C.

Copyright © 2019 John Chancellor

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