Learn to play in the tall grass.

Image result for “If you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to learn to play in the tall grass.” tom brady
“If you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to learn how to play in the tall grass.”

The evening of February 3, 2002 was a magical time, truly one of disbelief.  That was the evening the New England Patriots became Super Bowl Champions for the first time, led by 24-year old Tom Brady. This is a guy who truly lived the embodiment of what I preach to myself all the time: do the things you need to do to put yourself in position when that big break happens.

He was the 199th draft pick in the 2000 draft: he was never the #1 guy, but he worked incredibly hard and kept working hard.  He even had a back up plan in case football didn’t work out for him.  He was a 4th string QB for the Patriots that 2000 season.  Think about it: the team which almost never carries three QBs carried four. They liked him.  They liked his drive, his intelligence, but also knew he wasn’t quite ready to carry the load.  He earned his shot and he kept earning it.

By that fateful game in 2001 that ended Drew Bledsoe’s run as starter in New England, Brady had worked his way up to second on the depth chart. Work ethic, and determination at play.   All the reps with the practice squad, all the time studying film.  Everything he did positioned him to be there when fate called.

My wife and I went to game 10 on the season, the St. Louis Rams at the New England Patriots, and I remember saying to her that this would be the Pats’ Super Bowl – the Rams looked unbeatable, world class.  Indeed, the Pats lost that game by a touchdown, but on the way home we agreed that they looked really good and had a decent chance to win.  They wouldn’t lose again that season.

Why, some 16-years later, on the eve of Tom’s 8th Super Bowl appearance, am I writing about THIS game?

It serves to highlight what I hope to be. I hope to best position myself to take advantage of that big break should it come.  I hope to be positioned through doing the work I need to do to be ready.  One doesn’t just wake up and run a marathon, or even ten miles as I learned this morning after having taken too much time between long runs. It’s a reminder to keep doing what I need to be doing, to set my goals, do the work toward those goals, and if I’m comfortable that I’ve done the work, the results will speak for themselves: I’ll either be up to the challenge or I won’t, but there will be no excuses for failure.

The one vignette that sticks out to me as highlighting emotional intelligence, the complete confidence that comes with being prepared, and the recognition that all the prep work has been done and no more worry or work can improve the outcome – indeed may serve as detriment to accomplishing goals – is this one: before  biggest game of his life, Super Bowl XXXVI, this 24 year old (let that sink in for a moment) took a nap in the locker room. Not because he was overtired, but because he was relaxed.

I ran a half marathon in October. I went to bed early, but within a few hours I found I couldn’t sleep. I was so amped up. Eventually I found I was tired but afraid to go back to sleep for fear of oversleeping. So I drove to the city, parked and tried to sleep in the front seat of my car.  Like that was a thing that was going to happen.

I didn’t eat well, I didn’t sleep well. I was a hot mess and the results show it.  This for a half marathon that I didn’t even pay an entry fee for.  Brady, on the night he would define his career with millions of people world wide watching, with millions of dollars in future earnings on the line and a legacy to be had, he fell asleep because he was just THAT prepared.  There is some debate as to whether it was 20-30 minutes or if it was a couple hours, but it doesn’t matter. He was so relaxed in his preparation, on the biggest stage he could nap.

I had a 45-minute presentation I had to give to leaders in my organization this week. I was nervous, I was prepared but nervous. There was no way I was going to take a nap, though. I have to imagine in those moments leading up to the start of Super Bowl XXXVI, TB12 just felt confidence, conscious competence.  When you do the pre-work, you’ve spent the time studying, you’ve worked as hard as you can work, you know nothing else you can do will make your performance better. Could I have made my performance better? Absolutely. I can think of a hundred things I could have done beforehand that would have yielded incrementally better results.  I didn’t take the time to do them, and as a result I was amped up and nervous.

“By the time you spike that ball, you’ve got 40 seconds and you’re thinking ‘this is for the World Championship.’” That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it.  Its about doing your job day in and day out at a high level without thinking about what could happen at some other point. It’s about making incrementally better decisions, better outcomes, and with those outcomes putting yourself in position to achieve your ultimate goal. Seven seconds left on the clock as he spiked the ball on the 30 yard line to set up the Vinatieri field goal was the point at which he said, “this is for the World Championship.” Not with a minute-thirty left. Not in the locker room. After his work was complete. With the spike, and a confident out reach of his hand, the ball lands softly and his work is done.

Every day isn’t the World Championship, not every job has a world championship hinging on the outcome of the smaller tasks during the year, but excellence, preparedness, execution those are the hallmarks of putting yourself in position to best achieve when called on.

I’m trying to remember that. Study, prepare, anticipate, prepare, know the goal, prepare, work, prepare… EXECUTE.

That’s why it’s important to not only find something you like to do, but to find something you’re passionate about doing. Put the time in, work it. Done consistently, you will be in position to do the most with that next opportunity, whenever, and wherever it comes.

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