Is someone getting the best of you?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher F. Leavey
  • 341st Missile Wing Staff Judge Advocate
In 2005, the Foo Fighters released a song that asked, "Is someone getting the best of you?" I love the song, but the question makes me uncomfortable. When have I literally given 100 percent, committed my utmost effort and left absolutely nothing in reserve? Can I identify efforts that were performed with maniacal focus, unswerving discipline and genuine desperation? Have I truly given my all to those things that mean the most to me: as a father, a husband and an Airman? It's not about trying hard, or being better than average, or even being the best. It has nothing to do with others; the only measuring stick is one's own full potential.

Do you give your very best to someone or something on a regular basis? Your spouse? Your child? Your faith? Your personal goals? I suspect many readers will answer "yes," but for me the answer is "no." Such commitment seems rare to me - that's why I admire it so much. I believe we lie to ourselves, make excuses for ourselves.

The author Marianne Williamson wrote, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

If the potential for high achievement really resides in all of us, then we are personally responsible for our success or lack of success. It's a scary thought, but one that inspires me.

History proves this potential to succeed exists. It is not intellect, physical skills or innate talent that separates the truly successful from the rest of us - it is willpower, desire and commitment. How many influential men and women have risen from modest beginnings (Gandhi, Lincoln, Helen Keller, MLK)? Legendary athletes who overcame physical challenges (Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolf, Jim Abbott)? Hugely successful business owners who began with humble jobs (Sam Walton, Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs)?

Professor Anders Ericsson has published research which advances a "10,000 hour rule:" it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill. There are no shortcuts. Even childhood prodigies such as Mozart do not produce genuinely masterful work until they have put in thousands of hours of practice. Epic success can be achieved by all willing to work hard enough at it, all willing to make a supreme commitment.

I find it hard to fully commit to anything. There are so many priorities competing for limited time. Total commitment is not reasonable. Total commitment does not include safety nets. Failure must be a genuinely terrifying option.

Sun Tzu wrote, "If [soldiers] will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve." Many military leaders throughout history have burned boats or bridges after crossing a river leaving their army only two options: victory or disaster. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he would either take down the Republic or be executed. He had a powerful incentive to succeed. He was committed.

Your best does not guarantee success. But the attempt is well worth it. It can define you. Those few times in my life I have been truly committed, I failed in my ultimate goal. But I felt nobility in the effort, and those "failures" are the moments I am proudest of.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Here's to you and I entering the arena and truly giving our best to someone or something worthy of such effort.