“All my life, man and boy, I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the race. Naturally, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. Tried to teach Pre (Steve Prefontaine) how to do that. Tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me.
Taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to, God knows I tried… but… Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. ‘A race is a work of art’; that’s what he said, that’s what he believed and he was out to make it one every step of the way. Of course he wanted to win. Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more. Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test to the limits of the human heart. That he did… Nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better.” — Bill Bowerman
Steve Prefontaine is my favorite athlete of all time. To me he’s more fascinating than Mike Tyson and more inspiring than Lance Armstrong. I gravitate to his legacy the way the masses at Heyward field were mesmerized by his charisma.
Why? Re-read the quote above.
Pause for a second and evaluate where you’re at in your life.
Is getting a new client worth telling a little fib? Is giving 85% effort to your client’s campaign so that you can finish a week ahead of schedule and start on someone else’s request advantageous to your bottom line? Do those shortcuts in the code help you get to market faster? Does manipulating drones into subconsciously consuming your content tickle your fancy?
Even though you’re shaking your head “no” right now the odds that you’ve done something to get ahead at the expense of your integrity in the last year are probably higher than you’d care to admit.
Answering yes to any of those questions above would likely result in more money, higher profit margins, more visitors, and a stronger business. Let’s face facts. Countless people get away with it everyday.
For every person telling harmless white lies, taking short cuts and manipulating their co-workers, clients, etc. for money, power, recognition, etc. there’s someone out there who realizes that in the scheme of things none of that matters. People who realize that getting to the top is great, but how you get there matters more.
We don’t need any more non-profit CEOs using donations to fund their 4000 sq ft flat in London. We need more people like Steve Prefontaine who lived in a trailer and ate pseudo-meat so he could maintain his amateur status to compete in the Olympics and fight the AAU despite fat endorsement offers from every running affiliated company under the sun.
When your boss takes vacation you can play on Facebook all day long, but if you play your politics right you might get promoted soon anyway. I fear this mindset is consuming our society, and is partially responsible for our current state of turmoil.
It may not happen to you specifically and it may not happen in your lifetime, but I assure you that if the foundation isn’t strong, if the appropriate processes weren’t carried out, the whole structure is going to come tumbling down.
You can win with mediocrity. You can get rich with smoke and mirrors, but like Pre, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard than victory, than fancy watches and fast cars.
What say you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, but I’d love it even more if you’d share with me one person who you feel exemplifies the Steve Prefontaine approach. I’d love to highlight them here so that we can all learn from their examples.
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