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Inspiring Peak Performance

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Steve McNeely's Column

Finishing Harder Than We Started

May 3, 2010

First, a warm thank you to our clients and friends from Dad and me for our busiest tax season yet. Second, thank you—Wilson and dear Reader—for allowing me to post re-runs the last couple of intensely busy months.

2011 proves one's world can turn in an instant. In one minute the American Dream, a nice home, can be reduced to rubble and scattered, literally, to the four winds by a killer tornado. One minute you can be the world's most wanted terrorist and the next your lifeless body can be settling on the bottom of the ocean. (President Obama is to be commended for his courage and persistence—he surprised me in a good way!) Car crashes and Doctor visits can spin a life or end it. The short lesson is to live each day to the full and always stay close to God for we do not know what a day will bring.

Another lesson can be demonstrated by what I drilled into our kids when they were in track: Always finish the race faster than you start it! The road in front of our home has a long, slight incline. Back in the day I used to train by running down the hill away from our home and back up. Bad knees and a bad back are my excuses de jour for not training like I should now. I imagine age and the seductive pull from my recliner after a hard day of brain work have something to do with it, too. Anyway, I ran the hill recently—jogged, really—and couldn't shake the old habit: I had to run the last 25 yards as hard as I could. And then call the ambulance. "Hello. 9-1-1. I need a ride to my recliner."

Finishing harder and faster than we started means a life of continual improvement. Monumental, staggering, instant changes aren't necessary. (I have found that only bad changes happen overnight. When good changes appear to happen overnight it is because months and years of hard work have coalesced.)

It is the uninterrupted walk of 1,000 days that brings real, sustainable growth; the accretion of tiny layers of knowledge and experience that build a strong mountain that will not erode; it is resisting temptation and doing good in a million small ways that builds an unassailable strength of character. True, lasting excellence cannot be won in the lotto!

But that is the rub in a world that can change in the blink of an eye—we, especially Americans, want instant everything: forget a lifetime of healthy eating and exercise habits; hand me a pill, a cream, a rub, a potion, or a scalpel. Forget a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice, stick-to-it-iv-ness, and savings; "come on lucky 7!" (Or, "come on, Uncle Sam!") For the billions of us who won't win American Idol we should spend our lives hitting a streak of singles and forget the Babe-Ruth-esque swings for the seats.

One key to living a life of continuous improvement is to occasionally stop and take inventory. We should see if our stock has risen, not compared to yesterday or last month, but compared to a year, or a decade ago. This is extraordinarily difficult for young people—it was for me. We should then note and celebrate our improvements—it gives us the energy to continue. In 2011 and beyond life can and will change in an instant. But what we really are—our character—simply will not. You and I should patiently do the hard work to finish harder than we started!