Recently I saw a picture of my grown son’s seven-year-old baseball team. I remembered most of the kids’ names and enjoyed the poses, expressions and how their uniforms were in various stages of disarray. Standing in the back, I was thinner, had more hair and looked naïve going into the first of several seasons of coaching. It occurred to me to keep it simple with young boys. I decided to define success for our team by giving them three rules to follow. While we worked hard to win every game, we would not measure our success by wins and losses. Instead, we would consider each game a success if we followed these simple rules: #1 hustle, #2 respect others and #3 have fun. Never did I imagine that these rules would prove to be valuable guidelines in defining success at work and in life.
Rule #1: Hustle
Timmy signed up late after we had been practicing a while. He was chunky, quiet and seemed a bit unsure of himself but was willing to work hard. He showed up early, stayed late and worked with his dad in between practices. At the end of the season, he was not the best player but he was certainly the most improved and contributed regularly on the field. He embodied hustle to me because he pushed himself to be better every day. When in the game, his blue-collar work ethic raised the level of play for our whole team. His example made others better.
Why is it so appealing to hear stories of people of average ability who succeed because of their tenacity and work ethic? Hustle is the great equalizer. It does not rely upon family name, level of education or financial status. Hustle is the domain of anyone who chooses it. As such, these stories give the rest of us hope that we, too, can succeed if we just commit to putting in the effort. Abraham Lincoln said, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
What does hustle look like in a career? It starts with preparation. Read good books, especially biographies of people worth emulating. Find a mentor who can propel you forward. Show up to work early, rested and having thought about what is next. Regularly set long-term goals focused on a variety of areas of your life and post them where you can see them daily. You may not reach all of them but the ones you do accomplish will encourage you to continue to move forward.
Next set yourself apart from the crowd by doing just a little more than is expected. You will find yourself to be considered the go-to person to get things done. Just be careful to set appropriate boundaries so you are not taken advantage of in the process.
Look for opportunities to fill an unmet need. Adding value makes a difference. Many larger organizations have so much red tape it squashes ingenuity. Do not be afraid to appropriately test the water with an idea. Taking some proven success to a superior speaks louder than just an idea. It shows initiative as well.
Lastly, get moving. You can’t steer a boat unless it is propelled. You can also plan so much you fall into the “Ready, aim, aim, aim…” syndrome. Many times you figure things out as you go along.
Hustle seems like an overly simplistic admonition. However, as I learned coaching Little League, the decision to keep it simple with young boys proved valuable. Life has taught me to keep it simple with older ones as well. It is the best way to see results that stick. By the way, Timmy (Tim now) used his hustle to become a commercial airline pilot today. Watch for Part II: Respect Others.