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Above all else, try your hardest!

For as long as I can remember, this has been one of our family rules. Of all the lessons I have learned in my life, I believe the ability to try your hardest is one of the clearest predictors of future success.

Every day I see people who either don’t know how to try their hardest or who simply choose not to do so.  I see these people struggle over and over without realizing how digging a little deeper and trying a little harder could change their outcomes.

Even though I fully know and believe trying my hardest is extremely important, I still struggle to always do it. I am quick to call my girls out when I see them give below maximum effort, but a few years ago I caught myself being a hypocrite when it comes to trying my hardest.

Every year at Christmas, my wife’s side of the family has a contest to see who can build the best gingerbread house.  When we started, her grandmother was our judge. Now Aunt Sue and Uncle Kevin do the honors.

We take a picture of everyone’s completed house, send the pictures to Sue and Kevin, and they declare the winner.

It is a fun family event that we all enjoy. It is even more fun now that our girls are old enough to build their own houses. My oldest daughter even got 3rd place this year.

You might be wondering what this has to do with trying your hardest. Well, here’s the deal. I have NO chance to win this contest. No, really – NO chance.

My brother in law graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art.  My wife is not an artist, but she might be more creative than her brother.  I don’t stand a chance!

About 6 years ago, after one of my really horrible creations, I realized exactly what I was doing. Even though I preach to my girls the importance of always trying your hardest in every situation, I was not following my own advice.

I got caught up in the prize (winning). Since that was out of reach, I essentially gave up. I would still participate with everyone else, but my only goal was to get done. 

I didn’t care how the end product looked. I was just going through the motions.  It was an easy justification. I couldn’t win, so what difference did it make?

I don’t remember exactly when, but one year, it finally dawned on me what I was doing. How could I expect my girls to always try their hardest if I wasn’t willing to do so myself?

That year, I committed to try my absolute best from now on. The funny thing is, I actually have more fun now.

As a coach, principal, and father, I have always told those following me to focus on the process and the outcome will take care of itself.  I know this is true. I believe this is true. I just wasn’t following my own advice when I needed it most.

When I was so focussed on not being able to win, I dreaded the competition. I would make excuses and even try to get out of participating.

When I finally accepted the fact I was not going to win and started focusing on doing my best, I began to have fun again.  I challenged myself to do better than I did last year. I made myself the judge of that. No one else in the family even knows I went through a phase of not trying.

Focusing on the process of trying to get better made it fun. I now look forward to seeing what I can do next.  It is so much easier to actually try my hardest.

As a byproduct, my houses have actually improved too.  Funny how that works, huh?

What is your gingerbread house?  We all have something we should be trying our hardest at, but are not.

Next time you encounter yours, remember to focus on the process not the outcome.

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