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  • Writer's pictureJay Whitmer

Varsity Clues

Do you remember freshman year of high school? Whether literal or figurative, most of us can probably still recall the weight of feeling small. The school was bigger than anything we had experienced before, and the giants walking the halls around us made the hair on our necks want to jump right out of the gym.

Not only did we revere the upperclassmen, but we couldn’t wait to be one of them from the moment we got our school ID. If only I could grow faster in an instant to be one of them. Or at least grow some facial hair to look the part.

Looking back at my pimply teenage ego thirty years ago, I desperately wanted to set a course to be labeled VARSITY. Not just varsity material, but varsity starter. Maybe even captain so that everyone would know my name and my position. I didn’t want to just be someone, I wanted to be the one. After all, weren’t those the students who made it to the top?

Ironically, the first time I put on a varsity jersey and actually stepped into real action, I immediately felt like an imposter. I felt out of place and that I didn’t deserve to be thrust into the prime time, so I just pretended to play the part and try to look tough along the way.

To be honest, that story line has carried with each new jersey I’ve put on ever since. And I’m guessing you probably have felt something similar when entering a new chapter and stepping into the unknown.

Do I belong here? Will I be good enough to make it? Or will people think I’m a fraud?

Do I have what it takes to be varsity worthy?

If we let our freshman voice speak too loudly in our head, then of course everyone else will look bigger, faster, stronger – just better than me.

But if we can remove ourselves from the comparison game (or labeling ourselves and others altogether), then we can learn 3 things about what it takes to get to the next level in things much bigger than sports or competitions. (And let’s not forget we are now playing what Simon Sinek calls the Infinite Game that doesn’t have a finite score or conclusion like we might have experienced in the game of high school.)

  1. The bar of excellence is higher than we think. Our goal should never be to just make the team, even if we latch onto a winning team. Our goal is to have an impact and contribute excellence at the highest level so that the collective sum of the parts is greater than the individual. So that we can go further than anything we might try to accomplish on our own. Winning teams, however, rarely pay attention to other teams. They are obsessed with the pursuit of excellence, which demands an appetite that never ceases to hunger for better. This is why even the most elite at their craft never “arrive” at a destination, but they continue a relentless chase toward the next level of mastery. One that never actually ends.

  2. The cost to get there is greater than we want. Most people aspire to be great, but it seems few are willing to do what it takes when no one is looking. Maybe that’s because all we usually see from elite performers are the final results – not the inputs and the persistent work required to get better every day (with a particular emphasis on thousands of boring reps). Let’s be careful not to wish ourselves into the outcomes of others without understanding the sacrifice required to achieve greatness. If we really want to be called up, we need to study the habits and inputs so that we too can train to be varsity material.

  3. The reward on the other side is different than we expect. Once selected, then what? Once we have achieved recognition and even favorable results, is that it? Do we just relish in the certificate or trophy given to us for participating at a high level, or is there something deeper and richer to drink in for our pursuit? For most who find their way to the other side (“a” summit not “the” summit), most would say it’s never about the destination but rather all about the journey. The self-discovery combined with relational capital invested with others makes every step and every grind worth the effort. Marathon runners don’t need a medal at the end of 26 miles to feel accomplishment or recognition (*although I clearly do not speak from experience). And 99% of runners aren’t competing versus anyone but the question “can I do it?”

There’s always a way, or as my dad used to say, there’s always a better way.

We just have to change the question from “can I” to “will I” do what it takes to get from HERE to THERE. Do I even recognize where HERE is or understand how high the bar might be over THERE? Or what it might cost to bridge the gap? Is there a better way, and do I have what it takes?

While I would certainly argue the climb is worth every effort, maybe we should also be asking what we might be missing if we don’t even pack or prepare for the trip. Inaction can be just as costly as taking a bold next step.

But please don’t travel alone. We’re not running after Varsity just to prove something to ourselves or to others to fit in or be noticed.

We are all in a hunt for significance, which is so much bigger than success of any color. One has lasting value, while Varsity only sticks around for a short season. One matters deeply to those in our lives that we love most right now, while the other usually only resides in our own memory or in a distant memory of people long forgotten.

So let’s cut to the chase and ask if I am chasing what really matters.

Revelate Advisory is a lower/middle market advisory firm helping business owners write their next chapter - either through organic growth, growth capital, or preparing for a potential financial partner.

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