In July of 1992, the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at Stanford, I got invited to play in the U.S. Junior National Baseball Championship tournament in Boise, Idaho. It was a pretty big deal. Some of the top high school players in the country were there, including a 16-year-old shortstop from Miami named Alex Rodriguez. So there we were, a group of pretty talented and confident (i.e., cocky) high school baseball players, but beneath the outward cockiness was a deep sense of insecurity, especially being around other players of this caliber.
The first day we were on the field, they sent us down to the batting cage. We were all standing around watching as each of us took turns hitting. Given the nature of the tournament, the group, and the fact that this was the first time we were on the field together, we were all definitely trying to impress one another. While we were all pretty good ballplayers and relatively impressive, there was one guy on our team, named Geoff Jenkins, who was literally like a man among boys when he stepped into the batting cage.
Geoff was an unbelievably talented player, and I’d played against him in summer ball the year before. He had this huge swing. Lots of coaches and scouts would comment on it, saying,”He won’t be able to get away with that huge swing at the next level.” Geoff was heading to play at University of Southern California that fall and since I was going to Stanford, we were going to be facing one another in the coming years at the college level.
As he was in the batting cage that day, he was putting on such an incredible display of hitting that, even in the midst of our cockiness and posturing, we were all looking around at each other in amazement at what he was doing. At one point, toward the end of his round of batting practice, Geoff swung so hard that on his backswing when he slammed the bat down, he actually cracked the wooden platform under his feet. I’d never seen anyone do that. He had to stop early and come out of the cage. The maintenance crew had to go in and try to figure out what they needed to do-either fix or remove the platform.
As Geoff walked out of the cage with his bat over his shoulder, knowing that he’d just been quite impressive, he had a sly, pleased-with-himself look on his face. One of the other guys on our team said, “Geoff, dude, why do you swing so hard?” Geoff stopped, spit, looked back at him, and, after a long pause, said, “Just in case I hit it.”
I remember thinking, Wow, that’s not how I usually approach baseball, or life for that matter.
Geoff went on to be an all-American while playing at USC and then a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. By the age of 23, he was a starter in the major leagues, where he played for 11 seasons – including winning a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, his final year. He never stopped swinging hard, and throughout his very successful major league career, he got quite a few hits (1,293 total) and hit a lot of home runs (221 total). He also struck out 1,186 times.
Far too often we hold back and play safe in life – worrying that we might fail, mess up, or embarrass ourselves. Some of this we do consciously, but much of it is unconscious; it’s almost hardwired into us to do whatever we can to avoid looking bad.
A number of years ago, I was running in my neighborhood. In those days, when Samantha was still very young and before Rosie was even born, I used to get up before anyone was awake and go for a morning run. I was coming to my favorite part of the run (the end) and whenever I would get to the corner near our house, I would kick it into high gear, so I could “finish strong.” That morning I was having a pretty good run and was really into the song on my iPod, so when I got to the corner, I took off even faster than normal.
Sadly, I wasn’t paying attention to the ground and didn’t notice a big lip in the sidewalk. I hit it with my foot, and I went down-hard! I hadn’t fallen down that hard in years. My iPod flew out of my hand, my hat came off my head, and I caught myself inches before hitting my chin on the pavement. As shocked as I was to have fallen, as I was lying there on the ground, before I stopped to assess my physical condition, I immediately looked up to see if anyone had seen what had happened. It was a reflex. Once I saw that there were no cars driving by and no one else on the street, I finally took a moment to think about my injuries. I was a little scraped up, although not that bad, and I had bumped my knee pretty good on the ground, but it didn’t seem to be actually injured, just a little sore. I got up, brushed myself off, and, as I limped the rest of the way home, all I thought was, Well, at least no one saw that. It was a painful and humbling reminder of my own attachment to looking good (or, at the very least, not looking bad).
What if we weren’t so concerned with messing up or looking bad? This is about being willing to take risks, be bold, and “swing hard” in our lives. And although this concept is pretty simple and we all understand it, like many things in life, understanding something is quite different from actually practicing it. In other words, it’s much easier said than done.
Being bold, while scary and challenging at times, is essential to living an authentic and fulfilling life. Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our “edge”-pushing the limits of what we think is possible for us. It’s about living with courage and passion, and letting go of our attachment to the outcome along with the perceptions and opinions of others (including our gremlin). Living this way is not only thrilling, it’s how we consciously evolve as human beings.
Will we swing and miss sometimes? Yes. Might we fall down and embarrass ourselves? Of course we will. But, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, published with permission. The book is published by Hay House and available now online or in bookstores.
Leave a comment here on my blog about how this post relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.