Don’t just go the extra mile.

Run.

It was 3:00 in the afternoon on a chilly February day.

Tryouts for the 7th grade baseball team were just about to start and I was eager as ever to put my skills to the test for the first time.

In those days (circa 2004), to try out for the team, you needed just a signed permission slip and the ability to catch a fly ball. The problem was that everyone had those two things…except for me.

I had never caught a fly ball, never fielded a ground ball, nor faced a live 65-mph pitch. I hadn’t had the little league baseball experience virtually everyone else at the tryout had growing up.

Growing up as an only child from a less-than-privileged neighborhood, the only experience I had playing baseball was pitching a tennis ball repeatedly against the strike zone I taped onto the futon in my living room, and the occasional trip to the batting cages. Otherwise, I spent much of my summers watching the Phillies on TV. Had anyone known the extent of my training, they would have told me not even to bother trying out.

But you know what? None of that mattered. I was (and still am) hardheaded and determined to prove people wrong.

So, rushing down the steps from my last class of the day, out onto the field with my textbooks in one hand and a glove in the other, there I was.

All I had to do was hand in my permission slip and show the coaches I had what it took to put on that Wildcats Baseball uniform.

Wait a minute…

My signed permission slip was missing. I was silently freaking out. I was still fourth in line to sign in, so I had time to think of something. I couldn’t let my opportunity to play middle school baseball be squashed before it ever saw the light of day.

When I reached the front of the line, I had to be up front with the coaches: I had misplaced my permission slip.

Predictably, the head coach said he would not be able to give me a tryout.

I was crushed.

But in a moment of quick thinking, I offered a solution.

I would have the coach handwrite a permission slip, I would run home, have my grandmother sign it, and run back before tryouts were over at 3:45.

And to my astonishment, the coach accepted my idea. He asked me how far I lived from the school. I told him it was about a 20-minute walk (just over a mile).

It was 3:10. He said I would have to get back to the field by 3:45 to have any shot at trying out. I knew I’d have to run.

And run is what I did.

Through the sketchy part of town, I ran over a mile all the way back to my house with my bookbag. It took about 10 minutes. It was 3:20.

I had to explain the situation to my grandma, had to get her to sign the paper, and took some time to catch my breath. This process took close to yet another 10 minutes. 3:30

Then it was time to run the full mile back to the field. Ten pounds lighter without my textbooks, yet spaghetti-legged from navigating the hilly streets between school and home, the run back to school took slightly more than 10 minutes. My journey seemed uphill both ways. I was afraid I’d have no more energy to even swing a bat.

At 3:42pm, I reached the signup table, and victoriously handed in my signed permission slip. But there was no time to celebrate. Coach handed me a bat and a helmet and rushed me up to home plate.

I was tired.

I was flustered.

I was not ready to jump right in to action. But I had five pitches to prove myself.

The first pitch was outside… I had about five more seconds to catch my breath.

The next pitch was good, but I didn’t swing.

I was still winded.

The next two pitches were right down the middle, but I only managed to hit weak ground balls to third base and shortstop.

And then the final pitch came.

I got a hold of it and hit the ball in the air, deep to left field…only to be caught.

I then took some groundballs at third base and fielded a couple fly balls in left field. My glove skills were okay, and my throws weren’t crisp.

I went home afterwards, and stewed about losing my permission slip. I knew I wasn’t going to make the team.

The next day, coaches called us back to the field after school so we could find out who made the team.

As I stood waiting, watching as other kids had their name called, I knew my name wouldn’t be called.

And it wasn’t.

The coaches told everyone who wasn’t chosen to go home, work on their skills, and come back next year.

So, I grabbed my glove and headed for home in defeat.

But then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. The head coach had been struck by what I had done the previous day. He explained to me that I had some work to do to get better as a baseball player, but the effort and determination I showed in running home and back absolutely earned me a spot on the 7th grade team.

I was floored. I couldn’t believe it.

For the first time in my life, I realized the power of going the extra mile — of running the extra mile. And with that realization, a few life-changing lessons:

  1. Don’t let someone else’s word be the final word. It’s up to you to prove them wrong or prove them right. Inaction is not an option.
  2. Quick thinking is a superpower. Had I not taken the initiative to propose a plan to the coach at the last moment, I wouldn’t have had the chance to ever play organized baseball.
  3. Skills can be taught. Determination cannot. You may be passed over often for opportunities in life because you aren’t good enough. But great leaders look beyond present skills. Great leaders see the work ethic, the passion, and the willingness to learn in addition. They see the raw material today, but they also see the sculpture of tomorrow.

Don’t just go the extra mile.

Run.

Become a Better Leader

The world is starved of principled leadership. I’m writing to help you step up and step into that void.

This free email series will cover every aspect of principled leadership, from personal to organizational leadership, to navigating the muddy waters of poor leadership.

Sign up for 100 Days of Leadership

Enter your email, and you’ll receive a series of hard-earned, time-tested, practical principles that will make you a better leader, or help you become a leader.