Single Mindedness = Success – West Point Life Lesson #5
My Head Cross Country/Track Coach stared at me from across his desk. It was the end of a frustrating Yearling (Sophomore) year at the Academy. I started the year with such promise. I trained hard over the summer and entered the Cross Country season strong and ready to compete for one of the top spots on our team. Based on how I was practicing, there were hopes that I would even win some races that year.
Practices were going as planned and I was progressing nicely, but I was injured early in the season which sidelined me for the rest of the Cross Country season and part of the Indoor Track Season. I was able to compete in the entire spring for Outdoor Track, but I was a mere shell of a runner compared to what I was only a few months earlier.
My Head Coach was crass and would just call things as he saw them. On this particular day, he called me to his office. He never beat around the bush with things and proceeded to berate me on my attitude and approach towards my training and racing. I lowered my head in shame as I listened to him go over my subpar race results and share his frustration with what to do with me next. I honestly expected he would release me from the team that day. Finally, he paused for a long moment. I looked back up at his disappointed gaze. “Rheam, you have to make a decision, do you want to be a West Point Cadet? Or, do you want to be a track star?”
I was surprised by his question. He did not give me a chance to answer, it was rhetorical. “Get out of my office, Rheam, and get your head back in the game!” He grunted in his low baritone voice and turned away from me to tend to a pile of paperwork on his desk. I left his office and took my time on the long walk across campus and back to my barracks.
I took stock of my life at West Point thus far. I was doing fine in all facets of my cadet experience. I supported my classmates in the daily duties and responsibilities; I studied hard in my classes and took on a heavy class load to include scheduling to go to summer school to take Chemistry so I could get ahead for next year. I spent long hours studying, cleaning my room, polishing my boots and shoes, and volunteering for other duties to support my Company. I worked extremely hard in my Department of Physical Education courses, to the point that I was ranked in the upper 3% of the entire cadet class. However, as I assessed everything, I realized that I was exhausted.
I was doing fine at many things, but I was not great in most of them. I was not known as being the best cadet in my Company and was not going to win any awards, my grades were fine and above average, and obviously my running was suffering. I had to remind myself why I came to the Academy. I wanted a good education, to serve in the military, but most of all I wanted to run and compete at the Division I collegiate level.
I made my decision, I wanted to run and be my best in Army Cross Country and Track. I regained my focus and put my efforts towards becoming a better runner. I maintained my grades, spent much less time in cadet activities and devoted my discretionary time towards studying, training, eating, sleeping, and competing for West Point at various Cross Country and Track Meets.
It took me over a year to get in proper shape and to compete well, but I achieved success. By my Firstie (Senior) year at West Point, I was the second fastest distance runner, behind All-American and Team Captain Mike Bernstein. I had a satisfying senior season that ended with my Head Coach coming up to me during one of my last Track & Field meets and stating, “Rheam, I have to say, it has been my pleasure coaching you this year.” I still remember how great I felt when he said that.
My last few years of running at the collegiate level and experiencing West Point taught me a valuable lesson in life. If you want to achieve anything of significance, then you must be willing to focus on the main things, and let the minor things remain minor. Sure, there are tons of activities and responsibilities that tug at you throughout your life, but you must have the wisdom and courage to say “no” to most of them and focus on what is important in your life at that moment.
I still run and compete for fun, but it is no longer my focus. Now I concentrate on being a husband, a father, and businessman. I still say “no” to several things in my life and remain of single mind on what I ultimately want to achieve. If you want to live a life that matters, then learn to be single minded and to cut out the distractions. Do you want to be good at several things or do you want to be unbelievably outstanding at a few? Start saying “no” to the minor things and focus on the major things as they lead you on a path of significance.