I'd like to tell you about a friend of mine who used to be an outstanding runner. He was a sprinter who could run the 100 meters faster than any junior high or high school kid in his city or for several surrounding cities. He was so much faster than anyone his age that he consistently ran away from his competition. The interesting thing about him is that he seemed to run faster and faster as he approached the tape and coaches often were heard to comment on how strong and fast he was at the end of the race. He dominated all of the junior high school track meets in which he was a participant and was almost as strong throughout his high school years. He did notice while in high school that, while he consistently won, the competition seemed to be getting better. He knew that he was running as well—if not better —than he had ever run in his life, but, for some reason unknown to him, others seemed to also be getting faster. He began to realize that he often just barely beat his competitors as they got to the finish line.
This young man was such a fine competitor that he was offered an athletic scholarship at a university known for its strong track teams. He continued to compete well, but for the first time in his life he began to be aware that there were others who not only were very fast, but probably had a good chance of beating him. As hard as he would run, the competition seemed to edge ever closer, making each race one that he would barely win. The time came when, in one important event, he lost a close race and then—
little by little—even though he continued to win most of his races, he would occasionally lose. Since he knew that he was running faster and harder than he had ever run before, the whole reason for losing was a mystery to him.
He was fortunate to have a coach who cared a great deal about him personally and about his performances. The coach had a keen eye and a particularly good ability to analyze running styles. After watching the sprinter in several races, the coach came to him and said, "I think I've discovered your problem. You have always been a very strong and a very fast runner, but you have never learned to use the starting blocks and, in fact, you really do not know how to start very fast at all. The result is that you are always running faster and faster in an attempt to catch up with the competition, rather than leading from the beginning. This has resulted in your sometimes winning but sometimes losing to those who know how to come out of the starting blocks faster."
In the end, because of effective coaching and a willingness of this athlete to listen, he learned to charge out of the blocks quickly, and, while it was still possible for him to lose on occasions, he rarely lost once he had learned to put the whole race together — beginning with a fast start and ending with a strong and quick finish.
[Continuing after about a 10-second pause:] Many of you have heard of a rather famous artist who lived some years ago by the name of Vincent Van Gogh. His paintings now command a very high price even though he was not as well-known in his own lifetime—perhaps because he acted in some very peculiar ways and had such a violent temper that he would get totally out of control for periods of time. In fact, in one such period of rage he became so angry at a situation that he could not control that he cut off his own ear. The really sad thing about what he did, besides losing his ear, was that most other people simply thought that he was acting like a crazy man and they really didn't have a lot of sympathy for him. I suppose that they would have respected and befriended him more if he had acted in a more appropriate manner rather than simply looking stupid by allowing his anger to go so uncontrolled. His effort to gain attention and to show others how bad he felt, only resulted in others' not wanting to have as much to do with him and, in the final analysis, he only ended up looking kind of silly walking around with one ear!
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