How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

You've undoubtedly observed a person doing something that he or she is really good at and said to yourself, "S/he's a natural." By which you mean that their evident ability is just something that they have, that is part of them.

You've undoubtedly observed a person doing something that he or she is really good at and said to yourself, "S/he's a natural." By which you mean that their evident ability is just something that they have, that is part of them. But no one, really, is a natural.

Although I have approximately zero interest in golf—not at the amateur, professional or participative levels—I must admit that I did watch the last few holes played at this year's British Open.

As I watched Tiger Woods—and listened to those loud-whispering commentators talking about him—it occurred to me that he is the quintessential natural—or that he is from the planet Krypton, which explains his superman-like capabilities. In his post-game interview, which I was half-listening to, the inquisitor asked Woods about whether he was at the top of his game at age 24. And when Woods responded, I really listened: He explained that there were still some weaknesses in his game that he would work on. Work on. Tiger Woods needs to work on his game.

I don't know much about Tiger Woods, but I have read that he was a prodigy, appearing on "The Mike Douglas Show" or some other venue as a child, a la Michael Jackson. Which is to say that he's probably been swinging a club for some 80% of the time he's been knocking around on the planet.

The day that Woods won the Grand Slam was the day that Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France for the second time. I need not go into the whole story of Armstrong's triumph over cancer, but I should mention that last year, while attending a conference sponsored by i2 Technologies, I heard Armstrong live, and although Armstrong isn't much in the way of being a public speaker (i.e., his delivery wasn't what one would imagine in this mediagenic age) I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house by the time he was finished. Although the Tour de France could serve as a dictionary definition for grueling, the training regime that is necessary to prepare for it is perhaps even more extreme.

Meanwhile, back at the Michigan 500, Michael Andretti was battling for a possible 41st victory with Juan Montoya. Andretti, 37, has been on the CART circuit since 1983. Montoya was born in 1975. This is Montoya's second year in CART; he won the World Championship last year. Andretti has come in second in championship points plenty of times; he's only won it once. Andretti drove tremendously well...but lost by 0.040 seconds. He did, however, take over the lead in the Championship points race by his second place finish. And with the 40 races he has won, he is the winningest active driver in the series.

So where am I going with this? A golfer. A cyclist. A driver. Some people might argue that all of these things are recreation things that the rest of us do on weekends—because during the rest of the week we are working.

But guess what? For Woods, Armstrong and Andretti, what they do out there is work. That's how they earn their livings.

Arguably, each of these guys (unquestionably, in the case of Woods) could kick back and retire. They don't need to work. But for whatever reason, they continue to compete. Andretti is the second-oldest driver in CART and yet he keeps battling with those who were in elementary school when he started his run. Armstrong's performance last year at the Tour de France was in and of itself not only spectacular vis-à-vis riding enthusiasts, but it was clearly an amazing accomplishment for cancer victims of all inclinations. One could readily imagine Woods not going out on the tour competing as assiduously as he does, but there he is.

So my question to all of you is this: Are you doing whatever it is that you do to earn your living with the same sense of dedication, zeal as these three do; are you striving for the same levels of excellence that they are working to accomplish? If you aren't why not? Is it because you are an engineer or a manager and so think that people in those positions don't have to by the nature of the job? If that is the case, you're right. You don't have to. Neither do Woods, Armstrong or Andretti.

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