Leave it all on the field. I always thought this clichéd adage was another way of saying do your best. I was wrong. This is my story of discovering what it really means to leave it all on the field.
I like to explore what something is not as a way of getting at what it is so I started by looking at my less than stellar moments.
I used to do sprint distance triathlons. Swim, bike, run. You’ll notice I didn’t say compete. I loved doing the races and I loved the training but I was the ultimate amateur among the amateurs. For the open water swim and the bike ride my goals were simple: stay on course, come out of the water alive and stay upright on the bike. The run was different. I had years of race experience and I knew how to pace myself for my best time. Yet, in every single triathlon run I subconsciously sandbagged. I would cross the finish line with way too much in reserve.
Why? Fear. I was so afraid I wouldn’t finish the race I held back until the finish line was safely in my grasp. Stop and take that in for a moment. I chose sub-par performance in exchange for a guaranteed finish because the prospect of not finishing or having to walk across the finish line was too humiliating to face.
I’m embarrassed to admit this same scenario occasionally shows up in my work. I start hedging when the outcome can’t be guaranteed. When I’m outside my comfort zone of proven abilities and predictable outcomes I tend to hold back. Just a little. And just enough to have an impact.
Do you see the connection? In both scenarios I leave myself an easy out. The conversation goes something like, “If I had really ___ it would have been ___.” There is safety in the delusion of If.
What about the countless times I have performed to the absolute best of my ability? Why didn’t those times feel like I had left it all on the field? What was missing? I started to suspect that leaving it all on the field implied more than ability and performance. But what’s beyond your best and how do you get there? Diving into big questions like this is dangerous territory because the Universe has a way of delivering answers in the most inconvenient ways. Right on cue, life threw me two back to back curveballs. The kind of things that shake the foundation of everything you believe to be steadfast, strip you of your identity and take big life choices completely out of your hands.
This challenge was going to require my very best performance and paradoxically, I knew my best wasn’t going to be enough. I was going to have to find that next level. And I did. I discovered the next level is eloquently simple and immensely difficult. It demands you commit to delivering your best whole hearted effort while fully accepting that your best is no guarantee of achieving the outcome you desire. And there’s no second place. You either succeed or fail. It requires the vulnerability of publicly declaring your intention: I am committed. I’m all in because my desire is greater than my fear of failure. My desire is greater than my fear of being vulnerable. My desire is greater than my ego. My desire is greater than anyone else’s opinion. My desire is enough.
The wisdom of what it means to leave it all on the field emerged for me from the verbs - choosing, doing, experiencing. I learned it’s about more than excellence, more than skill. It is a commitment to yourself, a commitment to your desires. It’s a visceral truth that transcends intellect.
While this experience has been quite personal, life lessons often apply across all areas of our lives. So I started asking: What other places am I holding back? Where is my desire being modulated by fear? What can or should I do about that?
Here’s my first attempt at a rudimentary framework for this exercise.
Not every situation calls for a leave it all on the field effort. Choose wisely.
Where am I most afraid? Where am I hedging the most? What do I desire so much I’m willing to obsessively pursue it, even if it defies conventional wisdom? Where these answers converge is usually the place to start.
*What do I fear the most? *Get specific. Ask what your fear and why you fear it. Keep asking until you know you’ve reached the essence of the fear. Is it fear of failure? Looking incompetent? Not finishing? Not being smart enough? Savvy enough? Five to seven rounds of what and why usually gets me to the answer.
*Is my desire greater than my fear? *Don’t let this one trip you up. It’s not an intellectual, pros and cons question. It’s a gut reaction. You will know. And if you don’t know then your answer is No, for now. You might come back to it later and find your answer is a definite yes.
If you are a YES…
Declare your intention, publically. You get to define what public means to you, but don’t keep it to yourself. Make your intention clearly known to yourself and at least one other person. There is power in being witnessed.
Do the work.
Expand your capacity.
Do the work.
Against all the odds.
Despite having no guarantees.
Despite going for long periods with no sign you’re on the right path.
At the end, stand proud.
Win or lose you’ll have no regrets about your effort or your commitment.
None. I’m certain of it.