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Show up and do your best

“History is written by the winners.” It’s a quote you’ll find in various forms from Napoleon, Churchill, Nehru, and even the writer Dan Brown. Do you agree with the idea?
Another version is, “History is written by the people who actually show up.” Well for sure that’s true. Think of those thrilling scenes within living memory when the fall of the Berlin wall was witnessed via live global TV, as it was pulled down piece by piece at the hands of the ‘ordinary’ people who showed up. If they hadn’t shown up, the wall would not have fallen. OK, something similar might have happened, but the events that history records are unique exactly because those brave citizens were there.

First or second?

This also applies to business, and history is full of examples of people and companies who either ‘got there first’, or who instead became the ‘also-rans’. Few people now celebrate the creation of the ground-breaking Acorn computers company, swept away by the strength of Apple, which then re-wrote history. We might still acknowledge the genius of Nikolai Tesla, but today his name is more synonymous with an electric car and battery company, which he had nothing to do with founding. Tesla’s steps to develop electric lighting were far exceeded by those of Thomas Edison, who changed history with his incandescent light bulbs.

In sporting wins – very often comparable to success in business – we rarely remember or celebrate those who came second or third in the race or championship. And as for all the other lower-ranked sportspeople who take part, well, “History is written by the winners.” And yet, to compete at the highest level of a sport, you must already be very motivated and trained, but somehow if you are not the one to ‘make history’ then you don’t count. This is why I tell my clients in startups and new businesses: “Show up, and do your best.”

Seizing the time

Showing up means being ‘match fit’ and ready to compete, at any time. Yes of course you would ideally like to choose the time and the place to make your stand, but that’s not always how it works. If you happen to get into an elevator at an investment conference and there’s a major investor in there who you need to speak to, then your literal ‘elevator pitch’ has to be ready to roll, right then and there. You can’t say, ‘Let’s get into this elevator at the same time tomorrow: by then I’ll be all set to do my pitch!’ You must seize the time. In other words, show up and do your best.

Plateauing at 80?

How do you get so you are always ready to show up, and always ready to do your best? – By taking baby steps towards this, every single day. If you make incremental improvements in your game, then you will step-by-step get better at everything you do. It’s the Pareto Principle of the 80/20 rule: except it’s in reverse, because you’ve already done 80% of the hard work and most of the heavy lifting. Now you need the extra 20% that will be the game changer. The problem can be that many entrepreneurs get the feeling that their 80 is good enough: They have reached a certain level of success and perhaps they are already thinking of backing off. If they were sports people they would be resting more and cutting training sessions. This isn’t good enough if you’re plateauing at 80 when your potential score is 100. So yes, turn up, and yes, do your best. Go for the max.

Celebrating yourself

Doing your best means deep commitment to your goals. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Few people keep them beyond the first month. Why? Because it’s ‘hard’, and it’s easier to be average than to be exceptional. If you want to write History however, you have to be a winner. History is created by those who show up, and who are not dissatisfied in themselves. If you know that you have done your best, with every cell, then you will celebrate yourself. Make it part of your methodology to ask yourself at the end of every day, “Have I done my best? The best I can possibly do? Can I celebrate myself?” If you can truly answer ‘Yes’, then you’re ready to show up… and make History.


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