In the 20th anniversary issue of ESPN Magazine, golfer Tiger Woods was named the top athlete of the past twenty years. From the lesser known thirty six tournaments he won in one year at age eleven, to the more visible thirteen golf majors he won between 1999 and 2008 (that’s ten more than any other golfer), it’s hard to argue with Tiger’s domination even though he has struggled to regain his tour de force. But there are signs he is getting closer to recovering the form that made him great in a sport, which often takes a backseat to baseball, football, and basketball.
In an interview, Tiger was asked several questions that ranged from his motivation to win in his early years to spending time with his kids. One question piqued my interest. “What do others not know that helped you be so dominant?” the interviewer asked.
Tiger revealed the practice routines that contributed to his greatness. He reminisced on practicing his chipping shot in front of the mirror and learning pressure by putting his mum’s crystal on a table and hitting flop shots. His confidence didn’t come from tournament play but from the practice regimen he put in outside of the consistent winning which everyone saw and admired. What he did in obscurity was responsible for the greatness we witnessed publicly.
Often, we are clueless to the blood, sweat, and tears of the behind-the-scenes footage when we watch people’s highlight reels. We see the glory but we are not privy to their entire story.
No one stumbles into greatness even though we are born to be great. The highest level of greatness is when we use what we have been given to serve others and make the world a better place. We have all been given something useful to serve the world with. The question is whether we will brave the wilderness of obscurity to cultivate the greatness within us and allow it to become a beacon of light to those we meet.
Obscurity is lonely, risky, and dangerous. We become unsure in the obscure and fail to see that obscure places are incubators to fulfilling our life’s purpose. It’s the place where there is zero visibility. It is also the training ground for you to prepare to face the giants in your life and win!
In the classic movie, Karate Kid, Master Miyagi, teaches karate to a young man named Daniel. Miyagi, uses unconventional methods to teach young Daniel not just how to fight, but also discipline and use of power. In the obscurity of doing menial chores like painting fences and waxing cars, Daniel learns principles of attack and defense that actualize in a tournament he participates in and wins.
Obscurity can be defined as the private and personal place where you hone your gift and sharpen your tools of the trade, with the goal to increase proficiency and the probability of success when opportunity comes your way. It is the use of your top twenty percent of the resources you have been given that will account for the eighty percent impact that you make with the opportunities handed to you. Mind you, not every opportunity will be preferable. Never judge people or opportunities by appearance only. No opportunity should be viewed as waste when greatness is at stake.
Great basketball players learn how to be calm in the clutch moments of a big game from the obscurity of countless hours spent in a gym practicing the game winning shot. Most people want opportunity before preparation but the late John Wooden, UCLA men’s great coach is remembered for saying, “When the opportunity arises, it’s too late to prepare.” Your preparation is an attraction! Your commitment to prepare in obscurity is a sure sign that an opportunity is about to knock on your door. It may not happen immediately but it will come eventually. Sometimes opportunity comes in bits and pieces rather than in waves and droves. What you do with the little is a reflection of what you will do when it is more. Will you be ready to answer with your best when the opportunity calls you out of obscurity?
Final thought: No person who lives a significant life escapes the drudgery of obscurity, for it is in that place that the one who endures discovers their potential, develop character, and find their footing. Keep on keeping on!