The Path to Greatness: Tension

TAGS: Don Day, motivation, Destination, tension, journey, greatness, strength and conditioning, strength training, strength coach

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In my new position, I find myself observing, reading, and studying leadership more so than I ever had before. Through my observations, there has been a lot of internal research I’ve conducted in the form of self-reflection and self-actualization. I think it’s important if you’re going to assume the role of a leader to truly know who you are — not just the positives but the negatives.

A lot of people avoid one of those two currents most of their lives. They are either so focused on cutting back the negatives they never shine through on their positives, or they spend so much time on the positives, they don’t know the negatives that need to be fixed. Both scenarios are counter-productive, and like most things in life, it’s best to stay at the optimal point. What I mean by optimal, in this instance, is to be able to realize what needs to be improved while shinning through and cashing in on the positive things that give you the ability to accomplish tasks at a high level.


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Recently, I’ve been talking to all my teams about greatness. To me, greatness is a journey, not a destination. Greatness is a legacy of great moments and memories that you leave behind. I think that when it’s all said and done, the impact you left on others will determine your level of greatness. Being great, on the other hand, is depositing moments of brilliance while you’re on your journey — brilliance not being measured in the academic sense, but brilliance measured by the magnitude of impact in any given moment.

For example, a fireman who runs into a burning house without any regard to the danger ahead and comes out with a rescued child. That is a brilliant moment. Continual deposits of these brilliant moments are building equity toward greatness.

It doesn’t always have to be extreme. We often think that the only way we can have a brilliant moment is by doing Superman-level types of actions. But that’s not at all the point. I think taking the time to help a friend in need is a brilliant moment. Or devoting yourself to a more disciplined life is a decision made in brilliance on the path of greatness.

I have not yet achieved greatness. I hope when my time comes, people remember me and define me by my brilliant moments of impact, and that leads to the overall consensus that I was great. But as of my current state, I am still on my journey, which is completely fine.

We glamorize athletes for achieving greatness after their career is over in their perspective sports, but what I’m talking about is something far more important than that. I’m talking about greatness outside of a career. Truly achieving greatness in life. And no matter what your religious background is, I think we can all sum up greatness in terms of the magnitude of impact.

GREATNESS road sign against clear blue sky

 Aleksandar Mijatovic © 123rf.com

The next few articles I write are going to talk about the path to greatness and the key things that I think are necessary for ultimately reaching that goal. The first thing is tension.

I was born to two young parents in Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in Akron, Ohio, in an eight-person household in a three-bedroom house. My momma always told me that I would have to work twice as hard as anyone else to achieve the same things they could. That was an instant moment of tension that was set for how I saw life. No matter what I did, I had to be twice as good as anyone else just to be average. I was a good high school athlete and a mediocre college athlete. From an academic standpoint, I was subpar at best. When I started coaching my knowledge base was extremely spotty. All these things, self-inflicted or not, were points of tension in my life.

Around the time I was 25, I was living in a downtrodden area in D.C., not happy with my current job and not making any money. I would drive from the hood to work every day, and I would feel angry that I lived where I lived while where I worked was surrounded by million-dollar homes and high-society people.

There were times I wanted to quit the industry back when I was living in D.C. The tension was almost too much for me to handle. There always comes a point in life where you have to make a decision. This was my point. Most people stick their toe in the water and decide, “This water is too cold; I’m not going to swim.” The problem is there are other people swimming in the water, so the water isn’t too cold it’s just too cold for you! Your mind has told you what you can’t do and your dumb self has chosen to believe it.


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I had dipped my toe in the water of strength and conditioning and was convincing myself every day that it was too cold for me to swim. You see, a mediocre mind will tell you, “This ain’t for me. There must be an easier way to achieve the same results.” But a real mind will say, “How do I thrive in my current circumstances to get the results I want?”

Tension isn’t a bad thing. Tension just tells you what you already know: “This is going to be hard.” And the funny thing about life is there are always different levels of tension. The key is figuring out how to thrive with the tension at 100 so that you can excel when the tension is turned down to 50.

The last year of my life as a football strength coach was the toughest challenge I’ve had since those moments in D.C. I had gotten through the tension at 100, then I started to excel with the tension at 20, but then the tension got ramped back up to 100, and then I had to learn how to excel at a much higher level of tension.

Things weren’t going the way I imagined they would, and I had a lot of negativity in my mind. For the first six months or so, I let tension shrink me. I figured I’d need to avoid the tension. Instead of using the tension to my advantage and staying in it so it could mold me, my weak mindset wanted less.

When you are in the tension, the worse thing you can do is visualize what life is like without it. This is because life is full of tension! Don’t zoom out and dream of something else. Live in the moment. Find a way to thrive and excel in any situation whether you’re broke, hungry, poor, or unhappy with your current career choice or job. THRIVE!

So, what did I have to do? I had to quit pacing around the room, sit down, and get comfortable in the uncomfortable. I had to change my mindset. I had to better equip myself for the tension I was in because it was not going to change. God left that meter at 100 like he was seeing what I would do this time around.

This time, instead of wishing for better, I prayed to be better equipped in the situation I was in. I delved into scripture, I delved into different books on mindset, and I delved into the tension. I let it mold me and I used it to be a guide to a stronger version of myself. I also planned. Instead of dreaming for the tension to go away, I planned on how I was going to thrive and excel daily in the tension. That semester was probably the best I ever coached a football group in my career. I am proud to say that I left it all out there in my last semester with a football team. Not because I didn’t coach hard before, but because I evolved in the tension to a level I had never been at. It was an enlightening feeling that I’ll never forget.

From now on I will never let my mind slip when the tension gauge rises. Tension is for you to become a warrior. It’s there to evolve you. Not for you to sit back and run from. Those who cower miss their step forward in the evolutionary chain.

Tension is not something to fear, tension is something to love. I LOVE tension because it forces me to evolve. Having thrived and excelled at 100, I now welcome any level of tension.

Let’s see if I grew as much as I thought I did, or are there weak points that are going to be exposed? And guess what? If there are chinks in the armor, then you’d best believe I am going to fix it and come out better prepared for the next wave of tension.

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