It happened twenty years ago but it feels like yesterday.
I was in my early twenties, and I had recently given up my alleged goal of Law School (I didn't really want to go) for my new goal of being a tennis coach.
I didn't have any money but I had a team, and my team at that moment was one day away from winning only the second conference championship in any women's sport in school history.
After the first day of conference play, we were in first place. All we had to do was play average, and the historic championship would be ours. As was our ritual, we had a team meeting before play began, and, as was our ritual, we all put our hands in for our final words.
It's that moment I'll never forget: When we put our hands in, I could feel everyone's hands shaking.
It meant so much to them to win that day that all their hands were trembling. I can neither confirm nor deny if my hands were shaking too. Thinking of that moment still gives me chills.
There are a lot of books out there outlining how to win championships or turn our businesses around. Those books are written by legends of the game and titans of industry. We would be well served listening to what they say.
But it seems to me that winning a championship or succeeding in business (or turning our lives around) can all be accomplished by one thing: caring deeply about what we're doing.
The key, though, is to care deeply. Not care a little bit or care somewhat or care a reasonable amount. A small level of caring probably won't win a championship.
To be really successful, we need to care so much that success becomes inevitable.
Something magical happens when our intensity runs deep. For one, we do the work (and a lot of it).
As payment for coaching my first team, the college gave me a small, part-time salary. What else would I get for being a 23 year-old-coach at a small-school program that owned a 13-27 record the past five years? In fact, when I added up all my hours, it turns out I made maybe $2 an hour. Maybe.
But that didn't matter. I came into work every day, even though I basically wasn't being paid, because I wanted that championship. That championship was the most important thing in my life.
Coming in early was not even a consideration. Of course I'm coming in early. Going back to the office at night was not even a consideration. Of course I'm doing more work late at night. No amount of work was too much because of the goal I had in my head.
As it turns out, there's a direct correlation between focused work and excellence, and caring deeply leads to a lot of focused work. It's hard not to win a championship if you do more focused work than everyone else.
The other thing caring does is make us immune to failure. If you care deeply, failure is nothing. My team didn't win in my first year and it didn't win in my second year. That didn't bother me in the least. When we didn't win it the first year, I knew we would win it the second year. When we didn't win it our second year, I knew we would win it our third year.
And yet losing is probably the number one reason people give up on things. If we lose, we're no longer interested and we move on to something else.
But when we care, losing is temporary. Losing is just the storm before the calm. Losing means nothing when we're striving for something we deeply desire.
Last, caring makes us smarter. When we care, we want to learn. Back in those days I read every coaching book I could find and studied every opponent we would play. I wanted to learn something every day because every little bit I learned brought us closer to the title. When we care, learning becomes a part of us, like breathing. And getting smarter almost always ends up in something successful.
Put it all together and here's what caring deeply brings us: 1) the ability to do vast amounts of focused work; 2) a mindset that's immune to failure; and 3) a constant desire to get 1% smarter.
I bet if you read all those success books, you'll find those traits all over those pages.
If we care, we can win championships. If we don't care, then we should find a way to care or get off that path.
So how did my team do on that second day? Let's just say I went to sleep that night with a big trophy staring at me on my nightstand.
The trembling hands made history.