He walked onto the baseball field with an unemotional look on his face. This rookie pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates was either stoic in his demeanor or suffering from intense nerves. As he stepped onto the pitchers mound at PNC Park, he mechanically grabbed the baseball tight and prepared to take his warmup pitches.
As a sports photographer, my job was to notice the little things. The nuances that would make for a unique image. Sometimes, the ability to see those nuances didn’t lead to an amazing picture but they set up a great life lesson. In my early days of shooting, I might not have noticed, but I had a hunch that it would be a rough day for him.
It wasn’t long before the manager walked to the mound to pull him from the game after giving up six runs in less than two innings. From the first pitch until his last, this nervous rookie couldn’t relax. His pitches had little movement, his demeanor was tense and his opponents took full advantage of his inexperience as well as his nerves.
Five years later, I was in nearly the same spot when this same pitcher strolled out towards the same mound. As he glided across the perfectly manicured grass, I thought back to his rookie season and how he got roughed around. How he was so tense. How he looked lost and overwhelmed.
But as the sun shined down on his smiling face, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference. He looked cool, calm and outrageously collected. He tossed the rosin bag in a playful manner moments before winking at his wife and pointing to his young child in the stands. In the first inning, he struck out two of the three batters, setting them down in order. His pitches throughout the afternoon had speed and movement unlike anything he had during that rookie season and he seemed to be doing it all with less effort and a lot more fun. He pitched seven innings that day, gave up only one run and collected a win during an easy victory.
So, what changed? It’s the same game. It’s the same pitcher. It was even the same stadium! How could such a change happen when all of those were the identical.
What changed was the pitcher.
When I started in the world of journalism, my dream was to shoot for the Associated Press in New York City. I finally made a connection to the editor and set up a meeting to show my portfolio. That meeting got canceled. The next week, we set the meeting again and, once again, it got canceled. That happened for six straight weeks. I called on the seventh week for the meeting. This time, it happened.
The editor, Jonathan Elmer, said something that stuck with me all of these years.
“I want to thank you, Vincent, for your patience and your persistence. Without both, we wouldn’t be here today.”
I got the gig with the AP. That led me towards shooting those Pirates games. And the lessons are all baked in there.
Struggling business owners in the beginning- those who feel beaten down like that pitcher did his rookie season- have a choice to make. You can compare yourself to those who are doing better and get down and defeated. That‘s a mistake because you see their grand success now, but they also had that tough rookie season. They also started off with a few followers, little trust and a lack of experience. But you see them as the twelve-year veteran that they are now without seeing the struggles they had at the start, or what they went through to get there.
If this is you- you have a lot more in common with that pitcher as a rookie than you might realize.
What he did so well was to understand that he didn’t have to have it all figured out that year. They weren’t looking for him to be the best on the team. He couldn’t do what the veterans could do. Yet. He had to learn. He had to gain experience. He had to learn the lessons of what not to do before he could learn the lessons on what to do.
The sad reality is that in baseball- and in business- there are far more who play in that rookie year but don’t get to become that successful veteran earning all of the success that comes from developing patience and persistence. They fail often because they expect massive success too soon. With those expectations, it’s easy to either cut corners to get there or become mentally defeated because it’s not coming as fast as you would like.
Developing that patience to understand that it’s probably won’t happen when you want it- along with the persistence to continue to show up and do the work during those trying times- is how you get to stroll out to that mound, enjoy the work that you do, and to produce the results that you know that you are capable of achieving.
Have an AMAZING week!