Americans know this phrase: “Give it your best shot!” Have you ever given anything your best shot?
Coaches use this phrase: “He gave 110%.” When was the last time you gave 110%?
Never forget the Pareto 20/80 distribution. About 20% of your efforts produce 80% of the value of your output. So, give almost nothing your best shot. Reserve your best shot for the top 4% (20% of 20%). Save your 110% efforts for the top .8% (20% of 20% of 20%).
One of the big challenges in life is to identify those few things that deserve your best shot.
Mothers probably assume that they give their best shots to their children before the children leave the nest. Husbands would like to think that wives give their best shots to husbands, but I think this is naïve. Maybe in the first couple of years this is the case. After the last child leaves home, this may again be true. But not in between. Men should not be naïve about such matters. Wives assume that men can pretty much take care of themselves, and I think men assume this, too. Wives cook dinners for children, not husbands.
I think it takes practice to give your best shot. You have to begin to explore the limits of your productivity. You also have to explore the limits of your ability under different circumstances. What seems to be your best shot under one set of circumstances will look barely above average in retrospect.
I don’t think most people know what their best shot is throughout most of their lives. In a crisis, they may demonstrate their innate abilities, but emergencies do not happen often, and they do not last long.
When I speak of best shot, I mean a focused performance. It has to take place over a significant period of time.
Save your best shot for the final 40 meters in a 400-meter race — maybe less. But you had better be close enough to the person in front of you when you hit the 360-meter mark. I learned that from Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. Actually, I learned from somebody in the stands. “His head’s not back yet.” This literally was the case when Liddell ran the 400-meter race in the 1924 Olympics. In the last 20 meters, he put back his head even farther, and he increased his pace. He set the world record.
The secret of your best shot is pacing the race for the first 80%. That’s not when you need your best shot. Run like a sprinter in the last 20%.
I gave my best shot to writing my economic commentary on the Bible. That project began in 1973. I went into high gear in 1977. I finished it in January 2012, three weeks before the deadline I had set for myself in 1977. There is no question in my mind that this project is my best shot. But I did not give 100% the whole time. I gave 10 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. I reserved my best intellectual shots for these weekly exercises. This was donated time, not salaried time.
I worked a minimum of 72 hours a week.
The complete set is 31 volumes, which I give away, and which no one except me has ever read in its entirety. Two Bible books took four volumes each: Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Exodus took six volumes. It took me eight years to write Exodus: 1982-1990. Leviticus took me five years: 1991-1996. Deuteronomy took me two years: 1997-1999. It got easier over time.
I write one chapter a day for my Christian Economics series, also free. I can do this only because of the 39 years I invested from 1973 to 2012. I could not have done this in 1973.
THE FINAL LAP
People really do not care how you run the race for the first 80%. They care only about the last 20%. Really, they care only about the last 1%. The old saying is true: “Close counts only in horseshoes.”
The secret of giving your best shot is to stay in the race until the very end, which is when you need reserves for your best shot.
You may have to do this several times in a career. I am convinced that the best way to give your best shot is to work very hard over a long period of time when there seems to be no payoff. Nobody is out there cheering you on to victory. You are learning to pace yourself. This is crucial in life. Life is not a sprint. If it is a marathon, then it is a marathon filled with 10,000-meter events. You have to prove yourself to yourself in these 10,000-meter events.
I think it’s worth entering a 10,000-meter event, even if you don’t think you can win it. You have to enter one in order to prepare for the second, and this is necessary to prepare for the third. The goal is to win the final one, which is the Olympic event. That is the one that people will remember. That is your Billy Mills event. It may happen only once.