I was a "plebe" (freshman) at West Point, and the tradition was that the plebes were not permitted to go home for the holidays. Why this tradition existed, none of us freshmen knew. The best any of us could figure was that that being stuck in that miserable place while everyone else went home to their families would help build our character. As it turned out, there was no reason. It was just a tradition, and my class, USMA 1967, was the last class to have to spend the Christmas holidays at West Point.
"Nothing's up. I'm just sitting here wanting to throw the football and there's no one to throw it to."
"Why don't you throw it to me? I'll catch for you." I don't know why I said that. I was feeling down in the dumps myself and maybe I was just trying to cheer Dave up.
Dave grinned. "Get your jacket on."
We went out to The Plain, which is the massive parade grounds in front of the barracks.
I thought it would be a good idea to be honest. "I've never done this before, Dave. You'll have to tell me what to do."
He looked at me. "Okay. It's actually pretty simple. You'll run a simple pass pattern and I'll throw the ball to you. Just get set over there and when I say 'Hut!' you take off running hard. Your first step is with your left foot. Then count to six. When you hit six, turn hard to the left, pivoting on your right foot. When you take that second step, the ball will be right there."
I ran the pattern a couple times to get the feel of it.
I gave him an enthusiastic nod and got into the ready position.
"Hut!" he shouted.
I took off running and counting. On six, I pivoted on my right foot. On the second step I looked up and the ball was right in front of my face. It flew past me.
"Wow!" I said.
"You've got to get your hands up. I throw it before you make your turn. The ball will meet your hands on the second step. You've got to be ready to catch it."
"Okay. Let's go again." It was freezing outside, but I could feel my body heat under my jacket.
"Hut!" said Dave, and I took off running as fast as I could. I turned, put my hands up, and the ball hit my hands hard and shot through.
The ball was as hard as a rock when it hit my hands and rocketed through. An intense pain radiated through both my fingers."
"Better!" shouted Dave. "Come on, let's try it again. You can do it."
His encouragement was no balm to my hands, but I didn't want to ruin his practice, so we ran the pattern again. And again. When I thought I could take no more pain, I admitted to him that I didn't think I could hold onto the ball. He put his palm next to my palm.
"Your hands are too small," he said. "That's your problem."
I was too short, too slow, and even worse - my hands were too small to run a simple pattern and catch Dave's perfectly thrown passes. To put a fine point on it, I was in over my head as a wide receiver. Thankfully, he suggested we go back to the barracks.
Later in life, I would be in over my head again and again. But something like small hands wouldn't hold me back. I would work harder than the people around me. Probe related areas of knowledge my colleagues had missed. I engaged self-confidence, my work ethic and imagination and persisted until I had created something unprecedented, something of value. In other words, even though I was initially behind the learning curve, I used personal strength to prevail.
Playing catch with Dave all those years ago taught me that sometimes when you're in over your head, your limitations make it impossible to catch up and achieve what you desire.
But most of the time, this isn't true. So when something really matters to you, make a realistic assessment of your abilities and ask yourself if you're willing the pay the price. Faced with a daunting challenge and long odds, most people don't make the commitment. But for those who do, it's a wide-open door of opportunity.
I encourage you to acknowledge the role of personal strengths to achieve difficult challenges. You can realistically assess your own personal strengths. You can even improve these strengths by exercising them more often.
That's why we developed ProStar Coach, the only personal development system in the world designed to help you do that.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .