Achievement In Spite Of

When looking at teams and evaluating performance and success, we oftentimes overlook the unsung and unlikely heroes and heroines that may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest.

There are employees that are expected to succeed and sometimes fall short because the expectations are set too high. There are others that may have a sense of entitlement, taking for granted the resources available to them and the process involved in becoming the best at what they do. But I love the ones that probably never should’ve made it due to the cards that were stacked against them. It helps me to keep things in perspective when I’m struggling with a case of the “I can’t’s”.

Take Aria Ottmueller for example. This 17-year old pole vaulter just recently competed in the Division IV Arizona State Championship in track and field. While athletes train for and compete in these types of events all the time, no one trained quite like Aria. She is legally blind and has been since birth, and others on her team and those she’s competing against have been doing so on this level for years while Aria has only been at this pole vaulting thing for about 6 weeks. How she has done this inspires me and I equate this to success driven performance in our workplaces with 3 key things:


It’s easy to quit when things don’t go our way. It’s easy to get discouraged when we get a PIP, or when our job sucks. What’s hard is deciding that you want something, while people are saying that you can’t or shouldn’t, especially when the circumstances are extreme and out of your control. Aria was told that her aspirations weren’t safe. Those that could help her doubted her. But because she had made up in her mind what success looked like and that she wanted it, she was persistent, ignored the doubters and put her all into achieving her goal.


Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, made K. Anders Ericsson’s “10,000 Hour Rule” popular saying that becoming world-class in something requires 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. The theory behind this is that by doing something so much and so well, you can ultimately do it by habit, essentially with your eyes closed.

Imagine running at something full speed not being able to see it. Having to execute something with such precision that any misstep could could seriously injure or kill. Imagine doing this without being able to see. Through constant, meticulous practice and repetition, Aria learned exactly how many steps and strides were required to get to her precise plant location. Without being able to see the bar, she thrusts herself as high as possible to ensure that she gets over it. Are we setting the bar high enough for ourselves?


No matter how good we think we are and no matter how determined, everyone needs someone in a certain capacity to help us achieve our goals. That person may not even know they’re doing it. Having someone that believes in our vision and our goals helps in finding work arounds and ways to jump over obstacles. A mentor to bounce ideas off of, a family member that stands with you and let’s you try things even when there is a possibility of getting hurt, or a coach or manager that recognizes something special in you. Something so special that they realize that traditional methods of training won’t work for you. Someone that recognizes that we cannot rely on generic training if we expect exceptional production.

We cannot fear success or the process necessary in which it takes to achieve it. As long as there is something you want to accomplish, there will be obstacles. Some immediately in front of you and some that you can’t see, yet. So when we’re thinking about what is yet to come and how we’ll handle them, think about Aria Ottmueller’s motto, “I can’t be afraid of what I can’t see.” All we can control to achieve in spite of is how we set our goals, how we prepare ourselves for achievement and the people that we surround ourselves with for support.


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