After the start of track season this year, Mary was disappointed when she kept coming in third and fourth place in her hurdle races. Then she didn't get the solo in the spring concert at school. And she didn't win the Teen Got Milk? Milk Mustache contest. She was discouraged.
"I am not much good at anything," she often said. "Just average at everything."
"That is up to you," I kept reminding her, adding that it is better to pick one or two things and strive for excellence than just to be so-so at everything. "Pick something and go for it."
Mary thought about that.
"I'm doing my workouts in track just like the coach said," she told me one day a few weeks ago, "and I think I am getting better."
"Your coach is right," I told her. "Hard work pays off."
"Today the coach told me I was her hurdler," she said last week.
Her last home meet was coming up. She kept doing her workouts, even when she didn't feel like it. I saw her do sit ups in the den the night before the meet and stretches on the sideline the day of the meet. It was time for her race.
The 55m hurdles was close, but she came in first, followed by a decisive win in the 200m hurdles. She was beaming after placing first in both races.
"I think I have reached a new point in my life," she told me that night, recalling how she use to say she was just average. "If you want something, you work for it." It was an epiphany.
How much greatness is wasted because kids come too quickly to the wrong conclusion that being talented at something means you don't have to try.
The truth is, being gifted is just the start. Hard work is what finishes the job.
That is the secret to greatness.