Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Every Day
Advice is a funny thing. We give and take it almost every day. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it’s being exchanged. Turn here. Don’t do that. Try it this way. Advice can be offered so casually that it doesn’t even register as advice. It seems the older we get the more we give it, and when we’re young, we’re much more aware of the advice offered by others who have been there and done that. But now and then, someone will offer advice that can change your life, inspire you to be a better person or help you look at things from an entirely new perspective. I will never forget the night that happened to me.
It was my senior year of college at the University of Massachusetts. I was a member of the Distinguished Visitors Program, the group that invited world leaders, entertainers, successful CEOs and other people of influence to address the student body and faculty of the university. As the senior representative to the group, I was privileged to dine with the Visitor before his or her address. I met some memorable people, but none of them influenced my life and my career more than Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Toward the end of dinner, Dr. Kissinger asked me about my plans following college. I told him I planned to work for a bank that would support my continuing education, and give me a chance to do some new things. “New things,” he said. “Banks haven’t really done new things in years.” To which I replied, “I’ll do my best.” Dr. Kissinger looked at me without hesitation and said, “Let me tell you a story that I hope will help you do your best every day.” In his deep, quiet, distinguished accent, Dr. Kissinger went on to tell me a story that changed my life, beginning that day.
A considerable amount of time has passed, so I am paraphrasing Dr. Kissinger, but the story and its purpose has never changed. He said, “In the early years at the White House, I had an Undersecretary of State to whom I had delegated a very important responsibility. I asked him to create a position and policy statement for State to help us manage an emerging situation in a Third World country, a place we admittedly knew little about. I expressed the urgency and asked him on a Monday for his report by the end of the week. He eagerly complied.”
“I watched him work tirelessly that week. I saw him late at night and early in the morning. I saw him ask good questions and work diligently on preparing his report. On Friday, he delivered his report to me promptly. He looked tired, but satisfied. I told him to give me the weekend, and to return to my office on Monday. When he returned, following the weekend, the report was in the middle of my desk. I asked, ‘Is this really the very best you can do?’ He paused for a moment, raised his head, and said, ‘Mr. Secretary, I’m sorry sir, I’m sure I can do better. Please give me until Wednesday to make it the best it can be.’ I agreed.”
“On Wednesday, he resubmitted the report. I told him I was leaving the country for a few days and would take his report with me. I told him I would call upon my return. The next week I asked him to my office and once again I asked, ‘Now, is this really the best you can do?’ After a few moments of silence, he said to me, ‘Mr. Secretary. I’m certain that if you can just give me the weekend, I can make it even better.’ We agreed to meet first thing on Monday morning.”
“On Monday, he arrived in my office with his new report. Once again, he looked tired, but more confident than before. I said, ‘Let me ask you now, rather than two days from now, is this really the very best you can do?’ He paused for several seconds, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Yes, Mr. Secretary, this is the very best I can do on this report.’ To which I replied, ‘Fine. This time I shall read it.’”
He never read the report until after he inspired the Undersecretary to do his personal best! The lesson in his story? Give it your best shot every day. Don’t be satisfied with anything if it isn’t everything it should be. Have confidence in your product and yourself. Do you suppose the Undersecretary of State was changed forever?
I’ve been offered a lot of advice since that night in Amherst, some good and some bad. But no advice has been more powerful. Knowing and recognizing good advice is a skill, and carefully discerning when and how to offer advice is brilliant. The Secretary of State for President Nixon, perhaps one of the most powerful men in the world during an incredibly tumultuous time in our history, helped change and inspire a young, starry-eyed college kid that night. I will be forever grateful.
Inspire someone today.