The season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is Advent, the purpose of this season is preparation. It is a period of spiritual preparation for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Advent is a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, followed by anticipation and joy. The word advent comes from the Latin term adventus meaning “coming,” particularly the coming of something having great importance.
Preparation in sports is monumental. The ratio of hours that go into preparation as opposed to performance is staggering. I think about high school football where we start soon after the previous season ends with workouts focused on strength and speed. Then in August, two-a-days start, building to the season where nine hours Monday through Thursday is invested for two hours on a Friday night. Extensive experience and empirical evidence have shown that one would need to invest a minimum of 1,728 hours per year to have the best chance of becoming a successful professional golfer. This works out to at least 6 hours of practice per day, 6 days per week, 48 weeks per year.
Preparation extends beyond sports. Professionals in all fields take preparation seriously. James Baker, former Secretary of State, said, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Whether that is a sporting event, the workweek, or something as simple as weekend yardwork, we will not perform at a high level if we don’t go in prepared. How many home projects have we failed to complete in the time frame we thought, because we needed to make multiple runs to the hardware store for additional items or because we didn’t think through all the required steps? I am also guilty at times of “winging” it and the results often reflect that effort.
In a previous blog, Train for Excellence, I discuss the Navy Seals adage “that under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train for excellence.” Preparation requires being proactive and Leaning Forward in the Foxhole. It requires putting the right things into the Tube of Toothpaste. Joe Torre, who in my opinion had the most distinguished Major League Baseball career ever, said, “Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people, and heart. Winning is the result.”
An overnight success that takes years to occur is about preparation. We hear about the overnight sensations that come out of nowhere. Reality is, that rarely happens. Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame said, “I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.” There are years of work, practice, patience, growth, and persistence that define preparation. Starbucks had been in business for decades before it leapt onto the national scene.
History shows that “overnight successes” in technology are often the result of decades of scientific research. A current example is the Covid-19 vaccines. On May 15, 2020, the government launched Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership focused on accelerating development, manufacture, and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. On December 11, 2020, the FDA approved the first vaccine. An impressive timeline. But the work actually began in April 1960 when a group of scientists met in Cambridge, England and confirmed the presence of mRNA, a single-stranded molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene. Fast-forward to the 1990s when medical uses for mRNA were further explored yet failed to produce results until a breakthrough in 2005. This preparation set the foundation for Operation Warp Speed.
We need to also be careful that preparation is not a virtue that hides a vice: insecurity. Early in my sales career I had an important presentation in front of a key client. I became overly concerned about my inexperience to the point I worked extra hard preparing the perfect presentation. I was then so focused on presenting all the data, I did not hear the client’s hesitations and questions. The result was a rejected proposal and lost business opportunity. I had over-prepared to reduce my anxiety which locked me into a script instead of understanding and adapting to the situation as it unfolded.
“Prepare like a pro. Perform like a kid” is a principle from Brian Levenson’s book, Shift Your Mind. The book guides readers through a simple but powerful framework for shifting between preparation and performance mindsets. Preparing like a professional is exhaustive training, meticulous attention to detail, ongoing educations, even hiring coaches and specialists to gain any conceivable advantage. However, come performance time, the idea is to be more like a kid at play. Remove the concern about making mistakes or how it looks. Have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Perform with freedom, creativity, and joy.
The opening hymn for the second week of Advent’s Mass was from the Broadway musical, Godspell, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” In the musical, this is where John the Baptist enters calling the community to order and beckons them to “Prepare Ye, The Way of the Lord!” This passage occurs in all four gospels, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23. This is the Old Testament’s messianic prophecy from Isaiah 40:3 being fulfilled in John.
To prepare the way means to create a favorable environment- make paths straight, valleys filled, mountains brought low; and rough ways made smooth. Advent is asking us to create that favorable environment for Jesus to enter and operate in our lives as well as remove distraction so we can hear Him. We have the role model in Jesus. Jesus spent his youth studying the scriptures of the Old Testament; then during his ministry he spent hours in prayer and 40 days in the wilderness all in preparation for his calling.
Preparation is significant. We cannot just wing it and risk performing poorly. Something having great importance is coming.