Years ago there was an article in the Ann Arbor News about Amani Toomer. He had previously played football for the University of Michigan. He was a second round draft choice but in his first three seasons for the New York Giants he only caught 44 passes for 635 yards. His major contribution was on special teams. Then, in the 1999-2000 season something happened. He had 79 catches for 1,183 yards and six touchdowns. That broke the team record. He was one of the best receivers in the NFL.
One of his teammates said, “Something was holding him back his first couple of years. But whatever it was, he found it, that’s for sure.” He was clearly highly talented and highly skilled, so what changed? What made the difference?
Here is one clue: The writer of that article describes watching Toomer in practice. A pass is thrown near his feet. He misses it and a defender throws him hard to the ground. Toomer walks back to the huddle staring at his hands and repositioning them at various angles. Later he explains that he was actively trying to envision how he could have made the catch. He was telling himself what he would have to have done, under game conditions, to protect the ball.
The writer points out that such behavior was not the case previously. Toomer was always making mistakes and was always in the doghouse. Yet between 1998 and 1999, he seemed to commit himself. In the off-season he greatly intensified his work efforts. In the off-season, Toomer did more long distance running to extend his stamina. He took up Kung Fu to extend his flexibility. He found a personal trainer to work with, and he further increased his involvement in the team’s off-season training program.
As he committed himself to the grind of the work, Toomer grew, and as he grew he found joy. He said, “You have to fall in love with working out in the off season. You have to fall in love with training camp. You have to try to keep the intensity up and never forget what got you where you are. I just want to keep building.”
The desire to “keep building” is an aspiration to grow personally and contribute to the whole. It means Toomer transcended conventional expectations and committed to give himself fully to the process of learning from experience. When we choose to engage deeply in our work we find joy because our work turns us into a better version of our selves.
Why do most people work?
Why does deep commitment bring deep learning?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?