The blue-ribbon winner.

blue ribbon winner | kourtney thomas fitness

I just finished my first run-through of an upcoming talk I’m doing. It’s about 45 minutes long, which makes for a fairly long practice. I gotta admit though, when I finished up, I gave myself a little mini-round of applause. It’s a pretty kick-ass talk.

It…did not start out that way. Not even a little bit. In fact, it started off terribly. Bad enough that kind of consumed me for the better part of the last two weeks, and especially the early part of this week. If you would have seen what I initially prepared…yikes. What’s the opposite of kick-ass? Weaksauce, perhaps?

And nobody wants to go out into the world and show up with their weakest sauce. We want the sauce that packs a punch, that will represent what we’re all about, that people will remember.

We want to come to the table with the blue-ribbon winner.

When you think about it though, it takes a lot to create that recipe. Even if you tasted your grandmother’s award-winning apple pie at its best the very first time you tasted it, and every time thereafter, the chances are, that’s exactly because it wasn’t her first rodeo. She didn’t perfect that pie on the first try. You just never knew or understood anything about its development, the trials and tribulations of wasted flour and eggs and burned sugar and crusts.

That part is easy to forget. The development. The journey. The failures along the way.

I think there’s such an expectation these days for a winning recipe on the first try. Everything we see is so polished, it gives the impression that that just happened. That everyone out there is so damn good that they can create the best of the best and be at the top of their game, have it all together, immediately. It makes you believe that all these people you meet or follow or interact with were born experts.

But you’re forgetting about the burned crusts.

Very few people are doing whatever they’re doing without effort. Very few people are getting it 100% on the first try. Or the fifth try. The problem is, very few people are letting you know that.

I spent nearly four hours on Tuesday writing the first draft of this talk. It was thousands and thousands of words, it incorporated a bunch of really strong and important ideas. And it was total crap. I had a meeting later that day, and the person asked me how my day went, what I was up to, and I literally told them, “Well, I spent the entire day writing a talk that turned out to be exactly what I didn’t want to say, exactly how I didn’t want to say it!” I closed that document and never looked at it again.

I went to bed frustrated that night. It’s tough to fight the feeling of the day being wasted when you come out of it with nothing tangible. But, as you might expect to say, the result of that first try was anything but a waste. It wasn’t nothing, and it was probably, actually the most productive use of my time I could have hoped for. So after I laid there in bed ruminating for an hour or so, I eventually got to a place of peace. Because, in fact, I spent the day clarifying the things I did want to say, and how I did want to say them.

I woke up the next morning to get to work on that next try and it flew out of me. Thousands more words, but this time, the ones that declared clearly and effortlessly exactly what I wanted to communicate. The concepts were understandable, the takeaways well-defined, the message powerful. So, three hours later, I had something. Something that was a lot closer to what I wanted to say.

But that’s not the end.

Oh no, it’s not that easy either. There were still a few things I missed. There were still a few ideas that needed fleshing and sorting and supporting. Most of the recipe was there, but a secret ingredient or two still needed to be added. Round three.

Yesterday, I had a full day of clients and meetings, but late afternoon, I sat down and got to it. I filled in the holes, I jazzed it up. (Because all talks should be jazzy.) It felt good. Finally. I wanted to practice it, too see if it needed any tweaking, to make sure this version didn’t totally suck too and maybe I wasn’t feeling as good as I thought – but I didn’t. I let it go for another night.

This morning, I ran through it. And I felt good, good enough for that little pat on the back I mentioned at the beginning of this email. I wasn’t totally offbase. And now I have a talk I’m proud of and excited to bring out into the world. It still needs tweaking, I’ll still refine it as I rehearse over the next two weeks, but I think it’s got a lot of potential, and I’m pumped enough about that to already be submitting it to two other conferences.

That’s a blue-ribbon winner to me.

But it took an entire week to get to that point. If I’m being honest, it took a month to get to that point. I thought and thought and outlined and took notes and bounced ideas off of friends, asked for advice related to the topic and my expertise on it, talked and took more notes. There’s so much development that happens behind the scenes. And that whole process, painful as it was, was exactly what I needed to create the winning recipe. I’m equally as grateful for it as I am for the resulting talk.

I think we forget just how much development does happen, and how much it matters, for everything we do.

Look at the best salesperson you know, the one making the big bucks and winning the trip to Mexico every year or the one who never loses a client to a competitor. Sure, they may have had a natural knack for talking to people, but guess what their recipe entails? About a million calls with about a 20% success rate. 800,000 no’s. In all of that development, they figured out their secret ingredients and what makes a winner for them.

Look at the person who you consider to be the fittest or the most in-shape or the strongest or to have the best body. It’s possible they have genetics on their side, but I can pretty much guarantee they practice. A lot. Their recipe includes consistency, dedication, sacrifice, and a plan. Also, vegetables. Probably, a plan they’ve modified and changed and experimented with for a long time with plateaus and injuries and backtracks along the way. But they understand the process isn’t going to be easy, or even simple, and still, the whole thing feels like winning.

Look at the life-of-the-party person in your life. Maybe they have an innate charisma. But maybe not. Maybe their recipe has included heartache, hurt, loss. Healing, vulnerability, opening up to trusting other people. Perhaps that journey makes every quality relationship they have feel like a gold medal.

I think we forget the value of all the tries, all the experiments, all the refinements. All the burning failures. I think we get caught up in putting out shiny and “perfect” and successful right away, and we lose sight of what that really means anyway. We forget that the process is part of the point, and experiencing it is a big part of what makes us better. And, we overlook the fact that sometimes the only person who can award that blue ribbon is ourselves. You get to decide the blue-ribbon criteria. Not everybody likes the same kind of sauce. Or pie.

Hell, I don’t even really like pie.

Point is, in business, in relationships, workouts, friendships, school, whatever – you may not always get it right on the first try. You may not end up with anything usable. You may lose something. You may not make progress or win or see results. And that’s perfectly OK. Because you will, eventually, get it right – whatever right looks like for you. You will try again as many times as you need to. And if it doesn’t happen for a while, that’s OK too. You’re allowed to take breaks. But you will sleep on it enough nights to figure out what you need to do to feel good.

And you will know that all that development is your blue-ribbon winner.


This applause-worthy talk is happening at Freelance Business Week Denver, September 30-October 4. My talk is on Wednesday, October 2. Will I see you there?

If not, I’ve got two other events coming up in October in St. Louis, and damn, they’re both blue-ribbon winners too. Mark your calendars for October 7 and October 19. Sign up here to get all the details direct!

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