To be great, you must know how to change speed

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

In high school, my varsity soccer coach would preach: Masters change speed.

The best players aren’t always the fastest. They are the ones who can go fast and then slow. Dribble the ball at a sprint. Stop. Pause. Redirect. Sprint again. Pace. Pace. Pace.

It’s among the lessons from my youth I reflect on most often. It carries through so much of my life. I love speed. It takes mastery to manage on deadline, something I surely learned from newsrooms. Yet, as I age, I’m most proud of how I can find moments of calm to slow down amid my frenetic pace.

True, a lot of us operate at different speeds. But I think we mix up when to go fast and when to go slow.

More often, we rush for the longterm. We’re chill for the short-term.

We can’t wait for the big promotion. We’ll push for our company to get acquired. We’re so impatient for the biggest outcomes. Fast, fast, fast.

In contrast, we’ll delay running that experiment at work. We’ll ignore establishing a more streamlined process at our company. We’ll delay enough that we slowly work through crucial, smaller building blocks. Slow, slow, slow.

It follows with our decision-making too. We go slow and agonize about tiny decisions (which Macbook, where to brunch), but we rush and fall into major decisions (how often will I drink and what kind of professional will I be). Herodotus said the Persians would make all big decisions by discussing them once drunk and once sober. Instead, overwhelmed by big decisions, we might not discuss them at all.

As Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, put it for young companies: “Startups win by being impatient over a long period of time.”

The lesson from soccer was to be more intentional about changing speed. I aim to be patient about the big and longterm. I rush like hell on the small and short-term.

We need to flip that which we go fast and slow. Sprint with the ball on those small things. Stop. Pause. Reflect. Go slower on the bigger ones. Be more patient then.

(Photo above of soccer players via Unsplash by Rémi Jacquaint)

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