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Leaders Chase Tennis Balls

"The happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. … They go bounding off, plowing through anything that gets in their way.”
- Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, in his MIT commencement speech.
They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball…. find your tennis ball—the thing that pulls you.”

How to Identify Your Tennis Ball.

My personal experience tells me that your tennis ball is most likely nearby and you have frequently played with it.
Throughout our lives there are subjects that have been thrust upon us and those toward which we have naturally been drawn. I am a firm believer that each of us is hard-wired with certain personal interests and talents, things that come easily to us, subjects and interests in which we choose to spend our discretionary time. These interests are your tennis balls.
Most schools, parents and companies press us to improve our performance in subjects with which we struggle - “get that C up to a B”, “let’s work on getting that 3 performance score up to a 4.” And, in many cases, having a "passable" competency in these areas is important. These subjects are not your tennis balls.
A more rewarding, and more enjoyable, path is to spend more time on the subjects at which we organically excel: Spending more time on the “A” subject and the high performance score. We are already good at these, AND we want to spend more time developing these talents. Think of Drew's "happy and obsessed."

Companies, Bosses, Jobs or Projects - Where's Your Tennis Ball?

Most advice is to chase opportunities at companies you love. If this is where your tennis ball leads you, don’t be overly concerned with open positions, or specific jobs you love. When Sheryl Sandberg sat down with Eric Schmidt to discuss job opportunities at Google, none met her criteria or background. Schmidt said,
When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”
Occasionally, it’s not the tennis ball, but the players, which attract you. Great leaders will recognize your unique talents and help you develop them into strengths you can leverage for career success and personal fulfillment. Find a great boss and chase them with the relentlessness of Dug chasing a ball, or squirrel (from the Pixar film “UP” 2009).
Often our instincts drive us toward the "job of my dreams"; a great tennis ball to chase. Just be aware that great bosses and great companies (e.g. Randa Accessories) are likely to hone your talents and place you not only where you fulfill their needs, but where they can fulfill yours. The right rocket or the right captain may be the best gateway to the right job.
Chasing a tennis ball is about the projects and teams with which you connect, not only the job that you have. Wherever you work, whatever you do, seek out your tennis balls: they're closer than you think.

Share Your Tennis Ball Stories.

I would love to hear them.
(c) David J. Katz - New York City - January 20, 2015
Post Script:
The “develop your innate talents into strengths” concept is well examined and honed in the “Strengths Finder” series of articles, books and seminars from Gallup, Inc. The books include a simple online survey to help you to assess your unique set of talents. I use this program at Randa, to mutual success. I hand every new associate a copy of the latest book, conduct some "strengths" training and integrate their personal talents into our "strengths pool."


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