Never Say “I Could Have Done That”

Creative ideas.

Images of a different, better future.

We all have five or ten compelling ones every day. Sometimes they hit us in the shower. Sometimes while we’re driving. Sometimes when we’re sitting in a meeting oMJ on the Baronsr while talking with a friend. Sometimes they wake us up at 3 in the morning.

And I bet at least one idea we have per day is one that, if acted on, could make a quantum, dramatic difference in our lives or the lives of others. It’s one that could help define our lives and our purpose on this planet if we could execute it. If only these gem-like ideas could be highlighted for us, and we could be guided by a higher power to follow-through on them immediately….

Frequently, I see the work someone else has done – the book or song they wrote that I know I could have created as well, the product they invented that I had the concept for a few years ago, the eye-opening presentation they gave at the conference, the physical condition they’ve gotten themselves into and the accomplishments they’ve achieved because of this – and my impulse is to say, “Well, I had could have done that, too.”

But I didn’t, and that is all that really matters. I may have had the idea. I may have had the ability. I may have had the desire and even the intention. But all the credit goes to the one who takes the idea and, at the very least, strives to forge it into a real thing, a real accomplishment, a real victory, a real process, a real piece of art, a real conversation, a real relationship, a real habit, a real action.

The line between “having an idea” and “executing an idea” is thin – and yet the difference in value between the two is infinite. An idea or goal that stays in your head is as good as an idea or goal that never existed.

I love the example of Michael Jordan’s short baseball career for two reasons:

1. Michael says he always dreamed of being a major league baseball player and believed he could compete at the highest levels in that sport. Most of us forget that he retired from the NBA as reigning MVP in order to follow through on this dream and start a new career in baseball. Is there a better example of never saying, ‘I could have done that?’ That was one of the most inspiring career leaps I’ve ever seen.

2. M.J. never made it to the majors, but you won’t hear Michael say, “I could have done that,” while watching David Ortiz or Ichiro Suzuki hit a 97-mph tailing fastball for a game-winning hit. He tested out his idea and learned that baseball was much harder than he imagined. But, at least with regard to this single idea, Michael can sleep at night knowing he didn’t let it die in his head.

Then there’s my sister-in-law, Christina Harding. She heard about the Antarctica Marathon a couple of years ago and said to herself, “I never want to just say, ‘I could have done that.’ Therefore, I must do it.” Last week, she competed in the Antarctica Marathon. Like Michael Jordan, she can now say, “I followed through on my idea.” Unlike Michael Jordan, Christina can also say, “And I reached the pinnacle.” Because she won, defeating all other female entrants in the race and passing two competitors in the race’s final two miles of glacier-covered terrain. Incredible.

I have learned to never say, ‘I could have done that.’ Because I didn’t.

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2 responses to “Never Say “I Could Have Done That”

  1. This is one of those rules that for as long as I can remember, it’s been ruling my conscious from my subconscious—I haven’t given it much thought for a very, very long time, but I act accordingly.

    Now, however, that you have so ably supplied the substance behind this maxim, I see it violated everywhere! This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated was the most recent example (3/12/2007).

    After I spit out my lunch reading about the pretentious nonsense about how global warming will impact sports and why we must “act now,” I moved on to the latest sob story about how Bill Walsh has spawned so many head coaches and, yet, he, himself, i.e., Walsh, may have left the game too early.

    Now, I head to read this part three times to convince myself that the author was actually talking about what Bill Walsh, himself, thinks, not what others or the author thinks: “Had Walsh remained as coach . . . the man who had been dubbed the Genius knows he could have won four, five, maybe even six Super Bowls.”

    Please. Can you say chutzpah! It’s quite clear in this whinny piece that Walsh is wallowing in self pity about what he could have done.

    Reminds me of the saying that “nothing is impossible to the man that doesn’t have to do it.” Bill Walsh is not immune from temptation of suggesting that having an idea is the fulfillment of the idea. I think Bill forgot a step; something about execution.

  2. I want to be better than MJ

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