This post is going to combine my multiple worlds, so whatever world you happen to be coming here from, stay with me.
I teach English to 8th graders. While working our way through the writing process, I asked them, “What is the most important sentence in a paragraph?” (Don’t leave me, Coaches — I swear there’s something for you in here, too!)
I had a specific answer I was looking for — the topic sentence — and most of my students had that as their answer, too.
After patting myself on the back for teaching them so well, I started thinking about it, though.
While the topic sentence is the one sentence that every other sentence in a paragraph should in some way be about, I started thinking that I don’t know if I agree that it is the most important sentence. (Some English teachers might already be contacting the National Council of Teachers of English — yes, there is such a thing — to revoke my membership.)
I started realizing that, as important as the topic sentence is for any paragraph, it’s not the most important one.
The most important sentence in any paragraph is the next one.
While a topic sentence must have a limited topic and some idea about that limited topic to be considered great, or even passable, once you have moved on from the topic sentence, your next sentence must be great, or at least good. Then, the next sentence must also be great, followed by the next one, as well as each sentence after that, if you want to keep your readers engaged and interested.
Just because you have a great topic sentence, it doesn’t mean that you will have a solid paragraph, let alone a great one.
You must sustain great if you want it to remain great.
Not Just for Paragraphs
The same holds true for any endeavor.
If you want something to be great, then you need to make sure that it is great through and through.
Coaches, if you have great drills and great intensity in the first 15 minutes of your practice, but the rest of the practice is mediocre, you will have a mediocre practice.
Teachers, if the first 15 minutes of your lesson on the Pythagorean Theorem or Quantum Physics or the Gettysburg Address is great, but the rest of the lesson is mediocre, you have a mediocre lesson.
Principals, CEOS, and Business Owners, if you meet with your people and in the first 15 minutes of the meeting, you wow them, but the next 30 minutes is mediocre, you have a mediocre meeting.
When was the last time somebody said to you, “You have to see this movie; the beginning of it is awesome!”?
Or, “You have to read this book; the first four chapters are incredible!”?
Let’s start with “Never.”
While the beginning of any endeavor is critical to pull people in, engage them, and get them excited, if you don’t sustain that level of excitement, you won’t keep them with you for very long.
Of course, a great start will capture people better than a poor one and hold their interest enough that if there is a dip as things move along, they will hang on because the beginning was so good.
But if you don’t bring things back up to speed to how good the beginning was, forget it; they’re outta’ there.
What About You?
Think about your realm in the world. Whatever you do, there are things that you must be great at right out of the gate to create buzz and engage the people you need to engage with.
Make sure you do that first and foremost. If you don’t, you have little to no chance to be great.
But once you’ve come up with a great beginning, seek to create a great middle, then work to create a great ending.
“But that’s a lot of pressure to be great all the time, Scott.”
Well, yeah! Of course it is. But pressure can be a good thing; it helps us focus and work to be our best.
Do you want to be a great beginner?
Or do you want to be great?
The truly successful people out there learn how to be great each step of the way.
Do the great ones stumble and have moments when they aren’t great?
Absolutely! They’re human. They all have struggles while working to be their best.
That doesn’t mean they’re not still great. It just means they had a setback.
For example, take Gonzaga University’s men’s basketball team. This past Monday night, they lost the national championship game after going undefeated for the entire season.
They ran into an outstanding Baylor team that totally dismantled them and took them out of everything they did well, while playing great themselves.
Does that mean Gonzaga wasn’t great?
Of course not.
Gonzaga will go down in history as one of the great teams who had one of the all-time great seasons. They just didn’t play great in their last game of the year. It happens.
But it doesn’t mean they weren’t great.
Yet, some people are saying that because of how poorly they played in their final game, they weren’t all that great.
HOGWASH! I completely disagree with the people who are saying that.
But . . .
However, it does create a dilemma when considering what’s great and what’s most important.
If Gonzaga could be great for 31 games, not be great for 1 game, and still not be considered great by some people, think about what I said earlier.
You must sustain great if you want it to remain great.
How great are you if you don’t sustain it? How successful will you be if you don’t sustain it?
The most important game is the next one.
The most important practice is the next one.
The most important meeting is the next one.
The most important sales call is the next one.
The most important dinner date is the next one.
The most important conversation is the next one.
The most important sentence is the next one.
The most important word is the next one.
The most important action is the next one.
The most important day, hour, and minute in your life is the next one.
What are you doing to make sure you are great in it?
What are you doing to make sure you sustain the great in it?