About half a lifetime ago, I was a long distance runner at UCLA. I was a good runner, but not great. I was a good student, too, but not great. And I was having a good experience, but not great. Everything was good, but nothing was great.
That spring I took an Education course on “the college experience.” It was taught by Edward “Chip” Anderson and Bruce Barbee, two of the most passionate professors at the university. Chip was particularly famous for his inspirational lectures.
Their class introduced models, frameworks and concepts from the study of learning and achievement. Each concept was like a new pair of glasses. When you viewed the world through the models, you understood it differently. Their class wasn’t just informative, it was empowering.
More importantly, the professors challenged us. Not just to do hard work, but to think hard about why we were there and what we wanted to achieve. They were saying, “You can be great,” without defining what they thought “great” meant. They left that to us, and focused on giving us tools that we can use in any situation.
At the end of one lecture, Chip walked down the aisles handing out small keychains. They were simple gold rectangles with the letters “PCG” on them. He said the letters stood for “Personal Challenge to Greatness.”
In that moment, feeling intensely that everything in my life was good but nothing was great, this keychain suddenly represented the change I needed. Every time I left my house, I saw it. Every time I sat down and my keys poked my ass, I felt it. Every time I came home and took the keys out of my pocket, I remembered.
Sometimes, we need a little reminder about what we’re supposed to be doing. A poke in the arm. A kick in the pants.
I’m not talking about replying to that work email, or making the kids’ lunch, or taking out the trash (though a reminder can help for those, too). I’m talking about what we are supposed to be doing. Our PCG. The thing that makes us feel right about our place in the world.
In a perfect world, we would get that little push from our friends, our partners, our mentors. In a perfect world, everyone around us wants what’s best for us and is committed to keeping us on track. In a perfect world our environment would align to make this path easier to follow. In a perfect world…
But we don’t live in a perfect world. As supportive as others can be, they have their own goals, their own problems to work through, and their own priorities. They can’t always be there for us, looking to give us that little nudge. And we can’t guarantee that we’ll be there for them.
Perhaps someday our phones will be able to do the job. A reminder will pop up: “Hey Bryan, don’t forget, you have big things to accomplish.” Or maybe, “Are you pushing yourself today?”
Sadly, I think it’s more likely our phones will simply remind us that there are a bunch of people saying things online and OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO MISS IT. After all, if that’s how companies make money, they’re going to do their best to keep us engaged on their terms.
The nudge we need is going to have to come from us. Or more specifically, from the environment we create for ourselves. If we want to pursue our “Personal Challenge to Greatness” we need to plant small triggers in our environment that keep us focused on it. As small as a keychain.
Many years ago I started a small blog called Optimal Training where I aimed to introduce the concepts around learning theory to runners, to improve the way they thought about the sport. I envisioned writing a book (or many) and making a difference in the running community.
Then my life took some unexpected turns, and I ended up working for giant companies supporting major product launches with amazing coworkers. I was happy, comfortable, and able to live and travel around the world, which was always a priority for me. But I never really found my own “Personal Challenge to Greatness” in the work. I knew who I wanted to be, but I’d let that slip as I got occupied with other things.
A couple years ago my wife and I decided to move our family to Italy. As I was digging through a box I found the keychain. Somewhere along the way I’d stopped using it, and it ended up in a box like so many other things, where it stopped poking me in the ass and asking me the question I needed to keep asking myself: why aren’t you going after your Personal Challenge to Greatness?
Since my time in college I wanted to write a book. I’d dabbled with it for over a decade. I had some outlines, lists of stories and anecdotes, and various research supporting some of the ideas. But I’d never truly started. I’d always set it aside for other things. And my blog, like all my other writing, had long ago ceased.
Seeing this keychain triggered something in me. A change. A focus. A commitment. In that instant, the book stopped being something I wanted to do. It became once again a part of my Personal Challenge to Greatness. I honestly felt that change as it happened. It was as if my resolve to complete it hardened in that very moment.
And this may be coincidence, but another thing happened shortly thereafter. A friend contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. He offered to be the publisher. And then my old friend and teammate Jon contacted me about Go Be More, and it started a conversation that led to us creating this company and you reading this now.
The keychain didn’t make all this happen. But it played a role. It helped give me the motivation to start, the conviction to say yes, and the focus to see it through. (And yes, the book will be finished soon. As Spiderman might say, “With great feedback comes great time spent rewriting!”)
We all have a Personal Challenge to Greatness. We need one. Here is mine: to help people find their PCG and go after it systematically and effectively. I plan to do this via articles and books, and to create products and apparel that inspire people to do their best work.
What is your Personal Challenge to Greatness? If you already know (and you probably do, deep in your heart) then Go Be More of that person. You can start small. Just take the first step. As we like to say here at Go Be More, “One is always more than zero.”
To help you stay focused and motivated, find a small totem that can give you that constant reminder. When you’re ready to join the Go Be More community, our apparel is designed to be that reminder. But it doesn’t have to be a Go Be More shirt. It can be anything. A poster on the wall. A photo of your kids. Or a keychain that pokes you in the ass every time you sit down.
Are you ready to pursue your Personal Challenge to Greatness? Join our community on social media and let’s Go Be More together.
Bryan Green is the co-founder, Editor, and COO of Go Be More. His upcoming book, Make the Leap, outlines a mental framework for achieving success in distance running and in life. He currently lives in Japan with his wife and two daughters, where they juggle pursuing their four PCGs together.