Deep and Broad

The loftier the building, the deeper must the foundation be laid.” – Thomas Kempis

I heard the whistle of an interesting train of thought while listening to a podcast the other day about the life of Michael Page, an Olympic-medal winning American equestrian. The interviewer asked Page which horseman had influenced his riding career most and he told an interesting story from his youth.

He had the opportunity to ride at the age of 20 with a now legendary German amateur rider named Dr. Reiner Klimke, who was 21 at the time and already on the German national team. Page was quite impressed with Klimke given his early success as a three-day event rider and even more in awe of him following a brief conversation they had about Klimke’s view on horsemanship.

Page recalls Klimke saying to him “All event [an equestrian “triathlon” event comprising dressage, cross-country and show jumping] riders are crazy.” This understandably caught Page’s attention, but what Klimke went on to say had and continues to have a significant impact on Page’s riding and teaching style.

Klimke explained (and I paraphrase): “I have read all the classic history of the theory of riding and I respect the masters who have come before us and I spent part of every day of my life reading and trying to understand the theory of riding. And the one thing I can be sure of is that the broader the foundation of going forward and straight the more likely it is that I will get to the pinnacle of where I aspire to go.”

Klimke focused on the basics, built a broad foundation of going forward and straight, and to Page’s awe, amazement and delight, Klimke went on to win six gold and 2 bronze medals in dressage at the Summer Olympics. This important principle – the broader the base, the higher the pyramid – applies in any and every situation.

If you aspire to go for the brass ring in some (or every!) part of your life, take care to build a firm and broad foundation. Don’t succumb to the temptation of reaching or grabbing for it before you have your foundation established. Even if it appears that you have won, a victory that is not built upon a firm foundation is a hollow victory. If, on the other hand, you take the time to establish a broad foundation and build progressive layers of experience upon it, you will enjoy a deep, fulfilling, repeatable and sustainable victory.

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7 Responses to Deep and Broad

  1. Colin says:

    What really struck me was the quote where he said he spent part of every day reading and trying to understand the theory of riding. When I saw that, I immediately knew why he was so successful in his endeavors. To have a broad base that will support the height of your achievements, you have to be interested, dedicated, and disciplined. Of course he also probably spent part of every day riding as well, but he was also doing the thinking part of it; the researching and the reading that will help you not reinvent the wheel. Constantly thinking about situations related to the thing you are trying to master really helps you get to the fourth level of competence, unconscious competence, which is where you have to be to really have mastery enough to refine a skill to the pinnacles of achievement.

  2. Doug says:

    Great point. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when trying to win a war don’t engage in more fronts than you can fully support. I’ve heard it called the principle of distraction. Most people distract themselves by splitting their focus at crucial junctures. It sure applies to launching a business!

  3. Coco says:

    I love the way Goethe addressed this very subject, “I respect the man who knows distinctly what he wishes. The greater part of all mischief in the world arises from the fact that men do not sufficiently understand their own aims. They have undertaken to build a tower, and spend no more labor on the foundation than would be necessary to erect a hut.”
    I think he would have had a blog as well. It can be seen as an example of building a foundation as a writer! Great post, thanks.

  4. Kolya says:

    Thanks, great post

  5. David R says:

    A solid and well-engineered foundation is the basis for any and all success, even though that foundation may seem to disappear once construction begins above ground. Proven principles, quality materials, time to cure…if any of these basic elements is compromised, it is just a matter of time and stress before the problems become apparent.

    Also, it’s much easier to build a foundation correctly the first time than to go back and try to repair it! There are cycles in life where foundation building is in focus, and these aren’t typically the times of obvious achievement, and yet what is done or not done during those times deetermines the potential of obvious achievement later. I appreciate the emphasis in this post so much!

  6. The words the broader the foundation of going forward are enlightening. A foundation is vital and that it must be built with the idea of going forward not just to sit there. It is good to realize as we are compelled to move in the direction of our aspirations our foundation’s need to be ameniable to the requirements at hand.

  7. Kelli Lorentzen says:

    Thanks for sharing these riders’ perspectives. Very inspiring!

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