The Kansas City Royals didn’t look like winners for most of Sunday night. They were down for most of the game, going into the 9th inning down 0-2. That they would end up winning the game 7-2 in the 12th inning, earning the Royals their first World Series win since 1985, is a story for the record books. And it started Sunday night with one hit from Christian Colón.
Haven’t heard of him? Makes sense: he’s a backup infielder on the Royals’ 25-man roster, and he hasn’t been at bat since early October against the Minnesota Twins. He’s a classic bench warmer. But he was given an opportunity Sunday night, and he took advantage. In the 12th inning, with the score tied, Colón hit a pinch-hit single that would send their player on third running home.
We can learn a lot of lessons from Colón’s moment of glory. Here are 5 ways you can come out swinging at work when you’re given your chance:
1. Be prepared.
Christian Colón hadn’t played a single inning of the Kansas City Royals’ postseason run…yet during many of the postseason games he could be found at the batting cages, warming up in case they needed him. When they called Colón up in the 12th inning to pinch hit, he wasn’t scrambling to hit a few and prepare. He was already set.
Just because your big moment hasn’t come yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen at any moment. The CEO could ask you a personal favor; your manager could delegate an important responsibility; or you could have a huge meeting with a new client.
People say “dress for the job you want.” You should prepare for the responsibilities and the job you want, too. Become an expert in the industry; hone the necessary skills; and find ways to practice whenever you can. Get co-workers to role play big meetings, or have friends listen to you give presentations. Ask for feedback before the big moment.
After his game-winning run, in the clubhouse Colón smiled and said,
“I’ve been ready… I didn’t need to get ready. When you’ve studied for a test, you’re ready to go. And I was ready to go. I felt like I could help. Thank God I got the opportunity.”
2. Visualize the moment.
If you’re anxious about a big presentation or project due at work, do what many professional athletes do: visualize it going well. Every night leading up to the event, spend 10-15 minutes picturing in detail how it will go well. Like athletes imagine the plays they will make, imagine the words you’ll use or the strategies you’ll employ.
Christian Colón wasn’t playing regularly… but he was always thinking about what would happen if he did play. After the game he told ESPN,
"It's crazy to go from not playing much to being in that situation… But I've lived it. I went to bed last night just thinking about this moment, and being there for my brothers and my teammates. So I'm not surprised that I got the opportunity when I did and I was prepared for it."
Being tapped for something big at work doesn’t have to be a surprise, either. Beyond the other preparation you’re doing, dedicate time to preparing yourself mentally by visualizing how you’ll perform when the time comes.
3. Find a mentor.
Identify a top producer who has been in your position before, and learn how they coped with the same challenges. How did they stay patient if they were being passed over for opportunities? What did they do to stay mentally sharp, and what did they do to make their moment count? Connecting with a peer who experienced the same struggles and came out the other side successfully can be comforting and motivating… if they can do it, so can you.
For Christian Colón, this mentor was Jonny Gomes. While Gomes didn’t make the postseason roster, he was nevertheless instrumental in helping Colón prepare, physically and mentally. During the American League Championship Series, Gomes took Colón to dinner, and they talked about the challenges that come with being a bench player.
When Colón hit the crucial pinch single, from first base he looked for Jonny Gomes first. Gomes had taken him under his wing and helped him be ready when his time came.
4. Keep your cool.
Colón finally had his moment: he was at bat in the 12th inning in a tied game. Then… he swung at two pitches and missed twice. Two strikes. A ball and two fouls later, he was down four pitches with no luck. This was Colón’s first opportunity to shine in nearly a month, and so far he was blowing it.
For most players, this would spell trouble. Colón facing the Mets’ most reliable middle reliever in the playoffs thus far, Addison Reed. Yet with everything to lose, Colón didn’t choke: instead he swung, and hit the single the team needed to score.
Professionals face similar pressure at work all the time. You have one chance at a meeting with a big client; you’re only presenting your ideas to the executive team once; if this first project doesn’t go well, why would they give you another? These opportunities can feel like all-or-nothing situations, and it’s easy to panic, especially if obstacles come up.
If this panic and stress starts building, reach out to peers and your manager. Don’t keep the nerves inside… talk about them instead. Chances are high someone else has had the same anxiety and can help you capitalize on your moment.
5. Believe in yourself.
When athletes don’t see a lot of playing time, it can be easier to dwell on the reasons you’re on the bench instead of focusing on the reasons you made the team. When that big opportunity comes along, many players (and professionals!) can’t muster the self-esteem to perform to their potential.
Christian Colón didn’t have this issue. Despite his limited chances, he’s made the most of them. His teammates talk about his remarkable confidence in these high-pressure situations, and his ability to rise above the nerves and execute.
Getting a chance to shine should be a boost to your confidence, not a reason to start doubting. It means leadership or your manager see potential in you, and they want to see if you can produce more. Focus on your strengths, and put all the preparation to use: step up to the plate. It’s your turn to swing big.