When I was in high school, I had a pretty sound strategy in life: fly under the radar. I wasn’t one of those rebels who was always getting in trouble — although I was friends with a few of them, and I wasn’t one of those all-stars who had their picture in the paper accepting awards and shaking hands with the governor — although I was friends with a few of them. I was a good student, frequently making the honor roll but not enrolled in AP classes, and I was a decent athlete, good enough to make varsity but not a starting player.
I was somewhere in the middle of the back, and I was content with that.
Now, this type of mindset isn’t to be confused with mediocrity or laziness. People who fly under the radar are capable of achieving great things, but they lack confidence and, as a result, are afraid to be singled out — even if it’s for praise. What then happens is they are dismissed by leaders, who mistake the ability to shine with an unwillingness to do so.
It was exactly what was happening to me — and I was just fine with that — until one afternoon in the spring of 1993, when I was approached by my coach after lacrosse practice.
“Kate, can I talk to you for a minute?”
No sooner did I hear my name did my nerves spike into overdrive. Even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, the fact that Coach Donna was addressing me couldn’t be good, I thought. You see, she wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type. Just a year out of college, where she excelled on a Division 1 team, she was a tough cookie, and quite frankly, she terrified me. My mind raced, wondering what she could possibly have to say to me.
“I was watching you during sprints. You know, there are a lot of girls on this team who have more natural talent than you do.”
“But you work harder — a lot harder. There’s no way you’re faster than Val, and yet you beat her every time. So I’m going to start you Friday, and we’ll see how it goes. Sound good?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” I managed. I was, understandably, shocked. Not just because I was still new to the game, but because middle-of-the-packers didn’t get this type of recognition.
“Good. See you tomorrow.”
And then, before I could even register what had just transpired — before I could start to doubt whether I could handle the pressure of starting a playoff game — she momentarily softened her stoic expression and said, “You’re going to do great.” She even cracked a smile.
I was absolutely floored. I had been working hard at practice, but not because I thought Coach Donna would notice — because I wanted to see what I could do. I just didn’t realize anyone was watching. When I told my best friend I was starting, I expected her to be just as shocked, but instead, she said, “Good! It’s about time.”
I realized she was right. I had been working really hard, completing the rigorous winter conditioning program, going to clinics, and even practicing my stick work in the backyard. I deserved this opportunity. I was going to take it, and run with it.
And that’s the thing about people who fly under the radar. Even though it may seem like we’re just fine with our position, sometimes we’re just waiting for someone to challenge us to hit the gas. For me, it was the coach who realized there may not have been a fire in my belly, but there was smoke.
I did end up starting the game, and although there wasn’t a Hollywood ending where I scored the game-winning goal, I did break up a few big passes. And once I heard my name announced over the loudspeaker — once I got a taste of success — I knew I wanted more.
And although there are still times when I’d rather lay low, I’ve learned that if I want to land that big interview or have a conversation with someone I truly admire, I’ve got to hit the gas, and see if they notice.