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Beating the Odds

Stephen Hawking and Excuses

Hockey legend Mark Messier has said, “The minute you start making excuses, you’ve got one foot in the grave.”

If you coach, teach or lead in any way, you’ve probably heard lots of excuses. I know I have. And you’ve probably made some. I know I have. (“We’re in a tough conference.” “Our best player is injured.”)

Sports psychologist Dr. Rob Gilbert talks about excuses in this way: “Do you want results or reasons?” In other words, do you want to accomplish something, or explain why you didn’t get it done?

In preparing for the 2008 Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski asked his team to come up with three core values. One of them was “No excuses.” The team wound up winning the gold medal.

Which brings us to a person who had plenty of excuses not to get things done. Instead, he’s become one of the greatest physicists of all time. We’re talking about Stephen Hawking, who turns 70 this weekend.

Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 21, leaving him in a wheelchair. For years he has been unable to move in any significant way, and communicates electronically. But he still has a lot to say.

“I believe that we will eventually establish self-sustaining colonies on Mars and other bodies in the solar system although probably not within the next 100 years,” he said in a radio interview marking his birthday.

Besides probing mysteries like black holes, M-theory and multiple universes, Hawking ponders questions closer to home. New Scientist recently asked what preoccupied him and Hawking replied: “Women. They are a complete mystery.”

Hawking is a model of strength for anyone tempted to make excuses. He could have let his limitations define him. Instead, his curiosity and passion outweighed any of his disabilities, and if there is a world champion of physics, it’s Stephen Hawking.

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