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On January 14, 2003, Pat Summitt reached a milestone few basketball coaches—male or female—could ever hope to achieve: She won the eight-hundredth game of her coaching career. At the time, the celebrated leader of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols was 50 years old.

Coach Summitt's success can be attributed to many factors—her knowledge of the game, her outstanding leadership skills, her competitive spirit, her ability to motivate her players and so on.

But the fact that she reached the 800-win mark at a relatively young age is directly linked to one thing: She took over the reins of the Lady Volunteers basketball program when she was only 22 years old.

In other words, she started early.

Few people have the opportunity to attain the kind of public recognition that Coach Summitt has garnered during her illustrious career.

But the starting-early principle applies to everyone, from aspiring head coaches to would-be corporate executives to everyone in between.

In part one, I began outlining a list of 10 practical things every young leader should do early in life—at least by the time he or she turns 40. We've covered five so far:
  1. Develop your philosophy of life
  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses
  3. Settle your family life
  4. Determine your priorities
  5. Get physically fit
Those five items are enough to keep even the most diligent leader busy for quite awhile, but we're not done yet. Here is the rest of the list:
  1. Learn your trade. Gain competence and confidence now; it's much easier to recover from mistakes and failures when you're young. Plus, the more skilled you are at what you do, the more opportunities you will have to grow in your career, influence other people, and pass on what you've learned.
  2. Pay the price. There is no success without sacrifice. If you succeed without sacrifice, it's because someone else who went before you paid the price. If you sacrifice and don't see success, then you can be sure someone who follows behind you will reap success.
  3. Develop solid relationships. You can't have a rich life alone; the most rewarding experiences happen with other people. Don't put so much energy into work that you have nothing left for friends and family.
  4. Prepare for the future. As I often say, options are one of your most precious commodities. There are no 100 percent guarantees, of course, but making wise financial choices now when it comes to spending, saving, and investing greatly increases the likelihood that you will have options later in life.
  5. Find purpose for your life. Know your purpose in life, grow to your maximum potential, and sow seeds that will benefit others. It's difficult to do the second and third parts of that equation if you don't have the first one settled; this is why it's so important to start looking for your life's purpose as early in your career as possible.
Working on all these things early in life improves your chances of success because it gives you a head start. Others may be smarter or more gifted, but if you begin sooner, you have an advantage.

On top of that, as Pat Summitt's coaching career shows, starting early allows you to compound your success in much the same way you compound your money when you begin investing at a young age.

But what if you've already passed the 40-year milestone? What if your fortieth birthday was so long ago you can hardly remember it? Does the starting-early principle apply to you?

Absolutely. Take it from Dianne Osbourne, who began selling Mary Kay cosmetics when she was 60 years old. After hearing me speak about starting early, she sent me a note that said, "I start early in the month, early in the week, early in the day, because I see the end in view and it's chasing me."

She was making up for lost time, and so can you. If you haven't settled the 10 issues I described above, don't waste another day. I don't care if you're 45 or 65—it's not too late to start.

As one of my favorite quotes about people who don't get started early puts it, "Though you cannot go back and make a brand new start, my friend, anybody can start from now and make a brand new end!"

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's
free monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired
available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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