As a teenager, Ed Zschau spent hours training to figure skate — at 5:30 a.m. and in the evening, too — then he did his homework. He told me it wasn’t because he was a skating phenom; he did it because he loved it. He loved it enough that he was willing to commit himself to it.
That’s where he learned about the power of practice, dedication, persistence and determination.
“These are all important life character lessons a person needs in order to change the world,” he said. “You don’t get a quick return if you want to do something that will change the world. You don’t get a quick return doing something that doesn’t matter. If you want to make a difference in society, making the world change for the better, you better be prepared for a long journey.”
Figure skating is also how Zschau learned the importance of meticulous preparation. I listened to him describe how he learned about the “human preparation principle.”
“You can be a better teacher if you have a difficult time learning,” he said. “It makes it so you can explain how to master the skill to someone else because you’ve actually completed every step yourself.”
Zschau had to labor and complete every single skill, step by step, in order to become a competitive skater. But he reduced his training time when he started school at Princeton University. He still skated in some competitions, but didn’t do as well because he was unable to dedicate as much time to prepare. That’s when he made the decision to stop skating competitively toward a spot on the U.S. National Team, and finish his degree at Princeton University.
That was in 1961, when the U.S. Figure Skating Team died in a plane crash on a flight from New York City to Brussels, Belgium, for competition. Making the decision not to continue to compete toward a spot on the team possibly saved his life.
“As soon as I got my degree, I joined the Navy,” he said. “But I answered a question on the health input form, disclosing a healed injury I’d had as a skater. That one answer caused the Navy to run more tests and they decided I was unfit for service there because of that old injury.
“Within six days my life changed!” he said. “I was rejected by the Navy and found myself at Stanford in the MBA Program.”
I sat enthralled as Zschau told his life story. His life teaches that people who achieve great things go through lots of setbacks, disappointments and struggles, even though it may appear as if their success happened over night. Here are five more gems from him:
• “Opportunities unexpectedly happen and they only matter in life if you seize the moment and do something about it.”
• “You can have fun doing great things.”
• “If you can change the world for the better, that’s as good as it gets.”
• “Your personal experiences can combine to create your own unique impact on the world.”
• “Things sometimes don’t work out the way you planned and you have to adapt, segue into something that will work.”
My time with Zschau ended too quickly. Within two hours, my life was changed. I learned that you and I should do what we enjoy doing. Do it the best we know how, and good things will happen for us, if we will only get out of our comfort zones and do something we haven’t done before. That opens our lives to keep learning and adding value to others by passing part of ourselves along. It is then we’re prepared to seize unexpected opportunity when it happens.
Lynn Butterfield lives in Erda and is a managing broker for a real estate company.