"I don't know if that could've worked out better."
There is no happier time in my life than right after I utter those words. It's a reflection of how perfect something just was, one in which I can look back at the grind that lead to that perfection.
To put it in terms everyone can better appreciate – imagine a football team lined up, about to take the snap.
The clock is ticking and we need a score. Our offense has sputtered with a few running plays that came up short of a first down, but our punt returner just left us with great field position in the waning moments.
We've been busting it all afternoon, and with only a few seconds left to play, the other squad's defense is panting, gasping for breath between plays and sporting sweat-laden faces. Despite a few rough patches from our defense, they've held the score to within six.
This mental image reflects a different situation – your situation.
You sit at a moment where you will soon go out into the world, and you want to get a perfect start for it. You have studied, written papers, taken tests and sacrificed sleep to get the good GPA, the recommendation letters from your professors and the confidence in your knowledge to kill an interview.
The play clock is ticking down. The center snaps, the tight ends block, the O-line holds off the fury in front of them. We've spent the entire game utilizing the fundamentals, and our opponent is exhausted. They might be nervous about the run game – we've been leaning on it all game – but this is the time for a big play.
Our receiver makes a great jump off the snap. The corner watching him hesitates for fear of the run. The receiver cuts hard across the middle to the far post. The drunken guys who played football in high school rise from their seats; they see what is about to happen. Our quarterback takes another step back – eyes quickly darting to and fro – taking in the chaos before him. In an instant, he fires it long, and the rest of the crowd jumps up. The wide receiver expands arbitrary separation from his long lost defender as he pulls the ball in and carries it to the checkerboard.
This is how I imagine a perfect play or life-decision; the only reason it worked out perfectly is because all the pieces were set ahead of time. Famed Tennessee coach Robert Neyland – better known as "The General" – outlines how to set up a perfect play in his Seven Maxims.
"Ball, Oskie, Cover, etc" are all fundamentals and imply that the key to victory lay somewhere beneath all the little things.
"Don't let up... put on more steam" encourages us to push through the rough times, and sometimes the best way to handle a problem is to throw everything you have at it. Be it a test by doing more practice problems or getting a rock out of your driveway with a sledgehammer, sometimes it just takes more steam.
Most importantly, "Play for the breaks and when one comes your way – SCORE." Here is the point, playing for the breaks is about setting your pieces, wearing down your opponent, being vigilant and striking the moment a great opportunity presents itself.
You as a student are setting your pieces now by doing well in classes and learning what you need to know to find success in your chosen path. You are wearing down your opponent by beating them to the professors for letters of recommendation.
You must be ready for when the opportunity comes your way – SCORE.
Nate Talbot is a senior in mechanical engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.