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Dropped the baton?

[ 2011-11-01 08:49]     字号 [] [] []  
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Dropped the baton?

Reader question:

Please explain “dropped the baton” in this sentence: “The president is the standard bearer and in this case I think he simply dropped the baton with the whole world watching.”

My comments:

He simply made a mistake.

He blundered. That’s all. The president blundered and perhaps made a fool of himself in front of the camera but that’s alright. Presidents are human.

That’s alright. At any rate, that’s what “drop the baton” suggests here. It implies a mistake, a slip of tongue or something, nothing serious, perhaps.

The “baton” in “drop the baton” refers to, not the music conductor’s baton, a slender stick or the policeman’s baton, a fatter rod that he wields in his hand and which he hits offenders with, but to the light hollow cylinder that a runner pass on to a teammate in a relay race.

Yes, “pass on the baton” is the other phrase (of the same origin) that springs to mind. Time to pass on the baton, for instance. That means, figuratively speaking, it’s time for an older person to, say, give his job to one from the younger generation.

Anyways, in a relay race, a runner is supposed to put the baton into the palm of the next running mate as efficiently as possible so that the next runner can hit their stride upon catching firm hold of the baton. Well, in hurry and in haste, runners often fumble at this and the baton is often dropped to the floor. This is a costly mistake, of course, especially in the 4 x 100 relay – seldom can a team recover from such a mistake.

Such mistake, accidental though it is, happens quite a lot actually. I’ve seen it happen on television more than once, and at the highest level too, the Olympics and the World Athletics Championships.

Hence, the popularity of the phrase.

Once again, if someone’s described as having dropped the baton, it means that they have made a mistake, failed perform a duty, did not do their part and as a result perhaps let others down.

Here are media examples:

1. For all the disappointments, the USA is still on course to win the track and field medals table, but the number of golds and total medals might be fewer than usual once the competition concludes Sunday morning with the men’s marathon.

A sweep in men’s 400 meters, silver and bronze in the 110 hurdles and a silver in the women’s 200 helped alleviate the disaster of the 4x100 relay semifinals Thursday. Both U.S. relays dropped the baton on the exchange to the anchor, Darvis Patton to Tyson Gay and Torri Edwards to Lauryn Williams.

“By the time I went to grab it, there was nothing,” he said.

“It was probably my fault,” said Gay, the 2007 world champion in the 100 and 200, who failed to advance beyond the 100 semifinals in his first meet since a July 5 hamstring injury at the U.S. trials. “Some people say that when it hits the hand, you should have it. I’m a veteran. I’ve run all kinds of relays. I’ve never dropped a baton in my life. It’s kind of upsetting. I can’t believe it.”

For the first time since the women's 4x100 was introduced in 1928, not including the boycotted 1980 Games, the USA won’t medal in either relay.

- Baton drops mar U.S. efforts in both 4x100 relays, USA Today, August 22, 2008.

2. My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in my parents' garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2bn company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling-out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologise for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

- Steve Jobs: Stanford commencement address, June 2005, Guardian.co.uk, October 9, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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