If you were to interview a lot of the successful people in the world, regardless of the sport or field of business, you will find a few common themes. One that comes up over and over is this:
They came through adversity
Funny to say this, but being born in another country and coming to the US as an immigrant with little to nothing, or being born in an inner city and playing basketball got you and your family out, may play as an advantage in some cases. Having tough circumstances to overcome, especially early on in life, teaches yo about suffering, hardship, and helps develop the mental fortitude necessary for success. One of the great things about sports is that it teaches you to lose, and then recover and come back for more. Each teaches you what it takes to win, the work necessary to succeed. Being poor or underprivileged can have the same effect; you fight for everything you get, and that mentality can have a lot of positive benefits. Your wins may be even bigger because of your circumstances, others may be counting on you to make it. Learning to handle that kind of pressure and motivation are crucial life skills that cannot be simulated any other way.
Here is the problem with the world we live in today, based on the paragraph above: We are letting our kids be soft. Yes, you’ve all heard about “The Millennial Problem” of entitlement and lack of work ethic. No one seems to be pointing the finger at the right people…the parents. Realistically the cycle probably started earlier, it was the grandparents who many have immigrated here, or moved from the farm to the city to start a different life. It may have been the grandparents who really struggled, and worked hard to put their children through college to have a better life. This trickled down to you, as your parents wanted an even better life for you, one without the struggles they and their parents went through. ***Insert needle scratching record sound here…*** Herein lies the problem.
YOUR LIFE NEEDS STRUGGLES, FAILURES, AND ADVERSITY. It is part of the human condition, the human experience, and we have robbed our kids of this benefit by bubble-wrapping them, and giving them trophies regardless of how they finished. The generations behind us need to have some of the same experiences we and our parents did. Your kids need to fail, to struggle, to suffer. It is the only way they are really going to be prepared for the real world. My generation has created the Millennial Problem, but we are not taking responsibility for it. But there is hope…
There was a story that went viral not too long ago about the Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison taking away his kid’s participation trophy. Explaining his position, Harrison said “he’s proud of his two sons and will always encourage them. But the 2015 Best of the Batch Next Level Athletics Student-Athlete Awards” are going back.” He wanted them to earn a real trophy, but to also know what defeat and failure tastes like. He is the success he is because of a hard road traveled. He was a walk-on at Kent State, went undrafted in the NFL, and played in NFL Europe before getting a shot at the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. He got cut. But even this did not deter him, and as the story goes, he went on to get a shot with the Steelers and will be a future Hall of Famer because of his on field presence and accomplishments. THAT is using adversity to your advantage. Harrison recognizes this, and did not want to cheat his sons out of those essential life experiences by making their lives too easy due to his successes.
I believe your tolerance levels are like a muscle, and if you don’t put them under a work load with some frequency, those “muscles” will atrophy. I have spent most of my life fighting my way out of, around, or over many different things. We all have our own story, and our own challenges. Mine are not as bad as some, but worse than others in some cases. It is what it is…what I decided to do about it is what made the difference. I didn’t want to settle, to let “good enough” be good enough. I never allowed being a skinny kid from rural PA to dictate my future. I had options, and I took action to exercise them.
Even today, far past my Pro Racquetball career, and in better shape financially than I have ever been, I still make myself suffer. It’s good practice. The mental discipline of enduring is necessary, and I am in the fortunate position of having to create struggles and adversity now. I’m not talking about making a bad business deal and starting over; but rather self-induced struggles. I fast on occasion, and if you have never done a 24 hour fast, you don’t realize how taxing that can be the first couple of times. I went on a hike yesterday at daybreak; it was 45 degrees out, and my lower back hurt before I started. I went anyway, mainly because I hadn’t suffered in a while. I needed it. Don’t get me wrong, it sucked. It was cold and the climb was difficult. Before long I was sweating heavily, and had to shed layers. Then I was really cold at first until I got used to it. I was miserable, to a degree, for the first hour or so. Eventually the temperature warmed, we saw a pack of coyotes in the distance, and had a great time overall. Today my back is tight, and each time I wince when I move wrong, I remember what I did yesterday. I suffered, voluntarily, and I endured. I overcame some adversity, and flexed those muscles yet again.
Regardless of where you start, it’s where you finish that counts. And if you have kids, or you are a coach or a Manager, be sure to allow the people you are responsible for to get the full experience…LET THEM FAIL on occasion. When they do, help them get up, dust off, and get back after it. Maybe share a story form you life, or an encouraging word or two as they start again. THAT is the best you can offer someone; not the easy road, and not a trophy for everything they sign up for.