…what you are willing to do. Talent is not enough, as at some point you will be surrounded by talented people. If you ascend the ladder of skill, at some point you will have left all of the marginally skilled people behind. If you become a 4.5 tennis player, a 5 handicap in golf, or you are the VP of Sales for a company that is a top five in the market, any of these positions imply that you don’t rely JUST on talent.
Everyone starts out as a beginner at something, and then learns from there how to get better at any skill. In an ideal world, you have a coach or some level of quality instruction right from the beginning, and this will greatly accelerate your growth in this endeavor. I can speak from experience on this, as I completely tore down and rebuilt my racquetball game four times over the course of my career. One of these revamps had to occur once I had already reached the top 100 of the sport. It seemed clear that I had maxed out my talent and ability to compete at the highest level near the bottom of the top 100 list. While this is a major accomplishment in and of itself, I wanted more. I was willing to undertake the challenge of, in essence, starting over at that level in hopes of getting better and making it to the very upper echelon of my sport of choice. It was not easy, and I understand why so many fail or choose not to try in the first place. But I can also tell you that I would not be the same if I had not given it my best and achieved what I had set out to do so long ago. I made it to number 18 in the world, and held that ranking for three years until I retired. Mission accomplished.
I share this as a context for the choice that everyone who is pursuing excellence is faced with:
What am I willing to do to improve?
This is a tough question to answer, and in many cases you will not know what is required of you to get where you want to go. You will have to have some blind faith in yourself and in the process. Start by taking a single step in the right direction, and then add another and another. In some cases things will slow to a crawl, in others you will gain ground in leaps and bounds. Either way, there is one thing that HAS TO remain consistent…your commitment to see this through, no matter what. The internal strength and commitment you have cannot waiver; you can doubt, worry, and fear things aren’t going to work out, but you CANNOT, under any circumstances, allow your internal commitment to the end goal to waiver.
My journey is somewhat unique in the sense that I did not “ease my way” into the idea of becoming a Professional Racquetball player. In my first competitive event that I ever played, I got smushed by my opponent in the lowest amateur division there was. I was at the bottom of the bottom division based on those results. Despite this, I sat on the bleachers and watched the Pros play and thought to myself “This is who I want to become” and right then and there I made the commitment to do so. This commitment sent me down a path of hard work, discipline, and lots of losses, set backs and difficulty. I did things in the wrong fashion at times, and in retrospect I would never allow a student of mine to follow in my footsteps. I did a lot of things the hard way, and only hindset would reveal that. I was impatient, and I skipped through some of the development stages in order to get to the top level as fast as possible. This is one of the main reasons for the need to revamp my game once I was inside the top 100.
Here is the thing, despite painting a somewhat grim sounding recap of my journey, I wouldn’t have changed much. There are a few things that I would have done differently, but even so I am not sure that the end result would have been a higher ranking. I believe that I could have made that journey more enjoyable and possibly to have lasted longer if I changed a few things, but I do honestly believe that I maximized my potential abilities and reached the highest level possible for me. That is, in many cases, all that one can ever ask for, and for that alone I am eternally grateful.
How do you apply this to your life? Well that is simple, but it isn’t easy. First things first, you have to hone in on a target to aim at. Whether you want to start your own business, graduate valedictorian, win the sales competition or the next sporting event you enter, it all follows the same meta patterns. There are without a doubt overarching patterns that must be adhered to if you want to give yourself a shot at real success. From my experience, here is my top 3 list:
Unbending intent – you have to have an unwavering commitment to the thing you have chosen as your end goal.
Inexhaustible work ethic – You have plenty of competition in any endeavor, and you will need to work smarter and harder than everyone.
You have to be able to take a punch – Nothing is easy, and anything worthwhile is difficult. You are going to get knocked down, that is a GIVEN. The question is, how many times can you get knocked down and still get back up? This is going to dictate your odds of success to a large degree.
This list is fairly simple to read, but executing it is a totally different ball game. There are very few people who have the will power and personal discipline to stick to something through thick and thin. I think the fact that the divorce rate is 50% for first marriages, and even higher at around 60% for the second marriage speaks volumes on this. Stats are according to this website. Many people will not try to start a business due to the known high rate of failure; some will dabble but turn and run as soon as things get tough. A few may try and gain some ground, only to get knocked down one too many times for their own taste and then pull the plug. It is a very rare few that have the stomach to handle anything and everything that can get thrown at them and still keep moving forward. The movie Rocky was so inspirational to my generation for this exact reason; Rocky got knocked down seemingly a hundred times in the fight with Apollo Creed, but he got up 101. In this famous scene, Rocky steal’s Apollo’s soul, as realizes that Rocky is never going to quit, no matter what he does to him. At 1:10 in this video, watch the look on Apollo’s face…
This is what I am talking about. NO MATTER WHAT…you keep fighting and keep working and keep moving forward No. Matter. What. It is a rare human that can endure, and it is exactly that reason that successful people in any field or endeavor are respected. Despite only having some inkling of what it took to get into the proverbial area, everyone understands it was harder than they could handle themselves. If you want to see the view from the top of the mountain, this is the only way. If it got handed to you, it would look differently than if you endured everything that was thrown at you along the way and still made it to the top. When you read the stories about how Elon Musk worked 100 hours a week and slept in the Tesla factory office for three years, you know what I am referring to in a business context. If you think he got to be the richest man in the world on a 9-5 work ethic, you are sadly mistaken. He took the knock downs, and he kept getting back up.
It is okay to be average, the world is full of average people. If you are comfortable with being comfortable and getting mediocre results in a mediocre life, that is perfectly fine for you. But some want more, and some of those people are willing to pay a price considered far too high by almost everyone else. Just having the will to endure doesn’t guarantee you success, but if you don’t have this, you are guaranteed NOT to make it to the top. There is no doubt in my mind that this level of determination is a prerequisite to the journey. If you think you have what it takes, get in the game…there is ALWAYS enough cake for everyone.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.
PS…when you do get to the top, please remember that part of that journey should be sending the elevator back down for others. You didn’t get there alone, and you are karmically responsible to pay that back.