From an early age, I was labelled as “gifted” and “honored,” but I never really felt that I was particularly special or superior to any of my colleagues. Often, I could simply see what was holding them back, keeping them from doing better.
However, it wasn’t really until now, as a much “more mature” or weathered adult, that I really took a comprehensive glance at what led to my success in school as a kid, as well as later as a teenager and adult. Throwing in my success in soccer (I was a starting player on one of the top soccer teams in Florida for several years, while Florida was a top state in the country for soccer) and work, I was able to further clarify what has led to practically every success I have “achieved” in my life.
1. First of all, while I wasn’t always obsessed with it, more than others, I’ve always been interested in learning. I’ve been curious. I’ve soaked up information with a keen interest in hearing the full story, learning was I was being taught, or even finding things out on my own.
I think I first noticed this in college — I did really well in my final 3 years of my bachelor’s degree (at the “Honors College” of Florida’s state university system) because I was very interested in what I was learning. I was more studious than almost all of my colleagues in that time.
But I was really hit in the head with how obvious my greater interest in learning was while I was studying in the Netherlands for 5 months during graduate school. I was a bit annoying (I think) to many of the other students because of how interested I was in the topics, and how frequently I’d chime in with questions. Looking back on things, this started long before that time.
This interest in learning has led me to basically all of my successes. Can’t think of one where that wasn’t the case.
The bottom line (if you want a bottom line), if you want to do well, or want your child to do well, try to stimulate a genuine (it has to be genuine) interest in learning.
2. A lack of fear is one that really just hit me. More than others (because, let’s face it, success is largely a relative term or idea… at least how it’s generally used and how I’m using it today), I seem to fear failing a lot less than other people.
Derek Sivers has a really excellent video on “why you need to fail” that is worth a full watch. But one of the key points is that, in order to master basically anything, we have to fail a TON first. Without a willingness to fail, and then to pick oneself up and try again, we simply won’t master anything.
Another key point is simply that we become good at something by repeating it and repeating it and repeating it. Generally, we’re not fond of repeating things we aren’t good at (i.e. difficult things), but that’s necessary in order to lead one to success most of the time.
Heck, really, just watch this video and then carry on with the post:
Notably, my willingness to fail is something that really served me well in soccer. I had one of the best “touches” on my team. Anyone who knows soccer knows that is critical to being a good player. But my touch wasn’t simply something I was gifted with — I worked my ass off to develop it. We were instructed by our coach to go “juggle” the soccer ball for an hour a day on our own (i.e. kick the ball repeatedly with our feet, thighs, chest, head, shoulders as long as we could without letting it hit the ground). Now, when you start out doing this, you fail every few seconds. As a kid at least, after years of practice, you fail every few minutes (if you’re lucky). You have to be pretty willing to fail a ton in order to get better than that.
Well, I think I put in more time at home failing, trying to follow my coach’s instructions, day after day than almost anyone on the team (maybe, actually, more than anyone). We had an ongoing competition regarding who could hit the ball the most times without letting it drop. Not surprisingly, I had the title more than anyone else. I remember the last time I broke the title, actually. I think it was at about 700 something at the time. We were off for a bit because it was summer, but I was still practicing my juggling. I got in the zone and just kept going and going. I hit 1,500 and then, without thinking, simply put my foot out one more time and got 1,501. But that was after years of practicing religiously. (Notably, I never got to report that back to the team, because I decided that summer to quit the team. Why? I had a t-shirt for a long time that said “Soccer Is Life.” I really imbibed that. But then one day it hit me — maybe soccer shouldn’t be my entire life. So I just decided to quit the team….)
Again, reflecting more broadly, I can see that a willingness to fail has driven me through every success I’ve had — at least, every one I can think of.
Without a willingness to fail, a lot, you really can’t get very far with anything.
This is going to be a short one. Basically, similar to a willingness to fail, success with most things simply require putting in the time.
Just put in the time.
4. I’ve wanted to help others since as long as I can remember. As I matured into an adult, I really wanted to help the world with the huge problems it was (and still is… even more so) facing. That has been a desire, a passion, that has driven me through most of my successes.
Notably, though, I would say a desire “to help others” is the root factor for #4. The factor here is simply passion or desire. Passion and desire will drive us through failures, will drive us through hour after hour after hour after hour of whatever we need to do. Passion and desire will fuel our willingness or eagerness to learn.
Passion and desire to help others wasn’t always my driving force — sometimes they were other passions or desires. But I cannot think of a success that didn’t grow out of those.
It’s a rather popular phrase these days, but it bears repeating: follow your passions. You will learn from them. You will grow from them. And you will eventually achieve what you need. (Now, many folks these days — and probably since the beginning of time — actually advise one not to follow their passion. Quite simply, while that could make your life “easier,” I think that leads to a life of discontent, limited/stunted growth, and some feelings of deep unhappiness. Don’t follow their advice — follow your passion. But perhaps think about it, too.)
To be quite honest, this is the underlying source of all my successes. Not only because I was lucky at times, or put into an environment that nurtured me enough and hit me enough to let me achieve success. But also because I really wouldn’t have any of the above without Grace.
Where did my interest in learning come from?
Where did my willingness to fail come from?
Where did my perseverance (willingness to put in the time) come from?
Where did my passions and desires come from?
It’s all Grace. It’s all simply a gift. I could be anyone. I could lack all of the things above. I could lack just one important piece of the puzzle each step of the way. Why didn’t I?
It’s all Grace, imho.