No one starts out knowing all the answers. The greatest business minds, the brightest scientists, the most skilled athletes—none of them got where they are based solely on inherent ability. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that starting point is to take lessons from the people who traveled the same path before you.
Although we typically think the most profound learning opportunities come from great, well-known historical figures, not all important lessons come from legendary heroes. In fact, it’s often the everyday heroes, the people closest to us, who can teach us the most.
Related: How to Learn Something New
Lesson No. 1: Nothing is impossible.
My grandmother Eva Mae Becker-Newman taught me a very valuable lesson early in life. Even though I learned Grandma’s story at a young age, its implications were not lost on me.
Eva, born to celebrity parents in Europe, became a world-class ballerina and model. Before her 30th birthday, getting off a street car, she fell and broke her leg. The resulting nerve damage left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Doctors told her she would never be able to walk again, much less dance. And starting a family would be impossible. Eva was a determined woman and refused to accept this reality. She would not let that level of adversity dictate the conditions of her life. With great resolve and hard work, Eva defied all odds when she retained full use of her legs and later became a mother of three.
Her perseverance in the face of adversity was a recurring trend—she battled cancer twice and lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years.
Eva was the type of person who offered a hug and condolences on a bad day, but then put you right back on your path, fortified with new determination to give it another go. Her personal characteristics were a fascinating and encouraging dichotomy, all rolled into one great package. She was thoughtful, kind, courageous and relentless—and I hope to be just like her.
Because of my grandmother, one of my personal mantras is this: Don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do. Any time I feel like I’m reaching my limit and my strength is about to give out, I just think of Grandma—anything is possible if you are willing to work hard.
Lesson No. 2: The greatest enemy of excellence is “good enough.”
Apparently, my high school basketball coach, Larry Barnes, and the great Zig Ziglar shared a similar outlook on life. One of Ziglar’s quotes accurately sums up the way Coach Barnes led his team: The greatest enemy of excellence is “good enough.”
My family moved frequently, so I was usually the new kid at school. Sports became a distraction from my insecurities and gave me a break from the mental demands of classwork. Sports also gave me an opportunity to fit in based on my hard work and commitment to the team, not based on others’ ideas or abstractions where I had no control.
Our first basketball practice of the season started ferociously—running, jumping, lunging, dribbling and speed drilling until we were sick with exhaustion. It was a glimpse of what was coming.
Coach Barnes was definitely not a pushover and didn’t appear to have a bone of compassion in his body, but I quickly became to appreciate his outlook on the game. Being on the team meant giving 110 percent at all times, practicing to improve yourself and never complaining about the hard work it took to succeed.
Anything you do, you should do it to the best of your abilities—whether that is running sprints in the gym or leading a Fortune 500 company. Give all of yourself and never settle for “good enough.”
We won the first basketball game of the season. And the second and the third. Actually, we made it all the way to the state championship game.
Lesson No. 3: Learn from your mistakes.
I started working my first “real” job while still in college—I was working as a warehouse assistant at an interior design company. I was young and inexperienced and I had a lot to learn. Just like any newbie, I made mistakes. But I was determined to prove I was a valuable, hard-working member of the team.
One day, I cut a roll of carpet wrong, making the too-short piece completely useless and creating a liability for the customer (and my boss). Another time, I promised an item to a customer that we didn’t actually sell. With the wrong type of boss, mistakes like these would have been fatal. Instead of correcting me and giving me an opportunity to right my wrongs, other bosses might have fired me.
Blair Rigby was different. He didn’t punish me for my shortcomings. Instead he used those situations as valuable learning experiences. Mr. Rigby pointed out exactly where I had gone wrong, gave me the chance to correct my mistakes, and helped me create a plan to avoid similar errors in the future. His confidence in my potential fueled my desire to improve and inspired me to become even better.
Mr. Rigby showed me that confidence, perseverance, hard work and determination must be coupled with adaptability, humility and a willingness to learn new things. This malleable and dedicated combination of characteristics is the key to success. If I can exhibit those characteristics myself, and then turn around and inspire them in others, we’ll all reap the rewards.
Inspiration and encouragement can come from the most unconventional sources. Recognizing unique opportunities to grow enables you to become the leader you want to be.
Who are your everyday heroes? What is the most valuable lesson you learned from an unlikely leader?