Baylor University head football coach Art Briles has a fearless perspective on life. While writing our new book Beating Goliath, I realized that what started as a book venture about an exceptional coach had transformed into a collection of valuable lessons on navigating life’s challenges.
Known most for his dynamic years of head coaching at Baylor and the University of Houston, Briles’ story really begins in his hometown of Rule, Texas, where his parents taught him the importance of hard work and faith.
On October 16, 1976, Briles’ parents and aunt were on their way to Dallas to see him play college football at the Cotton Bowl. Throughout the game, Briles searched the packed crowds for his parents—but they never arrived. Briles did not find out until after the game that his family had died in a head-on collision with another vehicle.
The event shaped Briles into the man he is today. Though devastated and confused, he remembered his parents’ lessons on facing adversity and fear—to not let it prevent him from moving forward with his life. Incredibly, he was able to channel the tragedy of his family’s accident into an unstoppable desire for personal and professional success.
“I was still around to live a full and vital life, to make everything my parents had helped me become worth something,” Briles says. “I could wake up every day knowing that my life was still here and still wonderful. Or, I could pack it in.”
Briles learned this perspective from his father, Dennis, who left him with a series of life lessons when facing any “Goliath.” He taught his son that the world doesn’t give you handouts, and that he would have to work hard and earn everything he desired. He also taught Briles to never back down from the challenges of life and—most importantly—not to live in fear.
“The only way I have been able to survive is to be mentally tough and to sustain,” Briles says. “You have to find a way to get past the suffering.”
Briles put these lessons to work as a football coach, where he instilled his father’s lessons into his young players, helping them find a reason to excel. He has established a reputation for turning struggling teams into winners, from his years as coach at Stephenville High School to running backs coach at Texas Tech to head coach at the University of Houston. In just his third season as Baylor head coach, he led the Bears to their first bowl game in 15 years, and last year they won the conference championship.
Facing the possibility of failure—and embracing the challenge—is a characteristic of truly great winners. Like Briles, we can condition our minds not to accept the idea of failure. For Briles’ players, being the best requires the development of mental toughness. You can be the most physically gifted person, but if you’re not tough on the inside, then you won’t be able to sustain and fight on when things are not going your way.
Are you afraid to fail? Think of courage as a skill. The more you develop and strengthen it by putting yourself out there, the more willing you will be to fail. The more you are willing to fail, the more success you will find. Most of us are so afraid of failure that we never act on innovative ideas. You cannot shortcut the process of becoming truly great. How you deal with failure is ultimately what will help you succeed. Be bold and live fearlessly.
What is your Goliath? Have you ever learned a lesson that has helped you overcome challenges? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your story.