I’m a basketball guy, raised in the Midwest and now living in the South, but today, with NFL camps set to open anew in a matter of weeks, I’m thinking about football in New England. How about those Patriots?
I know that in some circles they’re the subject of considerable scorn, often referenced using terms like “Cheatriots,” and “just lucky,” as if Gillette Stadium is blessed and its occupants have nothing to do with the ever-mounting victories.
But you could look at the meteoric rises and sustained successes of other great organizations—Amazon, Starbucks, Apple—and wonder the same thing: Have they and their CEOs just been lucky? Do they, too, have stars shining over their headquarters? When will their good fortunes simply run out?
There is a certain element of luck in every success story, of finding oneself in the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people and then knowing how to leverage those circumstances to your advantage.
I appreciate luck, but what I really revere is work: putting in effort day after day after day until you’ve reached the top. If that sounds hard, it is. But I discovered a trick to keeping on track: I made success a habit.
My writing career started with a simple, daily commitment to record my thoughts. No matter where I am, how much (or little) time I have, what hour the clock reads, I dedicate a portion of my day to writing.
My speaking career grew thanks to a habitual process, too. I’d deliver a speech, ask a few trusted advisers to critique it and look for patterns. When did they laugh, sit up in their seats and anticipate my next sentence? When did they daydream, yawn or check their watches? I took their guidance to heart, and over time, my delivery became smoother, my punch lines punchier, and my messages more poignant because I learned to cut out the fluff.
You’re not going to want to put in the work of winning if you’re not fired up about going to work.
The Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, doesn’t talk about his team’s athleticism or Tom Brady’s intuition or anything of the sort. He talks about work.
“The only way for us as a team to get to a championship level is to continue to evaluate ourselves, and we have to look at what we’ve done and critically analyze it.… We can’t hire a consultant to come in and fix our problems,” he said during a 2013 keynote address. “So the only way for us to get better is to do our own [research and development]. I think along with that comes a certain amount of humility, being able to take constructive criticism…. In order for us to improve and get better and move forward, we’ve all got to be able to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I screwed that up’ or ‘I didn’t do a good job here, how can we correct the problem and get it right the next time?’ ”
With five Super Bowl rings to show, this team’s wins have become habit. How can you cultivate the same?
You’re not going to want to put in the work of winning if you’re not fired up about going to work. People say if you’re more disciplined, you’ll get more accomplished. I see it differently: If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll be disciplined enough to do it, regardless of how you feel or what hardship blocks your path.
Some people might get relatively far on natural talent alone. I have a knack for motivational speaking, but I don’t think I could have really poured into people or equipped them to discover their gifts if I had relied on instinct alone. Instead, I studied the work of more experienced leaders, sought advice and asked for honest critiques. Then I honed related skills: I was a good speaker, but could I write? I could easily share my leadership discoveries in the U.S., but could I get them to the far corners of the world? Could I reach people of means, but also those in troubled communities who cried out for homegrown leaders?
People who are naturally gifted will get by on their gifts, but in time, they’ll level off. Those who develop a process for continual improvement will climb right past them.
You’ll notice when I mentioned diversifying my speaking abilities, I branched off into related skills. You won’t see me put on a lab coat or pick up a musical instrument. I know my gifts and the skills that support them. I focus my energy on those.
I love the applause that follows a speech. It’s gratifying and humbling to know that my words touch other people. But here’s the truth, friends: I’ve been speaking for so long that I can deliver a rousing address simply by going through the motions. You’d never know it. But I would. Sure, I can collect paychecks and praise, but my inner self would meanwhile toss proverbial tomatoes at the stage.
I need to tailor my messages to each audience, find new and relevant stories to make my points, and arm people with the information they need to improve their lives and the lives around them. That’s the kind of rigor—the kind of preparatory habit—that enables continual success.
This road goes only one way: up. I can’t tell you how many publishers rejected me or how many editors expressed skepticism before I landed my first book deal. I can’t tell you how many congregants once questioned the ability of a 22-year-old preacher. Thank goodness I didn’t let the naysayers get me down.
Remember, rejection stimulates reflection. And reflection is how you learn to develop your strengths, accept your weaknesses and hone the processes that allow you to earn your personal equivalent of a Super Bowl ring time and time again.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.