Play it Like Beckham

UPDATED: July 14, 2011
PUBLISHED: July 14, 2011

When David Beckham was 13 and dreaming of playing pro football (soccer to the Americans among us), one of his coaches said the magic words: “You’ll never play for England because you’re too small and not strong enough.

As Beckham told me, the coach wasn’t joking or trying to be ironic. He meant it. And young David was devastated. Temporarily.

It occurred to him, even at 13—or maybe because he was 13, since adolescent rage can carry you far—that he could re-dedicate himself and prove that coach wrong. “As much as I was upset at the time, it made me think, Well, I’m going to prove that I can play football professionally,” he says. “Back in those days there were a lot of people who thought to be a player in England you had to have a full-grown beard and be big enough to kick the ball as far as possible. It’s changed now.”

Beckham helped change the thinking. Even though he wasn’t the biggest man on the pitch, his speed and uncanny scoring ability helped him become one of the great players in the history of the game—and one of the most popular athletes in the world. Captain of the English national team for six years, he collected more than 100 “caps,” meaning he played for his country more than 100 times, an honor few players have achieved.

Stories like Beckham’s are always interesting to us—maybe because it’s fun to root for the underdog (though no one thinks of Beckham as an underdog today). Maybe because we have an innate desire to see people proved wrong. But when does a story like this become more? When do you make it your own?

All of us have had someone tell us we can’t do or be something we dream of doing or being. Maybe it was a coach, teacher or family member. But these days, the person telling you that you can’t achieve a dream is more likely the one person you absolutely must have on your side: you.

Henry Ford said something similar: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Here’s an interesting exercise: Every time you hear that big voice in your head (there are no little voices in our heads), think of it as some frustrated, ignorant coach telling you you’ll never play for England. Get angry. Get motivated. Then get moving.

What’s Your Reason to Achieve?

Knowing your motivation will help you focus on your goal.

Extrinsic motivators are tempting. Everyone wants to be well compensated and recognized for a job well done. But the euphoric effects of fame and fortune are short-lived. Intrinsic motivators—personal growth and satisfaction, purpose, making a difference—though intangible, are more rewarding in the long term.

 In True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Bill George explains, “For leaders with a high-achievement orientation, external motivations and positive validation by the outside world are a natural consequence. The key to developing as an authentic leader is not eschewing your extrinsic motivators but balancing them with intrinsic motivators.”

 Simply put, it’s OK if money is your goal, but don’t let it be your purpose.