If you attempt anything meaningful or ambitious, you will eventually fall down and “fail.” The only way to avoid such failure is to not try.
My former McKinsey colleague and old friend Angela Duckworth has done extensive research in this area.
It turns out that the ability to persevere in the face of adversity is more highly correlated with success than IQ, GPA, test scores, and numerous other success measures.
She aptly terms this concept…GRIT.
I totally agree.
Though I’m mainly known by my career successes, there have been many, many, many years of failure upon failure. The successes were more public, the failures more private.
But make no mistake, there were many failures.
In looking back on my life, I was trying to think of where I first learned this “grit.” Two sources come to mind. First, I learned this from my mother. She never quits no matter what — and finished her last year of undergrad from a hospital bed.
The second source was my high school (American) football coach, Coach Woods.
Coach Woods had a really interesting drill we would do every day of practice for 4 years.
He would make us sprint from one end of the field to the other end. (This wasn’t the interesting part of the drill.)
The interesting part was this.
While we were sprinting, he would blow his whistle. When he did, we were supposed to take a flying leap like we were Superman trying to fly.
Of course, we couldn’t fly (as we tried to tell Coach!) and attempting to do so would only result in a very predictable outcome. We would crash, fall and land face first in the dirt.
This was an especially miserable drill when it was raining and the dirt was muddy. It’s not easy getting dirt out from between your teeth.
The first time we did this as a team, we heard the first whistle, did our Superman impression and found ourselves lying in the dirt face first.
We were all laying there wondering what we were supposed to do next, when we hear this loud booming voice, “What the hell are you guys doing laying there!?!”
“GET BACK UP!!”
The first rule of football: Anytime you fall down, you GET BACK UP!
We quickly figured out that we were supposed to crash, get back up, and keep sprinting at full speed only to repeat the process again in about 3 seconds.
I ended up eating dirt around one thousand times over 4 years… and without exception, I got back up every single time.
In sports, career, and life, you can’t always control the outcome of whether you win or lose. But, you do control whether or not you get back up when you fall down.
It turns out that the willingness to get back up makes a huge difference in life.
It’s so funny. I have young children and sometimes they like to hang on to my legs, or play near where I am standing. From time to time, I will trip over them and fall.
Interestingly, I’ve learned to fall safely so I don’t get hurt. (I’ve had plenty of practice!)
And even now, the first thing I do is GET BACK UP.
Here’s a great video that illustrates this point. It’s well worth the 2 minutes to watch it. The image quality isn’t great, but the message is loud and clear.
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