Never Give Up

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!?!”


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.

Once you see it, you will never forget one of THE secrets to success in life and career.

Here’s the video:

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16 comments… add one
  • Tamer Jamil Jun 15, 2014, 3:35 pm

    Another great article. The basic motto of resilience is so true for long term success. It’s something I have heard Barbara Cochran talk about a few times. It also reminds me of Eric Thomas who talks about success. He basically says if you want to be successful, then you got to want it as bad as you want to breath and that only happens if you are resilient. I can definitely attest to this from my career as a strategy consultant and now newly minted entrepreneur. It’s tough, but you have to face life with a positive attitude and accept failure is just apart of becoming successful.

    You are always an inspiration!

  • Jennifer Jun 4, 2014, 4:21 am

    Am at the point in my life where I need to get back up and win the race just like the lady in the video. I am inspired to do just that….
    Thank you Victor

  • Kate Jun 3, 2014, 1:30 am

    And this comes at a time where I am falling continuously just to rise up, stand and start running again. Thanks for sharing this :)

    • Victor Cheng Jun 3, 2014, 12:42 pm


      You’re welcome and good luck!


  • Volha Jun 3, 2014, 12:18 am

    If think about life as a race, then there is a lot of pressure and lots of expectations to win (or at least not to lose), which triggers lots of fears (what if I come last), and chances not to meet expectations are not that high, obviously, because of competition. You can choose not to race, or choose your own race – however, it is still the same point: to race or not to race, that is the question.
    My sports couch used to call the ability to get back up – anger. He always said – if you don’t have that ANGER inside you (as in ‘I will do that thing whatever it takes’), you can’t go to next level. Next level in sports – is all about anger and not about skills. Almost all professional sportsmen have similar skills, and it is only anger which allows you to be couple of milliseconds faster than rivals.
    I remember I was 10 years old, doing gymnastics, and in the competition among juniors I suddenly and unexpectedly won golden medal, which was apparently a big deal, as I discovered later.
    Everyone was congratulating me and asking – how did I do that, and I did not know what to answer. I simply did not think to win, I just did what I must do, I enjoyed it, and I even forgot to look at my final score, as I was more concerned with my hair messed up.
    After that I first time realized that life is a race. I was uncomfortable with that. Because I only like to win and I hate to lose.
    To cut the story short, I now think that life is a boat, where it is not enough to paddle as hard as you can, but it also helps to use winds to sail. This is more enjoyable and every boat has its own path and final destination. Its win-win situation!

    • Victor Cheng Jun 3, 2014, 12:45 pm


      I like your reframed metaphor. Thank you for sharing.

      Also I disagree with your former coach. I don’t think the ability to get up is always only anger. I do think it is drive and determination which can just as easily be fueled by love or joy, as anger.

      I suspect people who are driven only by anger may “succeed” but may never enjoy it – because they are too busy being angry!


  • iFaith Jun 2, 2014, 9:24 pm

    How splendid! I’m sold!

  • Abolarinwa Agbola Jun 2, 2014, 6:25 pm

    Just watched this video before reading this mail. It’s amazing how we read different meanings to the same data. I was obviously wowed by her performance, attributing it to strength and performance, but from your post, the real strength was in believing that she could still make it and trying… I have also watched my dad all thru life falling and starting… And eventually winning… Thanks for a wonderful lesson, Victor

  • Ga Lok Chung Jun 2, 2014, 5:59 pm

    Great post, there is a higher quality version of the video here, but it it’s from a different angle from spectator

  • Jessie Jun 2, 2014, 11:54 am


  • imay Jun 2, 2014, 8:40 am

    Awesome! Just the thing i wanted to see now… Thanks.

  • Jumoke Jun 2, 2014, 8:34 am

    Nice video, falling is not a barrier to success if their is determination to win the race, that is, grit.

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