Posts Tagged perseverance

Measure His Heart, Not His Hand

Early next month, a young football player from Central Florida will have his hand measured at the NFL Combine. He won’t get to choose which hand is measured; he only has one hand to offer, and that might be his biggest strength.

If you haven’t followed Shaquem Griffin’s journey to this point, consider following him from the combine onward. It’s a story made for a feel-good movie. He was born with a defect to his left hand. Because they weren’t able to rehabilitate it and it caused him extreme pain as a young child, his parents opted to have the hand amputated. For most, that would end a football odyssey. Not Shaquem. He thrived without his hand.

His twin brother also possessed rare football talent, and both earned scholarships to the University of Central Florida. Some believe that Shaquem was offered a scholarship in order to sign his brother, and for a while, that looked like the case. Shaquill thrived almost immediately, while Shaquem redshirted his first year and saw only limited action for the next couple of years. Last year, because he didn’t redshirt and his eligibility was exhausted, Shaquill was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks, while Shaquem’s NFL dream seemed in doubt, mostly because of his missing hand.

Shaquem answered these doubts with an outstanding senior season, leading the team in quarterback sacks. He didn’t have a bad junior season either, leading the team in solo tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback sacks. Despite the on-field success, the missing hand caused skepticism about his NFL potential. Just getting invited to the combine was a huge success and undoubtedly, a huge relief for Shaquem.

When he arrives at the combine, evaluators will measure his arm length, height and weight, in addition to his hand size. He’ll also participate in a number of drills and athletic tests – all in an effort to provide data that NFL teams can use when deciding if and when to draft him. Once their seasons were over, most of the 336 invitees devote themselves to maximize their combine results and thereby, increase their draft value. Some even undergo procedures to improve their measurables, like their hand size.

As an executive recruiter who spends his day judging professional qualifications, I understand the importance of metrics in making decisions that affect an organization’s success. Like employers who make hiring mistakes, if teams draft the wrong player or pay too much for a player, the consequences can be dire; however, Shaquem Griffin shows how judging others isn’t fail-proof. The x-factor that metrics don’t reveal is what’s on the inside.

If NFL executives pass on Shaquem, I believe that they’ll miss an opportunity to have a unique player with unique strengths on their team. I believe that it’s possible that Shaquem’s missing hand is actually a strength. Yes, it can affect his ability to shed blocks and make tackles; however, I suspect that it has also made his drive and desire stronger.

Many people with handicaps have gone on to achieve great things, not despite their handicaps, but BECAUSE of their handicaps. There are a number of reasons for this. As examples:

  1. A person with a disability is often more imaginative and ingenuitive, because they must overcome and adapt when their disability prevents them from doing things the normal way.
  2. A person with a disability is often more emotionally durable, because they must persevere through abnormal levels of failure and frustration to achieve their goals.
  3. A person with a disability often has a high level of gratitude, because life has taught them to never take anything, including their health, for granted.

I realize that I am making a lot of assumptions about Shaquem, a guy that I’ve never met; however, I’ve lived with a physical handicap long enough to recognize someone who has turned a negative into a positive. I hope he gets his chance in the NFL and thrives there, but if that doesn’t happen, I believe that his experience will make him a success in whatever he does.

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Limit Hope, Shield Yourself from Disappointment?

persistence

One of my recruiters told me that he shields himself from disappointment by not getting his hopes up. He rationalizes that if he doesn’t get his hopes up, he doesn’t get disappointed when things don’t work out. If he finds success, he’s happy, because he didn’t expect it. When he fails, he’s already prepared for it.

I thought about him the other day as I spent yet another day hunting wild turkeys without success. Because of my history of unsuccessful turkey hunts, as I crawled into the blind, doubt dominated my thoughts, though I had reason for hope. My dad and son had already filled their tags, and the setup was perfect, but so too were many of the setups from which I’ve hunted in the past 16 years. I loaded my gun from the only box of turkey ammunition I ever bought, when I still lived in North Carolina. The brass on those shells is tarnished and dented from being loaded and unloaded countless times over the years. I’ve fired exactly two shells from that box at the only turkey I’ve taken, and that was more than 10 years ago.

As the hours slipped by, my limited hope became buried under doubt. Finally, I unloaded my gun and called for the truck to come pick me up. I wasn’t upset – it was a beautiful day to be in nature – but my enthusiasm for turkey hunting took yet another beating, as it would next week too.

Would the result have been easier to accept if I expected failure? I considered that as I watched the truck approach. Maybe I was expecting failure and actually attracting it through the law of attraction? I didn’t want to acknowledge that, but it’s very likely true.

Being positive takes considerable effort, especially when you have a history of failure, like I do with turkey hunting. Though they aren’t easy to get and keep, positivity and its younger brother persistence are very often keys to success.

Want proof? Read this article about Jeremy Hazelbaker who now plays baseball in the major leagues for the St.  Louis Cardinals. The 28-year-old rookie spent the past seven-plus years playing minor league baseball, watching some of his teammates get called up to the major leagues, but watching far more of them quit the game after being cut. He himself was cut last spring, and after not getting any other offers, began to consider life after the game. Though the future looked grim, he didn’t give up and continued his workouts.

Less than a year after being cut, he got hits in all four of his plate appearances in his very first major league game at the Cardinals’ stadium. He was the first Cardinal in history to achieve that feat.

Hazelbaker still isn’t a starter on the team, and his early success hasn’t carried over into the rest of the season, but he is doing what would have been impossible had he lost positivity and persistence. During those seven minor league seasons and 751 minor league games, I imagine that he occasionally felt like I have felt during my turkey hunting career. He probably still worries about the next call to the coach’s office and trip home, but he isn’t letting that rob him of happiness.

To achieve our major league dreams, we have to quit expecting failure and work to retain our positivity and persistence, even when things don’t go our way. That’s where things get tough. When faced with the familiarity of our earlier failures, we’re tempted to anticipate them. We run for shelter at the slightest rumble of thunder, when we should be looking for blue sky. Yes, we might get a little wet, but it also might just be the time that the skies clear and our goals appear.

Living that way, anticipating success, is a much better way of living than trying to shield yourself from disappointment by expecting it.

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You Don’t Have to be an Athlete to Recognize the Emotion

paradeofchampions

Imagine working for hundreds of hours over several years to realize a dream. Imagine needing just one more victory to achieve that goal. Now, imagine walking side-by-side with someone who has the same goal, but if he wins, you lose.

That’s exactly what will happen on Saturday afternoon at the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament during the “Parade of Champions,” one of the neatest annual traditions in Nebraska high school sports. In the final three hours of the three-day state wrestling tournament, 56 wrestlers will end their wrestling season with the referee raising their hand as a state champion. Another 56 will experience a level of dejection that they have probably never experienced and might not ever experience again. For two minutes though, they all experience the Parade of Champions.

I first saw the Parade of Champions in 1989, as a college freshman, when I attended the tournament with a classmate who had won championships the previous two years. I last saw the Parade of Champions last year, 26 years later, as the parent of a wrestler who came up one match short of participating in the Parade. The format has changed slightly over the years, as well as the venue, but the intensity remains extremely high, even for a spectator in the stands.

The wrestlers enter the 15,000-seat arena walking side-by-side with the opponents they will face in their championship matches. The public announce system will play Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” as they are led in a processional which will end with opponents facing each other on the very mat upon which they will decide the championship. The 15,000-plus fans will be on their feet cheering for wrestlers who typically wrestle in front of a few hundred – their successes often relegated to the box score section of the sports page. It’s an incredible affirmation of their journey.

(You can see video of the ceremony at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0CiBDBbxA (skip ahead to the 2 minute mark) or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2r_6n-BrLY for a version of the Parade that happened before most of these wrestlers were born.)

To get here, they each won three consecutive matches in a bracket containing the other 14 state-qualifying wrestlers in their weight class. Those guys are either in the stands, wishing they were on floor, or on the bus on their way home. For months, and most often years, the championship contenders have trained for this moment. They have endured some of the most intense practices a high school athlete can endure. They have made countless sacrifices to get here. Many haven’t tasted soda or fast food since November, as they transformed their bodies into lean wrestling machines.

Most of them have missed the championship match in previous years, so they understand the significance of the moment. In fact, they have likely dreamt about this moment, as they left practice, sore, tired and worried about their next match. To convince themselves to persist in their journey, they have probably pictured where they will display their championship medal.

Their coaches, teammates, friends and family will watch with bated breath, hoping their wrestlers will end the season with their hand held high. There will be celebrations for the winners and a long, restless night for the losers. The seniors know that this will be their last chance to make a dream come true. The underclassmen don’t know what the future holds, and as wrestlers, they know that they must seize their opportunity, because there is no entitlement in wrestling.

The entire scene is a microcosm of life. Long after the wrestlers unlace their wrestling shoes for the last time, they will experience adulthood’s shocking successes and crushing disappointments. It’s unlikely that their subsequent victories and defeats will be broadcast statewide and happen in front of an arena of expectant eyes, but they will take the lessons they learned on this stage and benefit from them.

Whether they land the big job or lose the major account, they will understand that both victory and defeat are temporary and that they must continue to apply themselves and the lessons they learned in order to reach their goals, like they did to be right here, in this moment.

We all have had pinnacles in our lives – moments when our dreams were realized or crushed – so it should be easy for us to empathize with the drama from our seat in the arena or from our sofa at home. That’s what makes sports so compelling. You don’t have to be an athlete to recognize the emotion.

Notes:

This is real reality TV, and it’s available on public television at 3 pm this Saturday, if you can’t be at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, you can see all of the final matches online at http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/sports/nsaa-high-school-championships.

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Aiming High, Missing and Still Smiling

The story of a 730-day quest cut one day short.

mattclark

“It is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.” – Les Brown

As an eighth-grader, my son watched the Nebraska High School State Wrestling Championships with me. We paid particular attention to the Class B heavyweight title match, as that was the class that we anticipated him competing in. A sophomore from Syracuse named Matt Clark won the championship that year, and it wasn’t difficult to do the math and know that Matt would be a junior during Patrick’s freshman season and a senior when Patrick was a sophomore.

If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, so we decided that day to focus on beating the champ. Coincidentally, Patrick met Matt for the very first time the next day, when he traveled to Syracuse to compete in the youth district wrestling tournament. The day after that, Patrick clipped Matt’s picture from the newspaper’s gallery of champions and put it on his mirror, where it stayed for two years, as a reminder of the challenge ahead and the work that needed to be done.

During our weight-lifting sessions for two years, we dedicated extra sets and reps to the quest to beat the champ. “Do another for Matt,” I’d tell him in encouragement.” He’d respond after a particularly good set, “That was for Matt.” Meanwhile, his mother cleaned around the newspaper clipping on his bathroom mirror.

During his freshman year, Patrick narrowly lost his team’s wrestle-off to a talented senior, and spent the season competing on the junior varsity team, while we followed Matt’s undefeated and second state championship season. By now, Matt had developed into a 6’5” 305-pound offensive lineman with Division I interest. The quest wasn’t getting any easier, but Patrick was growing and developing too.

We saw Matt wrestle in person for the first time, one month into his senior season. In fact, we saw him set the state record for consecutive pins at 50. He was a massive athlete who moved like a wrestler half his size. I told my dad that he looked like a Kodiak bear taking down prey. Once he had an opponent on the mat, it was over. Meanwhile, Patrick, now a sophomore, came down with the flu, but managed to go 6-2 on the weekend. It was a large, multi-state dual team tournament, and since our teams didn’t compete against each other, the match-up would have to wait until the district tournament.

Two months later, on the first day of the district tournament, Patrick won both matches to qualify for a semi-final match against Matt Clark on day two. Two years of anticipation were about to burst. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, Matt entered the match needing one more pin to move into #2 nationally for consecutive pins at 68. Television cameras and radio stations were on hand to witness history. To Matt, Patrick was an obstacle to his record. To Patrick, Matt was the ultimate opponent and this match, the subject of dreams. No one but our family and a few close friends knew how big this was for Patrick.

Matt got his 68th pin, but not without a little excitement, as Patrick threw him to the mat early in the match. The excitement was brief, however, because Matt quickly recovered and got the pin. You can see the entire match here: http://bigappleradio.am/featured-news/video-syracuse-senior-pins-his-way-to-national-record/.

The loss stung, but Patrick didn’t have time to sulk, because a loss in his next match would eliminate him from the state tournament. Fortunately, he bounced back quickly to pin his next two opponents and earn third place and a chance to compete in the state tournament. While the loss to Matt frustrated him, by the time he accepted his third place medal, he was smiling and eager for a rematch. He was realistic enough to know that he would have to wrestle the perfect match and perhaps get lucky to win a state championship, but he was prepared, and as I told him: luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Opportunity happened later that night when the brackets for the state tournament were released. Matt was on one side, and Patrick was on the other, so if both won three consecutive matches, a rematch would happen in the championship match in front of 15,000 people in the arena and many others watching on live television. It was the setting we talked about during our work-outs for two years.

Both Patrick and Matt won their first two matches on Thursday, the first day of the tournament, in dominating fashion. That night, Patrick was full of confidence, although a rival who had already beaten him twice awaited him in Friday night’s semi-final. He thought that he had figured out how to beat his semi-final opponent, but he was wrong.

On Friday night, the goal that had motivated him for two years died on the mat in front of thousands of people, just one match short.

If we set our goals high enough, we expose ourselves to painful failures like this, when we realize that the goal that was so important to us for so long is now unattainable. Failure can crush us at this vulnerable time, if we lose perspective. However, it is also at these moments that the seeds of many of life’s greatest triumphs are planted, if we can retain the determination and motivation that brought us to striking distance of the goal.

Patrick woke up in a foul mood on Saturday, like someone had stolen something from him. I don’t particularly like these moods, but I’ve come to recognize them as a signal that a 16-year-old is highly motivated to perform at his highest level and can’t mask his emotion. Third place was now the target, and winning twice was the path. Two first-period pins, the second over the fifth-rated wrestler in 38 seconds, showed that the passion was strong.

Third best is not where he wanted to be – no one wants to be third best, but there were two wrestlers better than him this year, and by the end of the tournament, he knew that. As he accepted his third-place medal, happiness shined from his face. The two-year quest to beat Matt Clark was over, and he was going to have to take Matt’s picture down in defeat, but he had made huge strides toward becoming a championship wrestler.

When Patrick set that goal, he was a 14-year-old 220-pound eighth-grader who had wrestled maybe 20 matches over four months. He was as close to Matt in wrestling as I am to Ernest Hemingway in writing. What happened in those 730 days, however, was truly amazing. More importantly, we were back in the gym on day 731 – this time without Matt as motivation. Now that he’s stood on the championship platform, the goal is a better, higher view in 365 days.

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Related Facts:

  • Matt Clark won his third state championship the next day, 3-1 over Justin Hennessey, a junior from Waverly. Matt won, but his consecutive pin streak was stopped at 72. He’ll play football at South Dakota State University next year.
  • Hennessey, Patrick’s semi-final opponent, lost only to Clark and the undefeated Class C heavyweight champion this season.
  • Patrick enjoyed getting to know Matt and Justin, as well as their families, and says both are great guys from great families.
  • With two pins to close out the state tournament, and three in the state dual tournament the next weekend, Patrick’s consecutive pin streak is at five.

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Succeed with an Immigrant Attitude

A recent CNN/Money poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans don’t believe that “The American Dream” is attainable. Although the poll was conducted without a concrete definition of the American Dream, its results are concerning, because it reveals that pessimism is overtaking optimism.

Most consider the prospect of the American Dream as a source of optimism, and for the most part, most generations have been able to improve their economic condition over the course of their lifetimes. Perhaps this improvement deluded us into thinking that the American Dream was to be expected with little sacrifice, almost entitled.

When we feel entitled, we misunderstand challenges. Instead of seeing challenges as learning opportunities, we see them as annoyances. We respond to opportunities, and we whine about annoyances. Opportunities advance us, while annoyances bog us down. Over time, annoyances become pessimism.

Zig Ziglar wrote and spoke about what he called, the Immigrant Attitude. The Immigrant Attitude is a belief that hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and thrift will pay dividends.

The Immigrant Attitude is more than a theory. First-generation legal immigrants are typically more successful than their native-born counterparts. They are three to four times more likely to become millionaires, and though they are only 11% of the United States population, they comprise more than 40 percent of the Ivy League student population.

Why? Because they’re optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the United States. They are optimistic, because they recognize the true high value of opportunity. Their appreciation of opportunity often comes from their experience with adversity. Persevering through adversity is a lifestyle for them.

I had my own optimism and appreciation tested a couple of years ago, while on safari in Africa. After a successful morning of hunting, I was enjoying a cool beverage in the shade. A young Zimbabwean named Pretty was waiting on me.

Pretty opened the conversation by asking me about my trip to camp just two days earlier. It’s really hard to find the positives of a 17.5 hour flight and five-hour bus ride, so I said something to the effect that I was glad it was over, and I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back.

“It’s my dream to fly to the United States,” she said. “There is just so much I could do if I was able to get there.” Pretty then told me how she had fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, leaving twin boys behind, during her native country’s political turmoil.

I began to feel really small. I was in Africa, on vacation from work and enjoying being pampered by my hosts. She was in Africa worried sick that she wouldn’t have enough money to support herself, let alone see her children again. I was leaving in five days to return to my comfortable life and its trivial worries in the world’s most prosperous country. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her in a few weeks, when the hunting season ended.

I think of Pretty when my day in the office doesn’t go so well or I find myself fretting over something petty, like a hail-damaged car. I picture Pretty with a huge smile, taking it all in and making the most of it.

If an immigrant were in your shoes, behind your desk, with the same 24 hours in his day, would he be more successful? If the answer is yes, consider adopting the Immigrant Attitude.

“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties, but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but exceeds the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.” ― William Author Ward

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