Keep on Keepin’ On–From Jerry.

Football and Perseverance

I’m in a blogging rut. Big time. It’s been like two postings in about three weeks. Writing this is an important part of my life, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Successful writing requires consistency. And, right now, my consistency sucks (learned that word reading a Harvard Biz School publication).

It’s not that I don’t have things I’d like to write about.

Topics abound, including…The great experience of Royce making my day by selecting a certain jersey number…A wonderful lesson in leadership that I learned from a cab driver…Another testimonial to tenacity and hard work from a guy who just opened a restaurant…Some observations about motive and parenting–as well as first impressions–I personally experienced while volunteering for the Children’s Museum recently…Even a personal letdown about a goal I had for October (running) that got derailed due to an injury.

So the problem isn’t lack of topics. Yeah, time is an issue. But I choose to make the time for things that are important to me. So, all of us always feel like time as an issue–but if you REALLY want to do something, you’ll find the time to make it happen. Everyone is tight on time.

It’s this motivation issue that I am certain is the key to so many peoples successes and others “failures” (who am I to call someone’s life or shortcoming a failure, apart from my own?). It’s not even that it’s THAT difficult (most things in life aren’t), it’s just that it’s hard to keep going sometimes. It’s easier to diagnose this problem on a smaller scale, like blogging, than something much more substantial.

Yet, I think the drivers and attributes are largely the same for success large and small. For the most part, how someone does everything is how they do anything.

It’s easy to do something when you’re motivated. But even when you have the drive, invariably there comes a period of apathy. Even AFTER you have selected something you’re passionate about.

That period is the magic maker for all of us.

The problem for most of us, is that there are sufficient times we’re not motivated to keep on keepin’ on. It’s why I’m so impressed with people who accomplish successful levels of leadership or difficult activities, such as leadership positions in Direct Selling Companies, or Exec’s in certain companies, marathon or triathlon runners, people who have lost a lot of weight, and on and on. It’s not so much the accomplishment that’s so impressive, it’s the hours and hours and hours of preparation, training, commitment, discipline, and getting after it–especially when you don’t feel like it–that I find so impressive. It’s unusual that people can achieve these things without finding some motivation, sometimes within but often through others. And as I write, one name keeps coming to mind about a man who had such an impact on me years ago.

Jerry Helvey.

He worked at Anderson Unviersity when I played football there. I’m not even sure what he did officially. He seemed to do a little bit of everything–coaching, equipment, field maintenance, teaching.

Unofficially, however, I remember exactly what he did: He kept us going.

Encouraged us. Pushed and carried us. Moved us forward. Sometimes using humor, sometimes sincerity, and sometimes toughness. But he always did the same thing. He kept us moving on towards the goal. Take the next step, take the next step, take the next step.

I wish there were a little secret to success that made it all easy; certainly, there are so many things that involve personal development that can make you a better person, more effective, more efficient. And no question there are better ways to get things done, or some things that are innately impossible that hard work won’t simply solve. But with most goals and objectives you’ll never go against “the law of the farm”, which basically resonates with the reality that hard work and moving forward is the magic maker to the harvest.

I’m sitting here in Seattle working on the laptop at Stumptown and all around me I see people facing choices, and it’s those choices and activities that will help determine their destiny. Particularly during the down periods.

And as I write here, 2,000 miles from my alma mater, and 15-years later, I can still hear his booming voice as he would run through our team while we warmed up during football season, his bellowing voice would call out as if he were saying it to just me “Keep on keepin’ on men. Keep on keepin’ on.”

And, I think I’ll do just that.

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27 Years

Nelson Mandela upon release from prison

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

-Nelson Mandela

On my mind tonight is the perspective of perseverance, passion, and perspective as it relates to our leadership and ourselves. 

I have a personal lesson learned about perseverance in the last ten days, but I need to let another week go by before writing about it–to see if the lesson learned has actually stuck. As I’ve gone through the last few days I have been uplifted by hearing of stories of challenge and perseverance and ones leadership. At times it’s really helpful to hear about people that you thought had it all–or appeared to–yet they still struggled. Alternatively, you hear about someone who has seemed to have  “arrived”, but then go on to learn what they went through in order to get closer to their destination. 

Nelson Mandela was such a man. And you can read a brief backgrounder here

Here’s a person who spent 27 years in prison, among other trials and tribulations throughout his life. Think about the length of that, and if you literally had nearly three decades of your life taken from you. Or, for those that are younger, imagine being committed for another 20 years to imprisonment. A year would feel like an eternity (heck, some “tough days” feel like an eternity). I can’t imagine 27 stacked back-to-back years. 

So, today, there are two simple quotes from Nelson Mandela that inspire me with a lesson of leadership. One’s about purpose and passion, which is the quote that originated at the beginning of this blog entry. 

The other, which I’ll use to close, is about perspective amidst or in spite of difficulty. 

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

-Nelson Mandela

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Genius: The Modern View

Why do we love the “underdog” story? Susan Boyle. “Mine that Bird” (Derby this weekend). Slumdog Millionaire (brilliant fictional drama).

To some degree, I think it’s because it represents more of “us.” Where we think we are, and what we hope to someday do or be. 

But the reality is that we’re less than an underdog than we give ourselves credit for. The following New York Times article is a good reminder that hard work, a commitment to excellence and focus, and patient determination count for a tremendous portion of our successful outcome and result. 

And there really are a lot of examples of this. A few that come to my mind off the cuff are Eric Clapton, whose music I really like, who acknowledges that if you go into a few bars chances are you’ll find someone as good or better on the guitar than him. Or take the common bit of wisdom passed onto University President’s which says “Be nice to your A-students because they’ll come back and teach; be nice to your C-students, because they’ll make all the money that funds your endowment.” And just today fact my dad sent onto me a list of “NFL Busts”, stories of guys with great talent–superhuman talent–who never went anywhere in the NFL (which was especially interesting to me because one of the guys I played against in high school was featured on the list and the guy was a rock star).

So sometimes the “talent myth” is too often decided by perception or some false quantitative measurement. No question, you need some talent. But, beyond that, there are other factors that seem to matter more. 

 

OP-ED COLUMNIST for the NEW YORK TIMES

Genius: The Modern View

Published: April 30, 2009

Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.

Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.

The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

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And to Paul Potts, too

Paul Potts

So with all the fanfare with Susan Boyle and her amazing performance on “Britain’s Got Talent”, and my many many views of her performance in the last few days (to the point that my wife is teasing me), I’ve become captured with a few other great stories ofnormal people doing exceptional things that have been featured on a few reality shows. I don’t watch much TV, but some of these highlights on YouTube are just too fantastic not to share.

The ones below I saw about a year back, a similar story to Susan’s. I think there’s a reason that we’re all so intrigued by these exceptional shorts–in total these videos have been viewed on YouTube tens of millions of times, there’s a buzz about it.

Why are these so popular?

For me, I’m drawn by seeing someone’s inspiration. Sheer determination. And ultimate. success. Seeing someone’s “Renewal.” It’s the archetypical underdog story of a longshot, someone left behind or forgotten and dismissed or simply underestimated, that has “it” deep within them, sticks with it, and wins big.

I’d love to hear other opinions on what has made these clips of Paul and Susan SUCH a sensation–comment away! 🙂

So, here it is…Paul Potts, from over a year ago on Britain’s Got Talent. The first video is his audition. The second video is a deeper look at the Paul Potts story.

And once again, take a look at the crowd–the smirks and laughter–before his performance, and how he absolutely transforms the audience during the event.

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And here’s the other clip that gives a bit more of the story after it unfolded.

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