The New England Patriots made an epic comeback in yesterday’s Super Bowl. I did not have a favorite in the game, but I hoped for an exciting game that would keep me interested until the end. This Super Bowl LI (kind of pretentious that they use Roman Numerals) did not disappoint. In case you didn’t see it, the Patriots, prevailed against almost insurmountable odds in the second half. Like the Patriots, I have come across people who always seem to come out on top while others are left with just the lollipop stick.
What separates winners from losers when there’s equal opportunity to win? Is
it luck? If, like me, you spent a good part of your life competing in sports, coaches always tell you, “Winners want it more than the other guy.” I’ve faced competition where I knew that the other side had better skills, were bigger, or more experienced. It’s easy to think those kinds of thoughts and watch the other side roll up the score. Then it’s also easy to fall back on “we weren’t going to win anyway”, when it’s over.
I don’t think the Patriots were better than the Falcons. It certainly didn’t look like that was true in the first half. The second half was a different story. Was it easy? No. The Falcons didn’t hand the game over. The Patriots had to win. How did they do it? Did they want it more?
I spent a year at a Circle in the Square’s professional acting program in New York right after graduating from college. There were about 50 students who all were accepted to the program after auditioning. We spent eight months in a variety of acting related classes, designed to hone and improve our bodies, minds and acting skills. I watched my fellow actors in class after class. Some of us learned quickly or were just better at dance or singing or acting. We all got the same training from the same teachers with the same opportunities to demonstrate our progress. Some of my fellow students were spectacularly talented and we all knew it. We even talked about the ones we thought would definitely have great careers.
Over the years, as I watched TV, theater and the movies, I would look for those familiar faces. I would look at cast lists and expect to see some of those people start to show up. Then, one day, I was watching a movie, and there on the screen was one of the people who I had spent eight or more hours a day, seven days a week for eight months in classes and rehearsals. It wasn’t a starring role. But there he was, acting in a movie with big stars. But something wasn’t right. It wasn’t one of the people we all thought would prevail. It was one of the people who always seemed to be struggling. Someone who never got the applause at the end of his scene work. One of the students who didn’t dance well, and couldn’t “become” an ice cream cone melting in the hot sun. Had the movie world gone mad? Were casting directors looking for untalented people for their big budget projects?
Then, to make matters more confusing, this actor showed up in more TV and movies. One night I was watching the Sopranos, and boom, there he was again. Had the world shifted off its axis and was spinning wildly out of control? Then I remembered something a theater mentor had said to me once, early in my acting career. He said, “If there is something else that I thought I could enjoy as much as acting, go do that instead.” At the time I laughed, thinking, “What else could I possibly want to do?” Needless to say, since my name has not become “household” it is safe to say that I did find something else to do. But that guy on the screen had succeeded. Without the best skills, he had succeeded where others who we all thought were better had not. I think the only answer was, he simply wanted it more. He wasn’t going to quit. He had no other plan and there was nothing he was going to find that he enjoy more than acting. So he stuck with it.
Walt Disney never found anything else he enjoyed doing more than entertaining people. Even after he was told that he couldn’t draw. Even after it was proved he wasn’t a very good business man and he lost control of his successful character, Oswald the Rabbit to someone who could write a better contract. Even after people started calling Snow White Walt’s Folly. Even after everyone, even his brother Roy, told him that Disneyland could never be built. He just believed in himself and his abilities more than anyone else.
Could Walt Disney and the New England Patriots’ achievements be, what one might call “teachable moments”? In the morning, before school, we used to say to our kids, “Who makes it a good day? You do.” The only one who will determine your success, your winning
percentage is you. If you want to achieve something, don’t give yourself the easy way out by deciding that the other side is better or bigger than you, before you start. If Walt had quit after Oswald, there would have been no, “It all started with a Mouse”. Believe that you can succeed. Not everyone is going to be five time Super Bowl champions, or build a successful Hollywood studio. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a level of success that makes you feel good to look into the mirror and appreciate the person you see. You just have to want it more.