Most people always envy athletes for their fame and money, but really they should envy their work ethic. Now I know they have it great, they play a game for a living and make millions of dollars; but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there. Unlike some of society’s silver-spooned, they had to earn their success based on their merits, they were not given anything.
Serena Williams is No. 1 in the WTA rankings again, becoming the oldest woman in the history to do so. She won her first U.S. Open title in 1999 as a teenager. That, almost fifteen years later, she still has the motivation to dominate the sport, is quite impressive. Women’s tennis is famous for stars retiring early, like Justine Henin and Kim Clisters. To stay on top for years in any sport is counterintuitive to human nature, and that is why it’s so impressive. Once a goal is achieved, we get comfortable, cozy, satisfied; we retire, we relax, we lounge. Few of us think, “What’s next?”
That drive is why I still, to some degree, admire Lance Armstrong. He did steroids and was a cheater. But to recover from cancer, to have the belief and desire to think you could win a Tour de France, and to go out there and train 15 hours a day is extraordinary.
Tiger Woods says he practices for 14 hours a day – hitting balls again, chipping and putting again and again and again.
The late Ed Bradley, in a 60 Minutes segment a few years ago, described his approach to his career and craft as a never-ending quest for perfection.
We need to think more like athletes in our culture. We need to understand we should be judged upon our merits, and know we are going to get some bad breaks sometime. Hard work doesn’t always mean success financially, but it gives you the attitude you need to be successful in other walks of life.
Overcoming obstacles is essential to success. Serena and Venus grew up in Compton, California. They learned the game from their driven father on a beat-up tennis court, and fought off and through all the challenges and opposition to succeed. They wanted it.
A society where people are judged upon their merits is better for everyone, not an entitlement society. We’d benefit from an atmosphere of competition and hard work that makes everyone. We should never be satisfied with conditions that could allow us to look back at the end of our days and say, “You know, I think I did pretty much all that I wanted to do.” It would be a lot harder to look in the mirror and say, “Maybe I didn’t work that hard, or try that hard. Maybe I could have done better.”
To take a solitary moment, take stock of your life and say, “You know what? I did everything in life that I could and wanted to do,” – well, that would be satisfying.