Apr 7, 2022 - Sports

The secret sauce for success: "construct greatness"

Illustration of a coffee mug with the Axios logo with steam forming a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Soak this up: Sally Jenkins, sports columnist at the Washington Post, captured brilliantly the secret to success in business and life.

  • Tom Brady, the greatest NFL quarterback ever, she wrote, “proved that any kid with perfectly ordinary athletic prospects, the middle-of-the-packer who doesn't come with some preloaded or far-fetched anatomical gift, can construct greatness.”
  • “What made him great was an inner curiosity, an urge to fill in his blanks and see what might happen with enough study and sweat."

Why it matters: This is true in every dimension of life. You don’t need to be born a genius or sports sensation, attend Harvard, or have friends in high places to be the very best at what you do.

  • You simply need to decide what matters most and do the hard, daily work to make it happen.
  • Hell, I graduated in the bottom third of my high school class and had to attend the University of Wisconsin-Menasha Extension just to sneak into a four-year college at Oshkosh, where I clocked a 1.491 GPA before dislodging my head from my butt.
  • This posed zero limitations to one day helping start and run two companies, including Axios.

It actually motivated me, and helped me appreciate a few lessons on how we “middle-of-the-packers” can beat the dealer:

  1. Do something you would do for free. You can’t fake passion. And passion leads to a healthy, daily obsession. If you find a way to get paid to do what you love most, this comes naturally.  
  2. Be smart enough to steal from those smarter than you. Be a student of those crushing what you want to crush. And copy their best habits or moves. Read. Listen to podcasts. Pick up the phone. A little trick: Call people you admire. You will be shocked at how generous most people are in sharing their tricks.
  3. Surround yourself with goodness and greatness. Success is wasted if you do not find good people to both share it with and to learn from. Glue yourself to people who make you better and make you feel better.
  4. Grit is it. My wife and I spend more time talking with our kids about this than grades or awards. There is no substitute for getting up every day and pouring uncommon time and effort into what matters most. This means sucking it up when you flop or fail.

As the great poet P!nk once sang, “Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame. Where there is a flame, someone's bound to get burned. But just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die. You've gotta get up and try.”

🏁 Editor's note: This article appeared in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package. Sign up here for free.

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