Peyton Manning played 13 years for the Indianapolis Colts and earned four MVP awards in that time.
Until he was cut.
What happened? He (re-)wrote his own story.
Joe Montana was considered the underdog almost every game.
That is, of course, until he rose to the occasion-every time. Every time the media or the fans found holes in his game or a way to put him down he proved them wrong by never falling.
What happened? He (re-)wrote his story.
These examples aren't reserved for athletes. People across the globe and throughout history have rewritten their stories because that's what successful people do.
Successful people choose when to stop.
Successful people choose how to interpret failure.
Successful people choose to respond, rather than react.
Just think of the comeback Apple made with the introduction of the... what was that thingy again?... oh yeah, the iPod. No big deal. Before the introduction of perhaps one of the greatest innovative introductions of the 21st century, Apple was going nowhere fast. Microsoft was the brand associated with, well, everything, and just before Apple was about to fall off the cliff of nobody into a chasm of nothingness, they didn't.
What happened? Yup, you guessed it. They (re-)wrote their story. Here's what these seeds of greatness have in common:
They didn't accept the what. Instead, they pursued the why, and what enabled them to do so was their self-confidence to question, to be curious and ask, "How do I prove them wrong?" This is what I call the Cycle of Curiosity (I know-creative) and it works like this:
Curiosity builds confidence to 1) ask questions; and to 2) generate your own ideas. If we never pose questions then we never know that such a capacity exists within us, and so we rely on others' willingness to ask.
It's paralyzing to not question your own development, your own status and your own progress or to wonder what's next. If you don't know where you're headed, then you'll never get there and/or anywhere will suffice.
Question the question. Not all questions are created equally. Einstein was attributed to have said that if he had an hour, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining whether the question at hand was the right question to ask and then the remaining five minutes answering it.
Too many leaders in too many companies today are too concerned with immediate results; they don't take the time to reflect upon experiences and lessons learned therein and how to apply those lessons for future performance. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly a results-oriented guy, but if you don't take the time to reflect on why something is right, then you'll never know how to recreate it.
Never settle. What would've happened if Peyton Manning, Joe Montana or any other athlete or leader had settled for the status quo? For what others perceived to be right? They would have different stories, that's for sure, and they wouldn't be the ones I'm writing about here. To (re-)write your story is to seek constant and never ending improvement but without the burden of overwhelm or defeat. You see, constant and never ending improvement can be a lot to swallow because it's, well, constant and never-ending. That's a long time!
Don't worry, there's an easier way to grasp this concept of "forever-ness," and it begins with setting small goals.
In Hell Week, which is one of the main attrition points in BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training), students are awake for five and half days operating on four hours of sleep the entire week. I'm not gonna lie, this is about as close to becoming a zombie as I've ever been. But, what got me through Hell Week was setting small goals. If I had focused on staying awake for 120 hours then chances are I wouldn't have lasted an hour. Instead, I knew that we had to eat every four to five hours (the instructors weren't intentionally trying to kill us, even though it sure felt like it). So, if I could just make it to the next meal then I would win. Then I'd just repeat. Win. Repeat. Win. Repeat.
The same goes for any athlete or any exec in a high stakes situation. Rather than focusing on winning the entire game-whatever your "game" might be-redirect your focus to manage the current play. In business, the "play" is the momentary or daily action(s) you need to take to drive the strategies that are emplaced to achieve business goals, which they look like the following:
1. Making a decision
2. Communicating a decision
3. Collaborating about a decision
Decisions inform metrics and metrics determine progress. By being mindful of what you're doing, why you're doing it, what the options are and how your actions contribute to the greater whole, you heighten your awareness and subsequent decision-making.
Keep learning. Greatness isn't a byproduct of knowledge; it's a result of applying that knowledge to become great. In other words, it's a daily grind to constantly subjugate ego for humility; to put aside the achievements of yesterday to wonder, "How will I do this again?" None of the aforementioned success stories assumed they knew everything, despite being immensely successful. They were humble enough to accept feedback and ask powerful questions that set themselves on a trajectory of "right." The takeaway here is this: people who continually pose questions also continually build their confidence to question the status quo, and the insight they glean is what helps them build context and competence because now they're armed with knowledge to act.
By the way, there's no such thing as re-writing your story. You only continue writing from where your last story ended.