By Scott Westerman
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“Success is .. sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.”
~Amos Bronson Alcott
My friend Erika Myers competed in her first Iron Man challenge this weekend. The Ironman is a grueling 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon run. I was doubly proud of her, not just because of her spectacular performance, but because I knew the price she paid to get there.
Spectators who watch a football game or olympic competition see only the tip of the iceberg of achievement, won across relentless hours of preparation, practice, failure and repetition. It’s easy to be fickle in our support of our heroes. When they don’t always win, we can be quick to abandon them. The unfortunate spectator who disparaged our outstanding teacher and football coach Mark Dantonio in the wake of Saturday’s football loss to Northwestern is just the latest example. This is the way of the fair weather fan; someone who could never catch a pass or take a hit, who would drop out after the first mile of a marathon, who knows the players only by what they read in the papers.
The next time you hear an athlete interviewed, listen to the nuance hidden behind the boiler plate answers to sportscaster questions. You may begin to understand that the game isn’t just about the score. We celebrate first place, but the true victory almost always happens on the way there.
Which is more important, achievement or the struggle to achieve? The great American philosopher and psychologist, William James said, “Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us.” Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that, “Your struggles develop your strengths.” Famed documentarian Shelby Steele wrote, “Opportunity follows struggle. It follows effort. It follows hard work. It doesn’t come before.”
There is no law more powerful than the law of cause and effect. And excellent preparation always leads to good performance. “I will prepare,” Lincoln stated, “and my chance will come.”
“Luck,” the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Preparation -always- involves struggle.
And here’s the irony: Those who stand on the precipice of success find that to be the most humbling of moments. They look back over the long road behind them and realize that it was in the darkest moments where their determination was forged into the steely resolve that pushed them on when every instinct told them to give up. And they end up thinking about the friends who stuck with them during the struggle.
To fight through the pain, the depression and the negativity of those who would try to diminish your dreams and tempt you to take the easy way out. To learn the lessons that repeated failure can teach, sharpening judgement and revealing a clearer vision of the road ahead. To realize that no goal is worth compromising your ethics and to understand that those who do are remembered only for how they cheated and not what they achieved. To feel your mind, body and spirit strengthening with each hour spent alone along the extra mile. To live the Stockdale Paradox, facing the unpleasant realities of the current moment without ever losing faith in the eventual outcome.
These are the things that live inside of the struggle. These are the obstacles that keep 90% of us from achieving our potential. In my mind, Erika Myers is just as amazing as an olympic gold medalist. And every authentic Spartan knows that legendary programs may stumble, but they always get up and get back in the game.
What is the ultimate prescription for an exceptional life? Embrace the struggle. Feel the fear and do it anyway. And never, never ever give up.
You may not cross the finish line first. But your experience will be just as rich and rewarding as the person who did.