Last Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sucaneers as they are known in some circles) won the Superbowl with Tom Brady as QB. The next week, I saw a flurry of social media posts about how nobody believed in Tom Brady and how that should translate into believing in yourself. Tom Brady is one of the great sports stories, not just of our time, but possibly all time. His professional achievements are staggering. But he started off being drafted 199th (not good) and most NFL scouts, whose job it is to predict future success, wrote him off. So, the narrative of most of the posts is ‘don’t listen to the experts when they don’t believe you can do something, you should believe in yourself and do it anyway’.
You are not Tom Brady. To be fair to you, Tom Brady in 2000 when he was drafted was not Tom Brady that we know today. There was a reason nobody believed in him, the meaningful metrics indicated he did not have the tools to succeed. If you look at his statistics from the NFL combine, where potential players show off their skills prior to the draft, he was terrible. As compared to others in his position he ranked 0.7% in the 40 yard dash. Meaning that 99.3% of all other quarterbacks were faster than him. While that stat is cherry picked for effect, the best he could do in the other metrics was average with most other metrics below average.
When I see these digital motivational posters saying “Everybody doubted Tom Brady, ignore the doubters” I think they completely misunderstand what made Tom so successful. I don’t know Tom, but I would be willing to bet that he listened to his doubters and probably took very careful notes. The people that said he wasn’t going to be good are almost always right, their careers depend on it. If you want to be successful you need to listen to people that tell you that you cannot succeed and understand very clearly why they are saying it. Ignore the doubters and you will turn out like Ryan Leaf (considered the biggest draft bust), not Tom Brady.
I said listen, not quit. One thing about Tom Brady that is clear, he has a work ethic that is truly epic. A simple news search with the term “Tom Brady Work Ethic” turns out an amazing amount of stories. One where he made a single mistake in practice and watched 100+ plays that night, just to figure out how to do it correctly the next time. Or his diet and exercise routine, no thanks, I like good food and fun. He is totally committed to doing the work to overcome what he is lacking. If you do not know what you are lacking, how are you going to work on it? Listen to the doubters, take notes, and put in the hard work.
Outside of a single athlete sport like track, it is difficult to come up with an example where success depends on one person alone. In life, business, and sports we operate in some sort of a team environment most of the time. To be successful, you are going to have to continually improve and help those around you improve. When Tom went to Tampa Bay he committed himself to getting better and helping his teammates get better. Now this is 2020 Tom, winner of 6 Super Bowls and countless other awards. And he needs to get better? His teammates, sure, but Tom? The work never stops, continued success requires the continuation of the work it took to get there.
My point is, it is so easy to see the starting point and the end point and ignore the middle. The middle is where success happens. It is taking note of your deficiencies, working to improve or compensate for them, and continuing that work for as long as you are successful. Our starting points are all different, we are all born with a different set of talents, but nobody is born great.
I will close with a note on discernment. When I say listen to the doubters, I don’t mean all of them. Listen to the ones that know what they are talking about. There are people that don’t want you to succeed, be on the lookout for those people and ignore them. People that tell you that you don’t have the right social background, family, skin color, or gender, are not doubters, they are haters. It doesn’t matter what you do, you will never be good enough to get the approval of a hater, so do not even try. Listen to the people that doubt you because of criteria that is actually relevant to what you want to do. People with the qualifications to judge that criteria correctly.