1. You’re on an Island. Although football is a team sport, at times, you’re all alone. I played corner back, and when corner backs play one-on-one coverage on the opposite side of the field than the rest of the team, you’re on island, just you and your opponent. No help is coming, and if you make one mistake, you could not only give up points, you could cost your team the game, and ultimately the season. You could also be sorely embarrassed in front of more than 100,000 screaming fans and millions more on television. It was a lot of responsibility, and in business, I feel the same way. I’ve felt the same way even as an employee. I can’t rely on anyone to come to the rescue. When you work 14 hour days, and don’t have a team around you, it’s easy to feel as if you’re on an island, responsible for tackling challenges, big and small, as they arise. To do well on this island you need to ensure that you are mentally and physically tough, and as prepared as possible to defend with all your strength.
2. You must have a short memory. At Michigan, we learned to have a very short memory. We couldn’t think about the last play, because within the next thirty seconds, we had to do it all over again. If we become emotional or upset about what went wrong on the last play, it takes away from the focus we need to win on the next play. This was true for individual plays during the game, and it was also true throughout the season. We followed something called the 24 hour rule. No matter what happens to you, good or bad, you have 24 hours to get over it. We played on Saturdays, and if we won, we would celebrate like maniacs on Saturday night. But the next day, we had a long day of practice to prepare for our next opponent. There was no more celebrating, because we had to devise a strategy to win the next game. If we lost, and we didn’t lose much, we had 24 hours to get over it. I take this same approach in business. Maybe I didn’t reach my goals for the day, week, or month. Maybe I made a mistake that cost me money. Or, maybe I made a ton of money and exceeded all of my goals. If I spend any time licking my wounds and singing the blues or celebrating, I get over it fast because I need to focus all of my energy on preparing for my next challenge.
3. You must get better every day. In Michigan football, it was a cardinal sin to make the same mistake twice. We could make a different mistake every day, but when we started to make the same mistake over and over again, the coaches would begin to look for our replacement. When you make the same mistake over and over, you begin to develop bad habits, and bad habits are hard to break. When we lifted weights, we recorded our workouts and entered them into a database so our strength and conditioning coach could see our progress. As a result we got stronger every day, literally. As a small business owner, I practice this philosophy in my work. I learn something new every day. I simply want to be smarter, I want to be more knowledgeable for my clients. I organize my schedule in such a way that I can pinpoint the value of my tasks down to the dollar amount. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Businesses need to continue to innovate because at the point they stop getting better on a daily basis, they will be consumed by the competition.
4. You must reach for the highest possible goals. There’s a mandatory team meeting before each season, in fall training camp, where we set the goals for the season. We initially set a goal to win the National Championship and the Big Ten Championship. Our coach came into the room and told us to delete our second goal of winning the Big Ten Championship. He explained to us that if we reach our goal of winning the National Championship, we would have obviously won the conference championship. He was right, the goal of a Big Ten Championship was a crutch. If we didn’t win the National Championship, we would have at least felt good about winning the conference title. This gave us a false sense of hope. Now, in business and in my dealings with clients, I advise them to reach for the highest goals possible, because if you fall short, you will end up in a really good place. Michelangelo said “It’s not that our goals are too high and we fail, it’s that they are too low and we reach them.” When you reach for the highest possible goals, you work much harder, and you try until you get it right.
Whether you’re an employee, athlete, or small business owner, apply this philosophy to your life and I’m sure you’ll find success along the way.