Some people do just happen to stumble upon success, but those precious few are the exception. Either they are blessed with natural abilities that permeate success, they know the right people, or some other factor accelerates their achievements without much effort on their part.
Most successful people will tell you that success was the product of hard work and perseverance. When times got tough, they kept going. When the outlook was bleak, they pressed on. When everyone said they should quit, they looked in the mirror and said, “Never!”
In short, their eventual success was the result of their unbreakable commitment to what they chose to do with their life.
I’ve experienced both sides of this coin in my life, as most people have, and it is clear looking back that my level if commitment made the difference in my ability to be successful.
When I turned 16 years-old, a good friend of mine took me out to play golf for the first time that spring. Up to that point, I was a baseball player, enjoying my father’s favorite pastime. From the moment I took my first swing with a golf
club, even though I completely missed the ball, I was hooked.
Within months, I had my first set of clubs. My mom, who has always supported my dreams, bought me a $40 set of Gary Player woods and irons that were so heavy I felt like I was working out every time I took a swing.
I started going to the driving range as often as I could afford it, and I stunk. I was terrible. I hit every bad shot in the book: skulked shots, fat shots, thin shots, chunks, shanks, whiffs, you name it. It was probably quite entertaining – and a little dangerous – for those around me on the range back then.
I eventually started playing rounds of golf, breaking 60 from time to time…on 9 holes. But something had changed inside of me. I was no longer playing a sport simply because my dad expected me to play it. I had found my own sport, and I made the decision that no matter how long it took and no matter what I had to do, I was going to get good at this game.
The next spring rolled around and the golf coach at my high school, who happened to also be my physics teacher, gave me a spot on the junior varsity team, which allowed me to play every day for free. I slowly started to see my scores creep around 50 for 9 holes, and I even had a rare double-eagle in my first match that year.
That summer, our local municipal course had a student pass for $50 to play unlimited golf during the summer months. I played almost every day that summer, seeing my scores dip into the 40s on 9 holes. I started making at least one birdie every round, and my confidence began to soar.
The following spring, during my senior year, I had improved enough to earn a spot on the varsity team, often shooting mid-80s to low-90s on 18 holes. I won the very first match of the year with a 2-over par 38, and I started shooting high-30s to low-40s in our 9-hole matches.
In the last tournament of the year, our district championship, several guys on my team and many guys on the other teams were expected to finish in the top 10 and qualify for the State Championship. I was hoping to play well in the last tournament of my high school career and head off to college to start becoming an adult.
Something strange happened that day. I piped my first tee shot right down the middle, and I felt oddly comfortable that day. I made some bogeys on the front nine and turned in 42, 5-over-par. I knew that 6-over par was the cut line the previous year, so my chances of making the cut were pretty slim, which I had figured going into the tournament.
And then something happened. I made a 25-foot putt on the 11th hole for par, then made an easy par at the difficult par-4 13th, and I was only 6-over with 5 holes to play. After a bogey at the 14th hole, I made a par at the 15th, and came to the 16th hole thinking that if I could just make one birdie coming in, I might qualify.
I hit a tee shot into the trees on the par-4 16th, punched out to the fairway and stuffed a wedge to 4 feet. This is going to happen, I thought, and then I walked up to the green and noticed my ball was above the hole. I was going to have a fast, downhill putt that if I missed would end up 7-8 feet past the hole, and that’s exactly what I did. Then I missed the comeback putt up the hill and made a dreaded double-bogey.
Now realizing I needed at least one birdie and maybe two in order to qualify for the State Championship, I clubbed down to account for my adrenaline and came up 10 yards short on the par-3 17th. I pitched it to 25 feet and felt like my chance had passed. A bogey would all but seal my fate and end my high school golfing career.
Somehow, I made that putt, breathed a quick sigh of relief and came to the closing hole believing that a birdie might sneak me into the last spot. I hit my best drive of the day, followed by my best iron of the day, a 7-iron from 155 yards to 6 feet. The putt was straight and a little down hill, so all I had to do was get it started and it would go in the hole for an 80. My putt was right in the heart, but somehow I left it short and missed.
I felt sick to my stomach, as if I had squandered a chance to do something really great. Although I had the 8th best score when I finished my round, there were several other golfers left to complete their rounds and I had to simply wait. I sat around in the clubhouse watching scores come in, and one-by-one, they were all higher than mine. Then a 78, and I was 9th, and then a 75.
And then, it was over, and I had tied for the final spot with a painstaking 81. After only two years in golf, I was a State Championship qualifier, which was an amazing experience. I was the only player on my team to qualify, and my reward: two more days out of school, three nights in a hotel eating at fancy restaurants, and three rounds of golf, all at no cost to me.
Looking back, it is clear that my success in golf followed my commitment two years earlier to become good at golf, no matter what. That principle is as true today as it was back then, for you and for me, regardless of what we are doing.
If you want to experience success, remember this: you must fully commit to whatever you choose to do, and success will eventually happen. It may take longer than you want, it may come faster. Either way, the key is to commit to the degree that quitting is not an option. Once you make that level of commitment, success is just a matter of time.