When I joined my first fantasy football league, my team was named OtherSideofPillow. It’s a strange name, and it was coined by my favorite ESPN host, Stuart Scott. During Sports Center highlights, when a player calmly sinks a jumper in the clutch moments of a basketball game, Stu would often say so and so was “as cool as the other side of the pillow”. He was always funny, passionate, and cool. But other than showing people how to be cool, he also demonstrated the #1 quality to win in life. No, it is not about being cool or making the winning shot in game. It is about handling adversities through actions.
On January 4, 2015, Stuart Scott passed away after losing his battle to cancer at age 49.
Well, the above statement would have been appropriate for anyone, but not for Stu. Stu would say he didn’t lose to cancer, but he won it by how much he battled cancer. In his acceptance speech of the Jimmy V Award, Stu said the immortal words “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer, by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
In another words, Stu didn't define himself by the existence or the results of cancer, which he had no control over. He cared about his own bravery and action in his battle with cancer, which he had full control. And that, in my opinion, is the #1 quality of a successful life.
We all have dealt with blows in life. They could be business failures, money problems, tough upbringings, divorce, physical shortcomings, mental deficiencies, and repeated rejections by others, which is the subject I write about. There are diseases that could be as debilitating and lethal as cancer. When they happen, people usually judge their successes in three ways: circumstances, results and actions.
Circumstances – some people base success on circumstances. They equate good circumstances with winning, and unlucky breaks with losing. When economy turns sour, when business gets tough, when jobs get cut, they internalize these circumstances and blame either themselves or others. They tie their self-esteem on the ups and downs of life events. Because we all suffer setbacks, it’s really easy to feel like unlucky losers at the end of the day.
Results – the vast majority of people, if not the whole world, base success on results. They understand that circumstances are not the end of the world. They also understand that their actions could affect the outcome. So they fight, they struggle, and they try to get good results. In fact, “results-oriented” is one of the most overly used terms on LinkedIn profiles. Just do a search. However, what they don’t understand is how pointless and even dangerous it could be to base everything on results.
For one, we don’t fully control results. No matter how hard we work or compete at something, there are always many more talented people who are just as driven to beat us at the game of getting results. Moreover, when we focus on results, we started risking to game the system by unethical or illegal means. Just ask Lance Armstrong and the wall-streeters who caused the 2008 financial crisis. Lastly, no matter how hard you fight, there are circumstances in life such as cancer that can simply overpowers you.
Actions – the real brave winners judge their successes on their actions, or reactions to circumstances, in spite of what the circumstances might be and the results they might cause. In the classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl described that when he was dealt with the worst circumstances imaginable in life – the Nazi concentration camp, which one might argue it’s even worst than cancer. Yet it was in there, he discovered meaning and his true calling in life and greatest contribution to humanity. Dr. Frankl knew he had no control of his circumstances (concentration camp and guards’ brutality), and no control of results (his own survival), but he had full control of his reactions to circumstances.
Stuart Scott and Viktor Frankl were far from the only people demonstrating how to win in life through our actions. There are many, many more stories of people finding their true calling through their reaction to adversities.
Elizabeth Smart was the victim of a high-profile child abduction case at age 14. After spending nine-month with his evil tormentor and suffering through endless pain and humiliation, she was rescued. She became a champion activist against human trafficking and crimes against children, and was a recipient of the Diller-von Furstenberg Awards.
While serving in Iraq, first lieutenant Scottie Smiley was permanently blinded by a suicide bomber. After returning home, he lived life to the fullest, by climbing Mount Rainier, skiing in Colorado, surfing in Hawaii, and competing in triathlon. He received his MBA from Duke University, and taught leadership at West Point. Today, he is a Major in the US Army and recipient of the MacArthur Leadership Award.
So next time when you encounter a setback in life, no matter how severe and debilitating, and no matter how dark and hopeless it seems, remember Stu’s words. “You beat (your adversity), by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
It is indeed the #1 quality to win in life.