Career Success Lessons From the Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup final was played over the weekend.  New Zealand beat France 8 – 7 in a very intensely contested and physical match.  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am a rugby player.  I played my first match for Penn State in 1968 and my last on my 60th birthday last year.

Rugby is a hard physical game, played by hard physical men — and women.  I learned a lot about life and career success on the rugby pitch.  One of the most important career success lessons I learned on the pitch was the importance of preparation.  Tweet 97 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Today, do the things others won’t do, so tomorrow you can do the things they can’t do.

I got this bit of career success advice from Jerry Rice an American Football player.  He is in the NFL Hall of Fame.  When he retired, he held all of the important records a wide receiver could amass.  I’ve never seen anyone better – and I’ve watched a lot of football over the years.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, Sundays meant two things – church and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jerry Rice was well known for his commitment to fitness.  He worked out harder and longer than any other pro football player.  When he was asked the secret of his success, he said, “I am willing to do the things today that others won’t do, so I can do things on Sunday that they can’t do.”  In other words, work hard, prepare, commit to taking personal responsibility for your own career success.

It takes a tremendous level of commitment to win a Rugby World Cup – or to finish second for that matter.  As I watched on Sunday, I was astounded by the level of physical fitness and the intensity both sides brought to the match.  I was pulling for New Zealand, but came away with tremendous respect for the French players.  All of the players on the pitch that day demonstrated their commitment to winning.  And that’s where today’s career success advice comes into play.

It’s simple, really.  Career success is all up to you, and me, and anyone else who wants it.  We all have to take personal responsibility for our own career success.  I am the only one who can make me a career success.  You are the only one who can make you a career success.  Become willing to do things that others are unwilling to do – and this can be a million little things like keeping your clothes in good repair; shining your shoes; rehearsing your presentation out loud; proofreading your emails, not just relying on spell check; staying up-to-date on your company, your competitors and your industry; building relationships by doing for others with no expectation of return.

If you already do these kinds of things, bravo.  You’re in the minority.  Too many people do only what they have to.  Successful people always go the extra mile.  As Jerry Rice says, they do the things others won’t.

Think for a minute.  What are the kinds of things that you can do that go above and beyond, that demonstrate your commitment to your own success?  Make a list.  Then go about doing these things regularly.

Stuff happens as you go about creating your life and career success: good stuff, bad stuff, frustrating stuff, unexpected stuff.  Successful people respond to the stuff that happens in a positive way.  Humans are the only animals with free will.  That means we – you and me – get to decide how we react to every situation that comes up.  When you take responsibility for responding positively to people and events – especially negative people and events – you’re doing the things that a lot of people won’t do.  This means that you’ll be more successful in the long run.

Personal responsibility means recognizing that you are responsible for your life and career success and the choices you make.  It means that you realize that, while other people and events have an impact on your life, these people and events don’t shape your life.  When you accept personal responsibility for your life, you own up to the fact that how you react to people and events is what’s important.  And you can choose how to react to every person you meet and everything that happens to you.

The concept of personal responsibility is found in most writings on success.  Stephen Covey’s first habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Be proactive.”  My friend John Miller’s book, QBQ: the Question Behind the Question, asks readers to pose questions to themselves like, “What can I do to become a top performer?”  When you ask and answer this question, you’ll be on your way to doing the things that other won’t do – and getting the promotions and recognition that they can’t get.

In my opinion, all of this comes down to two words: activity and persistence.  Activity and persistence are my watchwords.  I set some very high goals for myself every year.  I begin each year in high gear and then I kick it into overdrive.  And, I persist until I achieve all of my goals, no matter what.  I am committed to activity and persistence.

Mike Litman has some interesting things to say about activity…

“Activity.  Activity.  Activity.  Too many people are standing still.  Too much pondering, too little action.  Too much scatteredness, too little focus.  Too much talk, too little results.  In 2009, commit to a year filled with activity.  Be 1% more active each day in your business.  Start at 1%.

“Activity.  Activity.  Activity.  When you stand still too long, moving becomes real tough.  Very tough.  Every day, do at least one action that moves you forward.  What I love best about a lot of activity, is that I get to make mistakes and learn what works.  You can do the same.  Activity.  Activity.  Activity.  2009 is about you being more active than you’ve ever been.  Are you in?  Are you ready to commit to a year filled with activity?”

Kevin Eikenberry writes to leaders, but his ideas apply to anyone who wants to create life and career success.  He says…

“Let me be blunt.  We can create and engage in the best leadership skill training, we can create the best leadership development opportunities, and we can provide coaching and mentoring that is outstanding, and yet, if all of these programs and leadership activities don’t include an ongoing persistent process of improvement – a way to instill and inspire persistence – we will fall short of what is possible… Ask yourself today what you can do to create greater persistence in yourself and your organization.  Your answer (and the action taken on that answer) will pay you rich rewards.”

These guys are right!  Activity and persistence will make you an outstanding performer.  And they are the key to putting the advice in Success Tweet 97 to work.  Activity – even 1% more than you currently do – and persistence – fighting through problems and setbacks – will yield positive results in the long term.  But you have to commit to them.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people commit to taking responsibility for their life and career success.  They do whatever it takes to achieve their life and career success goals.  They follow the career advice in Tweet 97 in Success Tweets.  “Today, do the things others won’t do; so tomorrow you can do the things they can’t.”  Be willing to put in the time to prepare so that you can create the life and career success that you want and deserve.  Be active and persistent.  The law of inertia says that a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  That’s why activity is so important.  Once you get moving, it’s easier to stay moving towards your goals.  And it’s easier to persist in the face of problems and setbacks.  To paraphrase Muhammad Ali: “Inside a ring or out, ain’t no shame in going down.  It’s staying down that’s shameful.”  Persistent people don’t stay down; they get back up and keep moving.  Make activity and persistence your watchwords.  You’ll amaze yourself with how much you will accomplish, and the life and career success you will create.

That’s my career advice for today, prompted by New Zealand’s win in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and on career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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