My son, Benson, just won a gold medal in a weightlifting competition. He wasn’t even a competitive weight lifter 12 months ago. I’m dumbfounded. How the heck did he do it? What about the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell espoused in his book, Outliers? My son hasn’t been lifting anywhere close to 1,000 hours. So what gives? The only thing I can figure is that it’s his tenacity. He has that in spades.
He has always been an athlete. He started playing soccer at the age of 4, then basketball in elementary school, followed by football, then wrestling and track to fill out his school year with sports. I have to say, he always showed up to win. No matter the odds. The cross town rival high school with kids twice the size of our team and a bench twice as deep, Benson always planned on winning. No matter, he would plan on winning the next game.
So what is the secret to being tenacious? Here is my take.
1. Humility. Tenacity becomes stubbornness with the loss of humility. As written by The Innovative Brain, “We all have experienced the stubborn person, and know from direct experience that stubbornness gradually causes a person, no matter their brilliance, to be marginalized.” I have to say that this is where my son really has developed in the last few years. I can remember lost soccer games when he was about 8 years old and he would be inconsolable. It was almost like he didn’t understand how If he did his best, the team could possibly lose. I don’t remember the tipping point but he has gained humility in recent years. Perhaps it’s maturity, or self-awareness, maybe a coach. Maintain humility.
2. Point B. Benson always knows where point B is. Whether it was qualifying for a state wrestling championships or a gold medal in the state championship track meet. Benson always goes big. You have to have aspirations for tenacity to show up. What’s the point of perseverance if your point B is getting to Friday at the end of the workweek? Benson has had so many audacious goals that if he told me he was going to go on a mission to Mars, I’d believe him. Be very clear about what your point B is and go after it.
3. Work. You can’t just wish things into happening. Tenacity involves a lot of work. Hard work. Rain or shine, my son has been lifting weights for the last 9 months, regardless of the sport. If it’s Wednesday, and therefore practice day, and we are in Key West on vacation, then he’s running sprints at 6 AM. I remember when we were looking at colleges, we would have to stop so that he could do his allotted training in a random college track. “Mommy, it’s Wednesday, I have to work out”. I think he knows every Crossfit location in lower Florida and eastern Carolina. He does the work without fail.
4. Risk. Benson embraces risk. I wasn’t there the first time he lifted 300 pounds over his head but if he wasn’t willing to risk having that barbell fall on his head, then he might as well stay home. Tenacity always involves pursuing something regardless of the risk. This can be dangerous of course. I remember him at the age of 2, running to the deep end of the pool and jumping in (with no one to catch him). When I arrived, I saw his big brown eyes looking up at me. He obviously survived but he’s always been willing to jump. Accept risk.
5. Support. Have a team to support you. Whether it’s a running club for a half marathon or a spouse willing to support you as you pursue nursing school. Tenacity is pointless without strong support. Benson has always managed to find a group or coach or friends for support. Sometimes I think he must cast a spell on those folks. He always has an entourage of supporters. This is lucky for me because, we always get video and photos of his accomplishments (even though we are a twelve hour drive away). He has a gift with people; find yours.
6. Angle. Benson always has an angle of how he’s going to get there. And he’s flexible about how to get there. He wanted his girlfriend to come to our house in North Carolina over winter break. Benson started coordinating and strategizing some 3 months in advance. Dates and modes of transportation and accommodations were moving and changing. But I knew once he said he wanted her to come, that he was going to make it happen. Tenacity is flexible and always has to have a strategy.
7. Inspiration. Benson is inspired by others and inspires others. I remember the Monday after my marathon, Benson tweeted “My inspiration for getting to my 8am today is my Mom’s WDW Marathon 2015. Bucket list item” He texted me right before the weightlifting competition started, “If you’re pulling for me, I can pull this weight”. I have to say that this year I am on a team to walk/run 2015 miles in 2015. I have to walk at least 3 miles a day to stay on track. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, I know I need to get up and get going. My inspiration is my tenacious son. I know he’s showing up and doing the work. I need to as well. Find your inspiration.
8. Own it. As Benson has shared, “My lesson to anyone is play your own game. When wrestling, you can’t let your opponent dictate your game. You’ll end up on your back. I went two years without being pinned, and each of my opponents had to go 6 minutes with me if they really wanted to win. In the 400m, every step counts. Even the last 50m matter, especially when running against Benny. Looking back, I might have crossed 300m first only one time, but I always kept coming through the finish.”
9. Be yourself. Benson again, “That’s why I like the bar. There are a lot of ways to get the bar from the floor to overhead, and you have to craft a form that works best for you. It’s the best training partner too, because it never has a bad day! So showing up and sticking around is easy, because it’s always on my own time, and I play in a way that is uniquely me.” I can imagine that if I told Benson to be a weightlifter or a juggler or a race car driver, it wouldn’t matter. He would not have lifted a finger. It has to come from inside and not from anyone else. Tenacity is about living your own dream.
My son insisted I watch “Survive and Advance“, a documentary on Coach Jimmy Valvano‘s road to the NCAA National Championship. Jimmy V kept telling his dad that he wanted to go to the Final Four in the championship. His dad’s response was always, “My bags are packed”. If you are truly tenacious, you better pack your bags, because you are going somewhere. Are your bags packed?