Lessons Learned From The Chronically Successful

July 29, 2011

Michael B. Jordan played Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights.

Few things interest me more than those blessed few who consistently find success, even when it’s not entirely based on their own merit. I’m not talking about people who ride coattails and leech off the success of others. Maybe what I’m thinking about isn’t even luck. Some have the uncanny ability to know their role, find a fit and consistently execute what’s asked of them. It’s as if they’re chronically successful.

The most obvious examples of success come from the worlds of sports and entertainment:

Adam Vinatieri — A placekicker from South Dakota State University, Vinatieri signed with New England Patriots in 1996 as an undrafted free agent. During Super Bowl XXXVI, Vinatieri booted a 48-yard game-winning field goal as time expired, giving the Patriots their first championship in the franchise’s 41-year history. Two years later, he did it again with a 41-yard game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Ignored by Division I colleges and undrafted, Vinatieri added a third Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI and will surely have a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame someday.

Robert Horry — In 17 NBA seasons, Horry averaged just seven points per game, which is equal to how many NBA championships he won. Just nine players in league history have accumulated seven title rings and Horry is the only one of them to not play for the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s. He earned the nickname “Big Shot Rob” by hitting several crucial shots throughout his career, but Horry will never be credited for winning titles on his own. He always picked the right teams and contributed when he was most needed.

Hugo Weaving — In 1999, Weaving was virtually unknown. By 2003, the Australian actor had starred in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies, which combined to gross nearly $4.5 billion worldwide. The two movies were filmed at similar times, and Weaving very easily could’ve chosen one over the other. Instead, he played central roles in some of the most famous movies of a generation.

Michael B. Jordan — At age 15, Jordan played teenage drug dealer Wallace on HBO’s critically acclaimed drama The Wire. At age 22, he landed the role of Vince Howard, star quarterback of the East Dillon Lions on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Though he may have benefited from the use of a pseudonym, Jordan has played poignant roles in two of the most heralded TV series of all time.

Your circumstances may be different, but there’s plenty to be learned from these guys.

First off, know your context. Are you a leader? Are you a role player? Is your duty small, but critical? Do people look in your direction when times is short and odds are long? Know what and when you’re expected to deliver.

Second, always put yourself in a position to succeed. The most important part of any plan is the start. Horry never wins if he never chooses to player for the Rockers, Lakers and Spurs. Weaving could’ve passed on The Matrix. Find something you believe in and play a vital role in the project’s success.

Finally, there’s no recipe for success — everyone must make it their own way. If there was a single blueprint for success, everyone would follow it. Vinatieri could’ve grown discouraged after going undrafted. Instead, he focused and improved to become the greatest NFL placekicker of all time. Whenever success arrives, it’s right on time. There’s no fast or slow way to get there — just get there.