Once again the sporting world has acted out an important life lesson for us to see – this time, to the delight of Atlanta Falcons fans.
You could feel the apprehension in the Georgia air last week, as the Falcons prepared to take on the red-hot Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the National Football League playoffs. In the media and on the streets, folks were expecting the worst. We kept hearing over and over that this team, and in particular its quarterback Matt Ryan, had yet to win a playoff game despite being great in the regular season the last few years.
It seemed as if that self-defeating prophecy was about to come true after Seattle took the lead Sunday with some 30 seconds left, after Atlanta had led the entire game.
But Ryan rallied the Falcons to an improbable 30-28 win on a field goal with 8 seconds left.
Even then Atlanta appeared doomed: The ensuing kickoff was bungled, and Seattle was put in position for a last-second score. But Atlanta escaped with the win.
Ryan and his team have had to endure second-guessing and self-doubt these last few years as a chorus of skeptics has chanted the usual refrain about not being able to win the big one. That narrative was put to the test Sunday as never before – but with determination and faith, was also put to rest.
That seems to be life’s way. Anyone who seeks great achievement must drown out the doubt and plow through seemingly endless fields of adversity.
The easiest thing in the world is to give up on a dream, especially when the road is tough, the deck seems stacked and the carpers are carping their dubious doubts.
The phenomenon of success has been scientifically studied over the years, cut open no less than the biology class frog. What they’ve learned is that success has more to do with conviction, planning, persistence and action than with fate or innate ability. Or, as motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson puts it, people are successful “not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.”
The author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, Halvorson writes about the importance of grit – which she defines as “a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.”
Athletes such as Matt Ryan and his Atlanta teammates are doing more than playing games and entertaining us. They’re pursuing dreams, and at the same time showing us how to pursue our own great ambitions.
On Sunday, you saw how to never give up – and how to believe in yourself and your dreams even when others around you do not.
Believe in yourself. Don’t accept someone else’s view of your destiny. Decide what you want to do in life, put together a sound but flexible plan and take action.
“Remember,” Halvorson writes, “you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.”
Matt Ryan and the Falcons are the same people they were last week. It’s just that the world will look at them differently now.
And it’s because of how they looked at themselves.