208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com

First a quote: “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.” — Nido Qubein

I begin this morning with a news flash… “Tom Brady has announced his retirement from football!” OK, so maybe that is old news for almost everyone on the planet. 

While I usually avoid sporting metaphors and examples, I was struck this weekend by a couple of story lines that caught my attention and caused my mind to wander.  I began to ponder successful people across many walks of life and what they tend to share or have in common.

One similarity, shared by many successful people, is overcoming significant adversity and difficult circumstances on their path to success.

Most people know Tom Brady won seven Super Bowl titles, for two different teams, in a career spanning more than two decades. But what you may not remember is that six other quarterbacks were selected ahead of Brady in the 2000 NFL draft. In fact, 198 total players were selected before Brady was finally picked in the 6th round by the New England Patriots. Some experts thought he might not even make the final roster.

Tom launched his football career as a fourth string backup behind starter Drew Bledsoe. He only threw three passes his first year in the NFL; and two of those three passes were incompletions. And yet, Tom Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory the following year and went on to earn the nickname of G.O.A.T. (the NFL’s Greatest of All Time!) through 22 plus years of persistence, hard work, a commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.

Brady’s list of NFL accomplishments is impressive; he holds almost every major quarterback record, including: passing yards, completions, touchdown passes, games started, and the most Pro Bowl selections of any NFL player.

“Although no one can go back and make a brand-new start,
anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.”

—Carl Bard

There are certainly many success stories involving unearned, and perhaps undeserved, good fortune, silver spoons, or a charmed life. I suggest, however, most successes involve at least some pain, hardship, drama, setbacks, and a deck stacked the wrong way. Success, for most people, does not come easily or quickly.

The list of unexpected over-achievers is long and impressive. How many people do you know who have overcome immense odds on their path to success?  How many were well into their careers and/or life before success came their way? Here is a short sampling from wide variety of professions and backgrounds for your consideration:

  • US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy all had learning disabilities. Franklin D. Roosevelt had polio and was paralyzed from the waist down as president.
  • Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team and lost his father in a senseless murder.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t begin writing her Little House series of books until the age of 65.
  • Albert Einstein reportedly couldn’t speak until he was four years old and couldn’t get a job in physics for almost two years after his graduation.
  • Viktor Frankl wrote his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning after being in a concentration camp where his wife and family were killed.
  • Oprah Winfrey, often thought of as one of the most influential women in the world, was born into poverty in Mississippi and suffered much hardship early in her life including rape and sexual abuse.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC twice. His movies have grossed more than $9 billion.
  • Stephen King’s first novel was rejected 30 times. Since those first rejections, his books have sold more than 350 million copies.
  • Ray Kroc was 59 years old when he bought his first McDonald’s restaurant from the McDonald brothers.
  • Jay-Z was unable to sign with any record company, so he created his own music powerhouse called Roc-A-Fella Records. He is now worth an estimated $500 million. TIME Magazine placed him on their 2013 Most Influential People in the World list.
  • Abraham Lincoln suffered many well-documented political defeats, a nervous breakdown, and the death of his fiancé on the way to becoming one of the most important Presidents in this country’s history.
  • K. Rowling was a struggling single mother on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter and is one of the world’s most successful authors.
  • Helen Keller overcame the adversity of being both blind and deaf and went on to be one the 20th century’s leading humanitarians.

There are certainly more important things in life than the game of football. And yet, there are lessons to be learned from all aspects of life, including sports and the athletes who play them.  Here is what Tom Brady said in an interview two years ago as the new quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when asked about his mindset starting over with a new team:

“[I think] nothing about last year [or the New England Patriots] … that’s in the past. We have a new experience this year. We have to create our own future. We’re looking ahead. It is all about attitude, effort, and preparation.”

The New England Patriots were now in Tom’s rear view mirror, he was focused on writing the next chapter with a new team; he was focused on the future. I propose that is a lesson that applies to all of us, regardless of our current circumstances.

I’m fond of today’s opening quote, Nido Qubein was correct when he said, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.”

In one sense, today is a “starting line” of sorts for all of us. Today can be where we start our new paths forward from here, wherever here might be.

Get ready… get set… go!

How will you live, love, or lead, differently, or better, this week?



Bryan Yager

“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” — P. Morgan
  • “Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” – Zig Ziglar
  • “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” – Winston Churchill
  • “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
  • “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison
  • “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • “You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.” – Babe Ruth
  • “Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.” – Roy T. Bennett
  • “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot
  • “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
  • “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” – James A. Michener