I recently had the opportunity to speak to a local high school football team as they prepared for the upcoming season. As I reflected on what I wanted to say, I remembered moments when former players spoke at events or practice while I was playing and how much that meant to me. Each perspective was something I could not only use in football, but also in life. I wanted to be sure I something that would be just as impactful.
Seven Steps to Success
Over the years through countless hours of research and even more hours of trial and error, I developed seven steps to success. These steps worked for me and hopefully will help you as well. This plan was developed from the struggles I created for myself and also ones that were created for me. From these struggles I learned that I can think more critically, communicate more clearly and make informed decisions. Initially these things were taught to me by my late father and then reinforced and tweaked through researching and modeling others and their success.
So here are my seven steps to success. I’ve provided 2 examples for each — one relates to my initial goal of punting in the NFL; the other to my business career founding LTS Education Systems (acquired by K12 Inc. in April 2016) and healthcare investment business Princeton Capital Partners.
1) Pick a huge goal.
Don’t pick their goal, pick your goal. Own it by writing it down and visualize it every day.
Punting: At 15 I decided that I wanted to be an NFL punter. Everyone laughed because I am only 5 feet 9 inches tall and was not a very good punter even in high school. But I never wavered from that goal.
Business: At 34 I left a lucrative healthcare IT career and founded an education company because I wanted to help students to learn by creating exciting and highly motivating educational video games. I had no experience in the education industry but had a clear vision of where I wanted to go.
2) Become the smartest person in the room. Research, read and develop a plan or process to reach your goals.
Punting: I spent hours and hours watching TV and taping all the games I could on an old VHS recorder so I could learn how the great NFL and SEC punters did it. Contacting numerous professional punters and college punters, I asked them tons of questions, and even traveled to visit with the ones who would let me. I discovered that leg speed, strength and explosiveness were key traits so I trained my body in those areas. Spending 30 minutes everyday visualizing great punts trained my brain to be successful and overcome any pressure I might feel in big games. I studied every single aspect of punting to give myself the best opportunity for success, and I continued that research throughout my career.
Business: I contacted every person that would spend time with me, read every book and article I could find, and even sought out non-traditional aspects of the space to see if I could bring something to the business that no one else ever had. Most importantly, I spent time with customers (teachers) and users (students) aggressively listening to how we could improve their experience. After starting the business, the rest of the great ideas about the products came from those interviews. If you listen, customers and the market will provide you the road map for success. But you have to listen every single day to every single conversation.
3) What you focus on is what you become.
Map out daily, weekly, monthly goals from your plan. Move your focus to those daily goals, visualize them daily and monitor your progress and celebrate each small achievement.
Punting: I learned quickly that if you focus too much only on the long term goal, like getting into the NFL, you can become overwhelmed and discouraged. I created monthly, weekly and even daily goals for every aspect of my game. On Sunday night I would write out the week’s plan and have a definitive goal for that Friday. It helped me to stay focused and really master the foundational techniques, knowing that the big picture would come together if I got the little things right.
Business: Today in my healthcare investment firm, I have weekly and daily goals. Each day I try to learn about a new company, a new aspect of a healthcare sector or a unique feature of a product or business. Focusing on the smallest of details can often lead to major discoveries. Each week I plan this out and this helps me to clearly see that even though we may not make an investment, we are making progress toward our goals.
4) People will tell you that you can’t. Those are not your people.
Do not listen to anyone who is not supporting your goal. Remove them from your environment and only use them as fuel.
Punting: When I was younger I was initially disappointed and disheartened by the reaction of others. They laughed at me, questioned me and provided zero support. I didn’t understand why an adult wouldn’t be supportive of a kid trying to reach a seemingly unattainable dream. Later in life I realized that their reaction was not about me, but rather how they viewed themselves. Their insecurities were at the forefront of their behavior toward me, and it was key to remove them from my life. Some of these folks in your life might be very close friends, or even relatives — but you have to remove any negative attitudes from your life.
Business: A similar, but maybe even more complex situation occurred in my education business. When you’re older and have a family you have responsibilities beyond yourself. You take a risk but inevitably there will be challenges and difficulties and you don’t want that to impact your family. When it does impact them, it hurts at a much a deeper level, but you have to push that aside and stay focused and positive. Don’t let the detractors near you and don’t listen to them. Stay positive. This is admittedly much easier said than done.
5) Fall in love with practice and the process. Enjoy the journey.
Punting: For some reason, this one has always been very easy for me. I love practice, I like being alone, I like sweating and working hard. Any great artist, painter, musician, athlete, scientist, etc. will spend a great deal of time alone and working on their craft. Finding a way to enjoy practice improves the journey.
Business: Reading and thinking have been key aspects to my success in business. I’m constantly thinking about where the business and industry is going and how I can use this to better position myself for success.. Taking time alone to honestly reflect and analyze your situation is critical.
6) Don’t ask “why is this happening to me?” Ask “what is this trying to teach me?”
Seek out, expect and embrace the challenges that will come, and use them as opportunities for growth.
Punting: I walked on at the University of Tennessee and was told that I wasn’t good enough to play there. I was crushed but took a step back and accepted the setback and criticism, and then decided I would use this as fuel in furthering my resolve to play in the NFL.
After transferring to Auburn, my father suddenly passed away. I was devastated, but again, used the setback to further my effort to make it. At that point I started to look for these setbacks and challenges and whenever they showed up, quickly turning them into teachable moments to help me grow. It is not easy, but if you can embrace the challenges and face them as teaching moments rather than run from them they will become incredibly valuable.
Business: There have been thousands of instances where I’ve had setbacks in business. My experience in the education business challenges ultimately dealt with two factors: were students and teachers benefiting from the program? And were we solving the right problems?
Initially we were lucky. When we had major a setback, something positive would happen in a school that would tell us, this is working, keep going. Later, I would actively seek these positive aspects out and travel to schools and spend time with teachers. Something negative would happen in one area, but then I would go to a school and hear or see all the great feedback and know that we needed to listen to the problem and use it to ultimately create the one of the most unique online education programs in the K12 space.
7) You are the sum total of what you eat, drink, and the people you surround yourself with.
Exercise, diet and supportive people matter greatly. Despite being last of the seven steps to success, this one is not to be overlooked.
Punting: This seems obvious now, but back in the 80’s there wasn’t nearly as much information about diet’s impact on performance. What you eat can be as important as anything else in physical performance.
Business: It seems counterproductive to leave the office so you can go work out, or actually write down what you are going to eat each week. But those habits are huge. I have had my best ideas for new features or solutions to big challenges while working out. Something happens to your mind and body when you work out. No matter how stressed you are at work, make time to work out.
There are many plans like this available today. I encourage you to read them all and then create your own. There is no single correct approach. My plan above might change as I learn more from others, including you. Good luck in your journey, whether it be in athletics or in business, and please post helpful tips on this blog so we all can become better.