I am living proof that if you outwork everyone else, you can make up for what you might lack in talent. Everybody's got skill. I tell my team that all the time. But you've got to make your will stronger than that of any of those guys you're playing against.
I was ignored in the 1977 draft because a lot of the NFL scouts believed I was too slow to play in the league. The first spring at San Diego State, I ran a 4.6 40-which is like running a 2-hour mile, almost. The coaches thought there was something wrong with the watch, but I kept running 4.6s. My coach, Claude Gilbert, was resigned to the fact that 'that kid can't run.' I knew I was slow (well, it was tough for me to admit it) but I made up for my lack of speed by being smarter. I played the angles, and I was amazing at anticipating where the play was going, which meant that I could get myself there in time to make the play. One day in practice with the Eagles, I broke up seven passes in a row. I hollered back at Dick Vermeil and said, 'Keep 'em coming, coach. I'll be here all night long.' And I meant it.
With the Jets, our quarterback, Chad Pennington, knew early on that he wanted to be a quarterback, but he also knew that he wasn't the most mobile guy on the planet. He also knew that he didn't have Vinny Testaverde's arm or Michael Vick's legs, he told me, so he knew that he had to find other ways to get the job done. His father tells a story about Chad when he was a junior in high school in Knoxville, Tennessee, and how Chad got up at chapel service and told the congregation he knew how hard he would have to work if he was going to be good enough to play football in college. Nothing came easy for him.
The University of Tennessee asked him to walk on, but Chad chose to go to Marshall University instead and became a starter with a guy named Randy Moss on the receiving end. He did it by outworking everybody else on that roster, and that's how he came to be our starter, too.
Sitting back, waiting in the wings, he studied Testaverde's every move and asked infinite questions about the game: different coverages, different plays. He worked on the physical and mental sides of what it takes to be a successful quarterback. His father says that at Marshall, Chad took the most challenging classes with the most demanding professors and finished with a 3.8 GPA. I knew we were dealing with someone who met challenge prepared and head on.
Chad got his first start five games into his third season, and he quickly established himself as one of the premier young quarterbacks in the league. At one point that first season, he led the league in completion percentage and ranked second in passer ratings. The list read like this: Marc Bulger, St. Louis; Chad Pennington, NY Jets; Rich Gannon, Oakland; Brett Favre, Green Bay; Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo. Not bad company for a first-year guy.
He didn't do it by raw athletic ability. He willed it to happen.
I was once told a story about Antonio Stradivari, a seventeenth-century violin maker. He believed that to make a violin less than his best would be to rob God. He was right. God could not make Stradivarius violins without Antonio, and Antonio knew that he owed it to God and himself to be the best.
If what you want to become is worth pursuing, it is worth pursuing with all your heart and might. If you want to land that big promotion, arrive early and stay late. Do things that nobody else is doing. Go to things that your company says aren't required. Take an interest in other aspects of the company. Develop new skills while you hone the ones you already have. Ask questions. Find out what qualities seem to be the most important for that promotion. Talk to people. Collect business cards. Follow up with calls.
There are many business success stories out there about someone coming from nothing to become something great simply because he put in extra elbow grease every day. Jimmy Carter started out as a peanut farmer. Arte Moreno, who bought the California Angels a year ago, started out building billboards. Their skills didn't necessarily lend themselves to becoming successful in their respective businesses and then achieving their later goals. They simply wanted and worked toward their goals harder than anyone else.
I can teach you to tackle. I can teach you to run. But I can't teach you how hard to tackle or how fast to move your legs. I can read a book about love and relationships, but the book isn't going to be the one making the effort to do things better at home. It has to be inside you.