Today, on the first day of a new month, as well as the first day on my new job, I wanted to share a story with you. It’s the story of Eric, but more importantly, it’s a story of you and me. Yesterday, during my morning run, I realized there’s an Eric in me. And in you.
A short introduction before I start. Before I applied for a job in consulting, I subscribed to Victor Cheng’s newsletters. Victor Cheng is a former consultant (his CV includes McKinsey, AT Kearney, Bain and Monitor – for those not familiar with these companies: a general feeling of being impressed is an appropriate response), and famous for being “the case interview God” and a mentor to aspiring consultants. Whether or not this is close to your everyday life, I’m still convinced this blog post is 100% relevant for all of us.
Anyhow, on the 26th of February, I received another newsletter from Victor Cheng, titled “the story of Eric” (*). In a nutshell, Eric is a boy with no particular talents for sports, yet he goes out and kicks ass time after time on the football field. Similarly, he’s wasn’t the best in his class, yet he managed to graduate from Harvard, Magna Cum Laude. Today, he’s made partner in a top consulting firm.
What’s so relatable to me, is that I never really was best in anything. I was rather bad in most sports even. And I can confirm: yes, it sucks every time I join my boyfriend for any sports (whether it’s running, swimming, bodyweight exercises or whatever), he’s at least twice as good in it. For example, after a year of frequent runs, I finally got the impression I was getting better -and I probably was. Joining my boyfriend during yesterday’s run (which is his third run in a years time), I again felt very disappointed: “Why am I still so bad compared to him?”
As for being smart: I’m smart, but there’s plenty of people reading this blog post being brilliant. I grew up with a intellectual gifted (literally) twin sister (and, no kidding, because of that, I only realized at University that I’m actually not stupid).
But you know what? Despite me not being the most gifted sportswoman in the world, I’m still doing it. I’m going 100% for it: I’m strictly adhering to my half-marathon scheme. And I’m 100% convinced I’ll be able to do it in a few months. So yes, I felt disappointed when running with my boyfriend, but this should make me even more proud. I just keep going, despite the hardship, despite the disappointments.
And despite me not being number 1 of my class, I’m going 100% for my dreams. I’m putting in all efforts to get where I want to be. I was able to move to Switzerland last year and today I’m starting a new job. And again I will put in hard work and will go 100% for it. And I’m convinced I will make it work. Because I believe that a hardworking attitude ALWAYS prevails over just skills.
This then leads me to Victor Cheng’s magical phrase: “Why not us?” If I’m able to go out and kick ass, in fields I’m not especially talented for, then why shouldn’t you get up and start chasing your dreams right now?
(*) Victor Cheng’s story of Eric
When I was 14 years old, I was in my first year of high school. Eric, a friend of mine, and I were sitting near the edge of campus one day looking at the (American) football team on its first day of practice. We stood there quietly for a long time.
We stared at the team; we looked at each other; we looked back at the team.
I know he and I were thinking the same thing:
1) I am a nerd, I have no business playing football.
2) Football is for the popular kids, and I’m SO not one of the popular kids
3) I’m tiny. Those seniors (4th years) are HUGE. They probably outweigh me by 50 lbs (20kg).
4) I can’t run
5) I can’t catch
6) I’m not very strong
7) I’m not very tall
8) I’m not very heavy
I looked at Eric. He was even smaller than I was. He was probably 100 lbs (45kg) lighter than the biggest player on the team and 18″ shorter (45cm).
We looked at each other and suddenly we both knew what the other was thinking. We both wanted to play, but we were afraid to go for it.
After what seemed like an hour, we both finally manned up and asked each other, “So you wanna go for it?”
I said, “Why Not?”
And he said, “Yeah… why not us?”
And at that moment we both decided we were going to be (American) football players.
Even though this conversation was decades ago, I still remember those magical words…. “Why not us?”
Those words would change the rest of our lives.
It was the day we both decided to do what WE wanted, not just what others expected from us, our status in life, or our position in the high school “society.”
We were going to go for it even if we would get knocked on our backs everyday (which did happen), were run over (that happened too), got stepped on (yup, that too) and pretty much became live hitting dummies for the bigger players.
Of all my friends in high school, I deeply ADMIRED Eric the most. He was not the smartest, strongest or most talented kid in school. On the football team, he was both the shortest and the lightest and probably the weakest too.
But there were two things you could always count on Eric for:
1) He would NEVER quit… no matter how bad things got, no matter how much physical humiliation he endured, he would just never quit.
2) He NEVER complained… not a single time.
One time he went head to head against a teammate who was at least 100lb (45kg) heavier than him. He got knocked backwards, flew completely in the air and landed on has back 6 feet BEHIND (2 meters) where he started from. I was standing nearby and I could hear the THUD of his body colliding with the ground. Even then he didn’t complain.
3) He used EVERYTHING he had.
He basically got pummeled everyday for 4 years. He kept showing up anyways. He would usually play the role of the opposing team. This allowed the starting team someone to practice against. I was on the starting team, and basically we just pounded the heck out of him daily.
He worked hard to give the starting team as realistic a practice opponent as his puny little body could deliver.
By the end of 4 years, he had achieved something very significant. While he did not play much in games, he had earned the respect of every player on the team.
This was just how Eric lived life.
In his home life, none of his parents, uncles, aunts, brothers or sisters had gone to college.
What Eric did on the football field, he also did in the classroom. He was never the best (but always close), but he put 100% of what he had into his school work.
In every respect, in every domain, Eric had something that would stay with him his whole life.
He had the WINNER’S ATTITUDE.
When college admissions came around, Harvard University accepted him.
I wasn’t surprised.
Later, I learned he graduated from Harvard, Magna Cum Laude (near the top of his class).
I wasn’t surprised then either.
If I recall correctly, at Harvard, he joined the Harvard/MIT ROTC program. In exchange for joining the U.S. Navy, the government would pay for much or all of his Harvard tuition. When he graduated, he served on a submarine (I think) as a nuclear engineer. Yes, the U.S. government trusted him with its nuclear material.
I wasn’t surprised by that either.
When he left the Navy, he went to Wharton. After he got his MBA, he went to work at one of the top 7 consulting firms in the U.S.
Once again, I wasn’t surprised.
And the reason I mention this story is because a few months ago, Eric made “partner” at his firm.
Like everything he has accomplished, I wasn’t surprised by that either. At every step of the way, he EARNED his success.
But the real reason I admire Eric is because even though he started with very little, he was always willing to USE IT ALL to see how far he could go in everything he did.
I have written previously about the difference between perfection and excellence. Perfection is trying to attain the impossible — a mythical standard (usually set by others) that is beyond human. Excellence is about achieving the absolute most you can achieve given what you have to work with.
While he never achieved perfection, in my mind, Eric epitomizes EXCELLENCE.
I have been absolutely thrilled by his success ever since we were friends as kids.
Most people think you are successful when you accomplish something specific — obtain a specific degree, get a specific job offer, earn a specific level of income. For many years, I thought this way too.
However, I’ve come to realize I was wrong about all that.
Success is a way of BEING. It is a set of DAILY CHOICES.
I think back to that day when Eric and I decided, “Why not us?”
That moment epitomizes a series of choices he’s made daily for decades.
Today, most people recognized his status as partner at LEK as THE achievement of his career. But, I know better.
He became successful, as a way of life, the day he and I said, “Why not us?”
THAT decision was when he choose success. He decided to live the life of success, and he immediately WAS successful — his achievements just took some time to catch up.
If you too would like to be successful, the process is simple.
Just DECIDE to be successful.
Make the choice.
Put in the work. (Disclosure: It is NOT easy.)
Focus on the PROCESS of success — just as Eric did.
Then don’t worry about the achievements. They will come when they do, as they are just natural consequences of the choices you make.
The key is to DECIDE and then willingly embrace all that your choice entails.