Henry David Thoreau said, "Men are born to succeed, not to fail." But he was also a weird loner who ran off to the woods and insisted that women wouldn't be able to resist his neckbeard, so we'll take his words with a grain of salt.
Nonetheless, the question of what it takes for one man to succeed and another to fail is one that seems especially relevant these days, when money is a little bit tighter and everyone's a little uncertain about the future.
We talked to people who've managed to achieve the greatest heights of success in their fields, from Eli Manning
to a dude with a drive for free pizza
, to learn what it takes to make it in 2010.
The Football Star: Greatness Is Competition
The first stop on our Greatness Tour 2010 took us to south Florida, where we tracked down Eli Manning as he was about to enter something called a "BodPod" at the Gatorade Performance Labs
at the Super Bowl Media Center the week of the big game.
Eli, who went from being viewed as a bust who was over-drafted because of his last name to a Super Bowl MVP, seemed like an even better person to talk to than his big brother: He'd been called both a success and a failure in his time. What was it that made Eli great?
"In everything I do, I'm very competitive," Eli told Asylum. "Whether it's playing cards, or paper-rock-scissors -- I want to win, I'm gonna have a game plan in everything that I do. I think that's what drives people to excel and reach the next level, is being proud of what they're doing and being competitive about it."
"It's easy to get discouraged at times, but you have to make a commitment to work through it. If you want something bad enough, you'll do anything to get it."
That level of competitiveness may seem extreme, but then, most families haven't produced three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in two generations. Is it just a Manning thing?
"When we're playing a backyard basketball game, it's competitive," Eli laughs, "It doesn't mean anything, there's no money -- you're just competing against your brothers, or your dad, or your pals, and you're trying to win. You're gonna push the guy into the fence if you have to, and if you have to bleed a little bit, you have to bleed a little bit. That's true if you're playing shuffleboard," he says. And that's great for him -- but what about those of us who weren't raised by Archie Manning
The Pizza King: Greatness Is Determination
It may not be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but Seth Mazow has won Austin's Homeslice Pizza "Hands On An Eggplant Sub" contest
for two years running. The contest, which awards the winner a free pizza every time they enter the restaurant for a full year, is patterned after the infamous "Hands on a Hardbody
" endurance competition. Maybe anyone can win a contest like that once, but to do it twice requires an intense dedication.
"The second time, I was competing against, like, a yoga instructor and an ex-Israeli commando. Some really intimidating characters. And there was a guy in a wheelchair -- and the contest is about standing. So I went through some elaborate preparation. I saw an acupuncturist, I did some kidney-strengthening stuff, I practiced standing and not peeing for weeks. I went to pizza twice a day to increase my salt intake and dehydrate my body."
That dedication paid off, as Mazow took the December contest after a grueling 38 1/2 hours. And he explains where his determination came from. "It's hard to stand and not pee for hours at a time, but it's actually fun. It's not fun like Schlitterbahn
-fun, but it's extraordinary, in every sense of the word. I won't remember any other specific 38 1/2 hour period of the past year, but I remember exactly what I was doing for that day and a half."
The Poker Champion: Greatness Is The Unexpected
didn't grow up thinking that he'd end up the 22-year old young gun of Team PokerStars Pro
, but after winning the Main Event at the 2009 World Series of Poker, he was prepared for whatever might happen.
"To picture winning the main event -- the magnitude is still surreal for me. Everything happens so fast. At one point, I was playing dimes and quarters, and winning twenty-five, fifty dollars a day. Then two weeks later, it's fifty cents and a dollar, and you're making a hundred or two-hundred a day. Two months from now, you're playing fives and tens, and you're making a thousand. It's the same win-rate, all that's changed is the different dollar amounts. I got to the point where I was winning and losing between ten and twenty-thousand a day. It doesn't seem real -- it's just like numbers online."
It's embracing those unexpected moments -- and doing so with determination and a strong competitive edge -- that seems to be the key to succeeding.
So What Makes a Great Competitor?
Eli Manning doesn't just want to win, he spends months out of the year proving his determination by constantly practicing. Joe Cada doesn't just respond well to his circumstances, he competes to prove that he's as great as the old-guard players he's learned from. And Seth Mazow doesn't just focus on winning his contest with an iron will, he embraces every oddball opportunity that comes his way.
And if the same skills and mindsets are required to win every prize from the Lombardi Trophy to a whole bunch of pizza to $8.5 million dollars in poker winnings, then they're probably the skills we all need to achieve greatness in whatever we do, too.
Just be careful not to grow any stupid Thoreau beards while you go for it.