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  • James McNeil

What Walter Payton and Babe Ruth can teach us about finding the greatness within you

“Failure is the mother of success.” (Chinese Proverb)


I am a football fan. All it takes is one look at me to understand why I’m a fan and not a player, but I am a definite fan. I don’t qualify for “superfan” by any stretch of the imagination, however. You will not see me shirtless with my team colors painted on my body and a huge foam finger at the game. You’re welcome. But I do enjoy watching the game of football, and even more than when my team wins, I enjoy watching a good competitive game.

With that in mind, I also believe that football (as well as many other sports) can teach us a lot about life. For example, let’s take a look at one of the greatest running backs to ever play, Walter Payton. Walter Payton was 5’10” and he weighed in at just over two hundred pounds, a relative lightweight for a professional football player. However, he the impact he had on the game is still being felt today.

In his thirteen year career, Walter Payton was able to amass a staggering 16,000 yards in rushing (running with the football). This is in addition to his impressive totals with receiving yards as well as even backing up the quarterback and passing the ball on occasion.

With a total of 16,000 yards in rushing, it would give the impression that once Walter Payton got his hands on the football, he was unstoppable. And with a run of 76 yards, that would certainly seem to back that impression up. But I would like to encourage you to take another look at Walter Payton. He amassed a huge number of yards, but his average was four yards per carry. That means on average, every time he was handed the ball, he ran for four yards before being knocked down. And he did so a few thousand times.

Walter Payton did not give up, no matter how many times he was knocked down. As a result, today he is viewed as one of the greatest football players of all time. Would he have achieved those accolades if he had given up after he was knocked down the first time? Or maybe after his first season? He spent thirteen years getting knocked down every four yards he carried the football on the way to a hall of fame career because he did not stop.

Walter Payton is not the only example of perseverance paying off. Crossing from football to baseball, we can find another in Babe Ruth. A man well known for his seemingly eternal homerun record in professional baseball, he is somewhat lesser well known for another nickname that followed him around for years. He wasn’t known as a homerun king, but rather “the King of Strikeouts.”

The future record holder for homeruns led the American league in strikeouts more than a couple of times, and over his career struck out over one thousand, three hundred times. Imagine what it was like for him. He had left a promising career as a pitcher to focus on his batting ability, and he was failing over and over. How did he overcome these repeated failures to hold the record for most homeruns; a record that stood for decades?

How would you? It’s somewhat easier for us looking back to know that Ruth was destined for greatness. It’s much harder looking at our own failures to believe that we are as well. No, you may not be an all-time leading rusher like Walter Payton, and you may not be a world record holding baseball player like Babe Ruth. But you do have greatness within you. Just as their failures did not define them, your failures do not define you.

Moving beyond past failures is just one of the obstacles covered in Finding Your Personal Mission, available on Amazon and Audible. Pick up your copy today and buy a copy for a friend struggling with failure.


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