It's also about some really bad advice -- at least, bad advice for most people.
Let's back up. I'm convinced that smart leaders in just about any field can learn a lot by deconstructing Brady's success. It's the entire point behind my free e-book, Tom Brady Always Wins: 10 Success Lessons From the G.O.A.T., which you can download here for free.
But as Brady sets out to extend his record for playing in the most Super Bowls (10) and perhaps winning his seventh, it's clear that he's the exception to a widely repeated rule. It goes like this:
First, well-meaning people often advise that if you want to be successful in life, you should follow your passion.
Second, revisionists point out, and with good reason: Following your passion, at least in a vacuum, is terrible advice. Passion for what you do is nice and all, but there's no guarantee that any particular passion actually contains a road to success and happiness.
Finally, enter Brady, who at age 43 is proving he's the exception. Overcoming great odds, and threading the needle of success in perhaps a unique way, he's actually achieved success by following his passion.
There are a lot of places to start this story, let's just note that Brady was actually drafted to play baseball before football. But he turned down a signing bonus and a projected All-Star career to follow his true passion: football.
Brady's not the only exception to the follow-your-passion-is-bad-advice rule, of course. But his paradox is now written in sharp relief, because of three things:
- the level of his success,
- the degree to which unwavering focus has basically become his brand, and finally,
- because he's been so vocal at every stage of his game about his passion.
Let me give an example. It goes back two years, after the last time Brady won a Super Bowl, when he was still with the New England Patriots, beating the Los Angeles Rams. I noticed one thing in particular after the game, how Brady greeted almost every teammate, opposing player, coach -- heck, even the owners -- with the same word: love.
- To a wide receiver on the Rams: "Love you, man. Love you."
- To an opposing running back: "I love you, dude. I love you, dude."
- To Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots: "I love you."
At the time, I thought, wow, this is unusual. I get that Brady had literally just won the Super Bowl, but a lot of people -- a lot of men, in particular -- aren't so quick to use the L-word.
I sensed there was a lot of power in it. But this season, after Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and as he reflected more vocally on the fact that even though he's at the top of his game, he's a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, I noticed something else.
It's that, more than expressing love for other players, perhaps what he really cares for is their passion. We've seen example after example over the past little while.
- When an opposing player spent the entire week before a big game calling Brady out, Brady replied by literally giving him the shirt off his back.
- When a teammate improved his performance to get close to a key milestone, he kept throwing him the ball.
- When he was singled out for praise at the end of the NFC Championship, he called off the interview and pushed his teammates to the front.
Of all things, however, it was an interview Brady gave this week, in which he talked about his relationship with teammate Antonio Brown -- whom Brady pushed his team to sign, and then let stay with him and his family in their house -- that made it suddenly click.
It really came down to these few words:
Antonio and I connected right away He has a great love for the game. He's a real perfectionist about how he plays, how he takes care of himself. Incredible football IQ. Again, a great skillset just as a player, and I think made incredible strides over the last 12 months to get from where he was at to where he's at now.
(Quick backstory on Brown, in case you don't follow football: He's a highly talented player who has had off-the-field problems including allegations of sexual assault, which he denies. However, he was suspended for the first eight games of this season, before he signed with the Buccaneers.)
I've written before about Brady's ability to tune out everything else from his life besides football and his family. It's interesting to imagine that this carries into his relationships with teammates.
Again, I'm not advocating that people try to follow in Brady's footsteps, exactly.
For every Brady who was able to follow their passions to become an NFL quarterback (to say nothing of becoming the greatest of all time), there are many others for whom it was a dead end.
And we can sit back and list all of the lucky breaks that had to fall into place for Brady even to get the opportunities to shine.
But I think the bottom line is that when it comes to following their passions, most people know, deep in their gut, whether they're the rule or the exception. Which one are you?