Stephen Covey changed lives. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People alone sold millions of copies and changed countless lives.
Oddly enough, one of those lives belongs to Steve Young, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, ESPN football analyst, and co-founder of HGGC, a private equity firm that specializes in acquiring majority stakes in enterprise software companies worth between $300 million to $500 million.
In 1991, Young was in his fourth year as a San Francisco 49er -- and playing behind Joe Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Young was frustrated by his lack of playing time, by the expectations of the fans when he did play, by the constant comparisons to Montana... as he says in his excellent book, QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, "Nothing I did was good enough. Joe had won four Super Bowls. I was in an impossible situation.
Then one day he found himself sitting beside Covey on a flight to Utah. He shared his situation with Covey, even though he "felt like a whiner venting all of this. But Covey listened.
Then he started asking questions. Here's how Young describes it in his book:
"Now, Joe's still on the team, right?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said. "That's part of the problem."
"I understand," he said. "But you get to ask him questions, right? In other words, he'll mentor you?"
"Well, yeah," I said.
"And the Forty-Niners are one of the better organizations in football?"
"The gold standard," I said.
"And Mike Holmgren, your coach from BYU, is one of the best, right?"
"Best quarterback coach in the league," I said.
He paused for a moment. "I think you may be looking at your situation the wrong way," he said.
"What do you mean?"
He explained that he traveled the world in search of organizations that created opportunities for employees to become the best. "I gotta be honest with you, Steve," he said. "I don't know that I've seen an organization better than this one."
I was intrigued.
"If I understand your situation with the Forty-niners correctly," he continued, "you arena the one place in the NFL where you can find out just how good you can get."
Now he really had my attention.
"And few people in the world get to find out how good they are at one thing," he said. "They are stuck somewhere in life where they don't have the opportunity or the platform to find out."
I had never looked at it like that.
"So here's the question," he said. "Do you want to find out how good you can get?"
"Yeah, I do."
"I mean some people are just afraid to find out," he said.
"No. I absolutely want to find out."
"Then go do it," he said. "Good luck."
I'm a big Star Wars fan, and this was a Yoda moment. My axis had just flipped.
Success is inevitable only in hindsight. It's easy to look back on another person's path to greatness and assume that every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion.
It wasn't. Success is never assured. Only in hindsight does it appear that way.
Maybe you think the odds are against you. Maybe you think the path you've chosen is too hard. Maybe you think you may not be good enough.
Stop thinking that way. Stop measuring yourself against other people. Stop measuring yourself against what think you deserve, or against the opportunities you think you should have.
Pick a goal and measure yourself against that goal -- that is the only comparison that matters. Strive to be the best, at whatever you choose, that you can possibly be. Define success your way, and then work to achieve your definition of success.
Then, no matter what you else you achieve, you'll be successful... because yours will be a life well lived.