We can't all be first. But we can all be last.

The last to give up on ourselves. 

Success is often a matter of sheer perseverance. When other people give up, when other people falter, when other people stop trying, or compromise their principles or values... the last person left is often the person who wins.

Sure, other people may be smarter, better connected, more talented, or better funded. But they can't win -- in whatever way they choose to define success -- if they aren't around at the end.

Prime example: San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert. A backup running back and special teams specialist at Purdue, he wasn't selected in the 2015 NFL draft.

Then his next few years went like this:

  • Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Eagles.
  • Cut by the Eagles, signed to their practice squad.
  • Signed by the Dolphins, cut by the Dolphins.
  • Signed by the Ravens, cut by the Ravens. Signed by the Browns.
  • Re-signed by the Browns, cut by the Browns.
  • Signed by the Jets, cut by the Jets. 
  • Signed by the Bears, cut by the Bears... who then signed him again, only to cut him again. And then sign him once more, and cut him.

To that point, Mostert was considered to be a kickoff and punt return specialist; while also a running back, he only carried the ball seven times. (In his first three years in the league he also only had 26 returns.)

In short, Mostert was given a chance... but he wasn't really given a chance.

The 49ers signed him in 2016. He spent most of the season on the practice squad, only playing the last game of the season. He played sparingly the next year as well, and in 2018 and even this year was a part, along with Matt Breida and Kevin Coleman, of the 49ers "running back by committee" approach.

Then, in last Sunday's NFC Championship game, Mostert put on one of the most outstanding rushing performances in NFL postseason history: 4 touchdowns and 220 rushing yards. (Only Ricky Watters have scored more touchdowns in a playoff game, and only Eric Dickerson has rushed for more yards in a playoff game.)

Along with Thurman Thomas and Emmitt Smith (both Hall of Famers), he became just the third player to rush for 3 touchdowns and 150 yards in an AFC or NFC Conference Championship game.

And here's the best part: Mostert psyches himself up for games by scanning a list of all the teams that cut him.

"Not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through," Mostert says. "But... I kept the faith not only in myself, but in whoever gave me the opportunity."

In short, Mostert didn't hope for a lucky break. He created his own "luck" by actively seeking to put himself in the right place at the right time -- and being ready to seize an opportunity when it presented itself.

Nothing about my life is lucky. Nothing. A lot of grace, a lot of blessings, a lot of divine order, but I don't believe in luck. For me, luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity. There is no luck without you being prepared to handle that moment of opportunity.

Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for the moment that is to come.

Sometimes it makes sense to give up on ideas, projects, and even businesses -- but it never makes sense to give up on yourself.

Because the past, no matter how difficult, is just training. It doesn't define you. 

Instead, your past prepares you: Providing the skills and experience to overcome setbacks, overcome challenges... and to help build a level of perseverance that allows you to stay the course when others won't.

Or can't.

Plenty of teams gave up on Mostert. But he didn't give up on himself, instead using every single that had ever happened in his life to prepare him for the moment that was to come.

Sometimes, the best way to finish first is to be the last to give up on yourself.