There's a scene in the film Up in the Air where George Clooney's character, Ryan while firing J.K. Simmons's character, Bob realizes he isn't buying the platitudes spouted upon him, and helps him see inspiration in his unexpected transition...

Ryan: "You know why kids love athletes?"

Bob: "I don't' know because they screw lingerie models."

Ryan: "No, that's why WE love athletes. Kids love athletes because they follow their dreams."

(full clip here).

While many of us won't ever be able to dunk from a free-throw line, or hit a 97 mph fastball out of Yankee Stadium, being witness to such actions ignites a fire inside us. It opens our eyes as wide as a child, and invites the roar of the crowd into our hearts as fuel for our own personal dreams.

I witnessed this first-hand when I took my nephew Nico to the Yankees game over Memorial Day weekend. His anticipation was heightened before we even stepped foot into the stadium, as he was waiting patiently on his front porch step (in full Yankees garb) as I pulled into the driveway to pick him up. When we walked into the ballpark and started to see the lights and hear the cheers, pure magic occurred. As nine men in pursuit of their dreams took the field, like Nico, I too, became six-years-old. His face, my feeling, and their dream, inspired me.

As entrepreneurs, we may not share the likeness of an athlete's physical prowess, but we can certainly relate to their passion and learn from their pursuance to follow their dreams. Here's how they do it...

They defy odds.

Whether it's a modest upbringing, a career-threatening injury, or a classic underdog scenario, athletes are out to prove skeptics wrong. Fueled by non-believers, they possess the ability to overcome adversity like no other. Where others see fear, they see symbolism of what they want, and go for it.

They sacrifice.

Being an athlete is a lifestyle that consumes every aspect of your life-- your free time, your body, and for some early on, your collegiate experience as a kid. In Kobe Bryant's recent documentary "Muse", he discusses the epitome of sacrifice when asked about "greatness"...

"...If you want to be great at something, there's a choice you have to make. We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. There are sacrifices that come along with making that decision."

They have one option.

One of my favorite quotes by legendary football Coach Vince Lombardi is...

"if it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?"

This sentiment encapsulates the game of life for an athlete. They are so dedicated to making their dream of winning a reality that they banish any possibility of a backup plan from their mind. Thoughts like "if it doesn't work, I'll try something else, etc." simply don't exist. Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is the ultimate success stratagem; and a pattern found in everyone from Edison to Einstein, and Manning to Mantle. If you want the power to follow your dreams, you must say no to all the alternatives.

They see life as a game.

Let's face it, at its core, every sport is a game. And if athletes are lucky enough, they get paid to play. Having this vision and approach to life opens up space for playfulness and creativity, and eliminates limitation. A gamification approach to life also cultivates qualities of resilience, and confidence, and an appetite for risk--critical for advancement.

In that same scene, Clooney's character Ryan goes on to describe himself to Bob as his "wake-up call", and his firing as a "rebirth"...

Ryan: "How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?"

Bob: (mumbles shamefully) "$27k a year."

Ryan: "And when were you going to stop, and come back and do what makes you happy?"

Bob: "Good question."

As you ponder your own dreams in business and in life, use this time to create your own wakeup call, and channel the fire of the inner athlete (and six-year-old) that exists inside us all. While your personal game of life awaits, remember...

...the best dreams happen, when you're awake.

Published on: Jun 7, 2015