There’s something odd that any sports fan has probably observed: After a team wins a championship, they become a much better team, even if they’re actually the same or worse.
In football especially, it’s not uncommon for a team to win the Super Bowl that is probably not the best team in the league all around. A team can get hot, get lucky, face weak opponents, or have a few fluke or special teams plays that propel them through the playoffs and even to a trophy. If NFL teams played a series instead of single win-or-go-home games, many a champion would never have made it that far. But something amazing happens after an underdog wins a title. The team actually becomes better. Not by new player acquisition, and not even necessarily because of more chemistry or practice. There’s something transformative about winning that fundamentally alters team DNA. Winners become winners.
It’s true that positive thinking and believing you are a winner before you are is important. But that’s hope, and hope is not the same as knowing. There is a kind of knowledge – my friend used to call it “knowing with your knower” – that you just have or you don’t. It gives you swagger. It gives you poise. You’re in on something few others are.
I’ve spent a good bit of time around successful entrepreneurs, and I always love asking them their startup stories, how the run their business, why they’ve succeeded, and so on. They always have amazing stories and insights, but there is always some way in which I just can’t quite access some level of knowledge they have. They always seem to know more than they say. It’s because that part of their knowledge can’t just be given. It was earned, and only those who have earned the same can understand it. When they do, words are hardly necessary. A knowing glance can convey much. “Yeah, I’ve been through the trenches and survived. I can see you have too.”
I observed something similar last year when going through the death of two close family members. It was heart-wrenching stuff. Everyone was wonderful with comfort and condolences, but there was something special about the few who had also suffered through the untimely death of a loved one. Eye contact alone was sufficient to communicate that they, too, knew. Something changes in you when a loved one dies. You have a different kind of life knowledge, and it’s not one you can gain without the tragedy, nor one you can teach to others. You just know.
So what’s the point? It’s this: while self-help, tips, tricks, best practices, and head knowledge are all really valuable, there are some things you just have to go through. You can prepare to be your best, but in some sense you can’t be your best until you’ve, well, been your best. Then you become your best. Then you know.
Nike’s famed campaign is one of the greatest in history. Just do it. You’ve got to tackle the challenges, feel the pain, suffer the defeat, keep pushing, hurt some more, and grind harder. Winning begets winning.