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Thoughts from Cal Ripken Jr.: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference

Note from Kevin Henry, managing editor of Dental Economics and editor of Proofs: I recently had the chance to hear Cal Ripken Jr., speak at the closing portion of the Dental Trade Alliance annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Ripken holds the all-time Major League Baseball record for consecutive games played with 2,632 during a stretch from 1982 until 1998. He gave a very interesting talk on “8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference,” which is the same title as his recently released book. Here are some of his thoughts from that speech.

I am the guy who broke Lou Gehrig's streak (for consecutive games played), so everyone thought I had the secret to endurance. People were disappointed when I didn't have the answer. Derek Jeter asked me about endurance during an All-Star Game, and when I told him I didn't know he really seemed hurt that I didn't have the answer. When I left that conversation I remembered the look on his face. I knew then that I wanted to figure out the answer. I wanted to examine the traits that a player would have to have to break my record. I came up with eight traits. I think that’s a good number since I wore No. 8.

  1. You have to have the right approach. Part of that is having the right attitude every day when you come to work. It wasn't my job to make out the lineup or play someone else's position. I had to focus on my job because that's what I could control.
  2. You have to have a strong will to succeed. This is your drive. Where do you get it? Is it hard-wired into you? We're all different and I think a good piece of this "will to succeed" can be learned. Do good things with your desire and the fire within you. Find a way to channel your energy and passion.
  3. You have to have passion. You have to love what you do. My dad told me that there are too many people in this world who are doing things that they hate. When you find what you love, that will carry you through any hard times you face. We started 1988 with a 0-21 record, but we still came to the park every day because we loved what we did. We turned it around to compete for the pennant the next season.
  4. You have to love to compete. Competition brings out the best in all of us. I think you have to compete against yourself. Take a look at yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Be motivated to get better. Also, I think you can compete against your teammates. I'm not talking about being divisive. My move to shortstop was supposed to be temporary. Every spring training, there was some young shortstop who was going to take my spot. I would give him wisdom, but when it came to work time, I would try to outwork him. I wanted to execute every day and show I was better. Don't become complacent with success. Tap into that energy you had the first day you got where you wanted to be.
  5. You have to be consistent. You have to adjust and readjust. You can't always get the game winning hit or make the game winning catch, but there's so much that you can do to put your team in that position. You have the ability to perform every day and make a difference. You have to solve problems and find solutions quickly. You must have the courage to take a chance and help your team where you can. Make yourself irreplaceable.
  6. You have to have conviction. You have to have thick skin and you have to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes you're labeled as stubborn because of that, and that's OK. The good kind of stubborn is when you're standing up for what you believe in and won't budge from that. Certainly there are different degrees of stubbornness.
  7. You have to have strength. There is physical strength but there is also mental strength. You can't do anything well if you don't prepare. We all like shortcuts, but I couldn't have hit Randy Johnson if I hadn't taken batting practice. I might have had a couple of hits, but I could not have had sustained success. For me, preparation was the hard part and the game was the easy part.
  8. You have to have the ability to manage your life. There is a personal life and there is a professional life, but it's all your life. For things outside your control, what elements can you control that would make those things easier for your life? I played for nine different managers. Change came to me all of the time. I went to the new manager the first day of spring training and told him congratulations. Then I followed it up with the question, "How do you see my spring training unfolding?" It was all about having a conversation. You have to have the courage to have the conversation that will help you manage your life.

I also think you have to have perspective. Remember, the best hitters in baseball, on average, make outs seven out of the 10 times that they bat. I remember Frank Robinson striking out in a game his first three at-bats, then hitting a game-winning homerun on the fourth at-bat. Don't give up if you make an out. Keep swinging.

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Comment by Penelope Rock on November 5, 2011 at 1:01am

Absolutely agree with number 3. Passion is the fuel of every hard work and it creates enthusiasm and the heartbeat of the things that we are doing. Without it, any kind of work or perserverance will always be futile and vain. Great post, eh.

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