The Little-Known Challenges of Handling Success
The Little-Known Challenges of Handling Success
The following is adapted from Silver Spoon: The Imperfect Guide to Success.
I’ve played football professionally and experienced a level of success that many people dream of emulating. I caught Peyton Manning’s last pass in the NFL, scoring points that all-but-secured victory for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
What have I learned about success? I’ve learned that what matters is what comes next.
It would have been easy for me to decide that I’d hit a career pinnacle and start to coast. It sure was tempting to do that. But I understood that as soon as I stopped working, my performance would begin to go downhill.
How do you handle success? Your response to the peaks in your life will play a key role in determining what happens next. Will you climb higher, or will you start to slide down the other side of the mountain?
A Story of Hubris
In high school, I was more passionate about basketball than I was about football. Every year my team was in the mix for the state championship.
The composition of the team in my sophomore year was a great bunch of guys. On paper, we weren’t as talented as some of the other teams in the state. But we had an edge because we ignored what was supposed to happen and focused solely on the games—on what we could do, even if we were the only ones who saw it.
What happened? State champions! That’s right! We had a taste of success. Unfortunately, we didn’t handle it as well as we could have done.
The teams in my junior and senior years were even deeper and had more-talented players than our previous squad. In my senior year, we weren’t just the best team in Michigan—we were ranked fourth in the nation, ahead of perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. People expected great things from us. We were taller. Faster. More athletic. And we knew it.
But other teams came ready for us. Although they’d heard the hype, it didn’t seem to affect them. We believed the hype, and it did affect us. It was a total role reversal from the previous season.
Every team we played that year came in laser-focused and well-prepared. They’d had their games with us circled on the calendar for months, and I’m sure some of them had trained and practiced all year with the idea of beating us.
As a result, we ran into teams that worked harder than us—who prepared better than we did. Never mind the national rankings—we didn’t even win the state championship in either of those years.
Finding success is one thing, but it is only half the thing. The other half, the more critical part, is learning how to handle that success. We didn’t, and we paid for it.
Bill Belichick’s Attitude to Success
Bill Belichick is one of the most successful coaches the NFL has ever seen. For years, his Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, have been the first name on everyone’s lips when discussing potential Super Bowl champions.
Very few people in the modern game know more about success than Belichick. How does he respond when his team does well? Watch carefully and you’ll see that he rarely celebrates a touchdown. Some coaches are pumping their fists or dancing down the sideline, but Belichick is more likely to pull out his notes and start writing something down. He looks worried, even when the Patriots are extending a lead.
Why is that? “I’m happy when we score,” he explained after a 2017 game against Miami that New England won 43–0. “But there’s a decision that has to be made on the next play and the play after that and then the next series. A big part of my job is planning ahead for the next situation.”
That explains a lot. People like Belichick do not let success go to their heads. They are not content with the status quo. In their minds, there is always something more to achieve, another opportunity to get better.
Learn from the Pros
Success is a beautiful thing, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t allow yourself to enjoy it. You should. If you can afford to buy your mom a new house, like my friend Draymond Green did, do it. Take private jets to vacation destinations, if that’s your thing. Hire a chef. You’ve worked hard to earn your success, so enjoy the benefits.
Keep in mind, though, that success—and how you respond to it—is going to reveal to the world who you really are. Just as times of adversity can be a measure of our character, so can times of prosperity. Despite your fame and achievements, do you continue to live with humility?
Do you continue to nurture your mind and body? Do you strive to live a life of purpose and help others? Do you have the courage to continue to challenge yourself? Do you continue in the journey?
Success is great, but it’s what you do after you’ve succeeded that will define you.
For more advice on handling success, you can find Silver Spoon: The Imperfect Guide to Success on Amazon.
Bennie Fowler is a six-year veteran of the NFL. He began his career as an undrafted free agent signed by the Broncos in 2014. He spent four years with the Broncos and was a member of the Super Bowl 50 championship team in 2016. Bennie played college football at Michigan State University, where he was a member of the 2014 Rose Bowl championship team. Bennie holds the annual Bennie Fowler youth football camp in Detroit, Michigan, is an in-demand speaker trained through the NFL Speakers Bureau, and lives in Denver during the offseason.