Just this past weekend, we witnessed one of the next great stories to emerge in professional golf. Rory McIlroy, the 22 years young Irish savant, conquered one of the most trying and pressure-packed events in the sport by winning the US Open. But the story isn’t that he won. Oh no…The story is how he won. And every entrepreneur can and should learn from Rory’s story.
Just nine months ago, at the British Open – another major tournament in golf – Rory built up a solid lead after two rounds (each round is 18 holes). At that point, only two more rounds separated him from the trophy. That is, until Rory’s game fell apart.
Fast forward to the Masters - perhaps the most storied and cherished tournament in golf - which took place only two months ago. Rory built up an even stronger lead of four shots after three rounds. This time, only one round separated him from the trophy. Until Rory’s game fell apart. Again.
And then the chatterers began chatting. Every sports pundit from Los Angeles to Dublin began questioning if Rory was mentally tough enough to win a major tournament in golf. He’d already choked while holding commanding leads in two of the four “major” golf tournaments. The comparisons of Rory McIlroy with Greg Norman – golf’s most notorious choker under pressure – began running rampant.
You can only imagine how this criticism felt to a 22 year old. Think of how defeated Rory felt just to lose those two tournaments the way he did. Heck, many of us can remember how we felt after losing a big game or failed in a big moment (with the stakes much lower, of course!). But what we cannot fathom is the added level of scrutiny and criticism that Rory had to deal with on top of it all. The overwhelming amount of stories written that said he can’t. The countless sports analysts that said he won’t.
I think every entrepreneur can relate to this. Personally, I’ve had naysayers with every business I have started. Some of them from within my own family. With enough naysayers, you eventually you start questioning your own decisions and intellect. You start thinking…Does this business have a chance? Is my idea really any good? Should I have just sought out a stable job and bagged this whole entrepreneur thing? Or am I just delusional?!? The naysayers begin to turn you into your own naysayer. It can happen fast, especially in the early days of a business when finances are tight and things aren’t particularly rosy. It’s easy to give in and not make that next call, or not set up that next meeting. It’s easy to quit being an entrepreneur. It’s so easy that people are giving up on it every day.
Rory could have let the naysayers and the negativity get to him, but he didn’t. I’m sure there were moments where he questioned himself. Heck, he’s human like the rest of us. But he didn’t let any of it get to him, and he didn’t give up. He learned from each experience. After each failure he rededicated himself and worked harder.
Think about it. The British Open was only 9 months ago where he made it past two rounds (36 holes) before melting down. He learned from it and kept persevering. He came back to the Masters and made it three rounds (54 holes) this time. While he kept plugging away and making progress, the naysayers kept getting louder and louder with their criticisms and doubts. Two months later, Rory came back and simply dominated the US Open.
What a sight it was to watch him walk up to the final green on the 18th hole, basking in his moment of triumph. The tournament was in his pocket and the crowd was behind him. But what must have been best of all was hearing the pundits switch their position from “Could he be the next Greg Norman”, in such a dramatic turn of events, to “Could he be the next Tiger?” Wow.
The lessons that we entrepreneurs should learn from this are clear: Within your own head or without, stop listening to the naysayers right now. Shut them out like Rory did. Keep failing, and get back up. Learn from these experiences like Rory did. Never give up even when times get tough, just how Rory could have - but never did. Instead, work harder. Who knows, in a couple months or a couple years, you just might be referred to as the next superstar within your own industry.
We all remember the “Be Like Mike” slogans of the 90’s. To “be Like Mike” meant to be a champion, a leader, a legacy - in the footsteps of the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. Well, that’s easier said than done. Instead, as entrepreneurs, I say that we try to be more like Rory – hopeful, resilient, and courageous. And better yet, I’ll try to remember Rory the next time things get really tough. You should too.