One of the most powerful motivational speeches blasted out of my car speakers the other day. I was driving my teenage son to school, and, as usual, he’d plugged his iPhone into the dashboard.
I thought he’d selected the wrong track from his wall-to-wall hip-hop playlist. A deeply resonant black voice launched into a story about a young man seeking out a “guru” to learn how to make a lot of money.
I glanced sideways. My son was actually listening, so I listened also. Oh, well. Whatever this guy was getting worked up about, it couldn’t be as distasteful as the nasty hip-hop lyrics I’m forced to endure. (My son swears he hears only to the background music.)
The secular sermon was a bit belabored, with a lot of repetitive phrasing and cadences, slow to reach its predictable crescendo. But when the guy finally got there, I found myself unexpectedly galvanized by the simplicity and force of his message.
Spoiler Alert: Before I write any more, you might prefer to give it a listen. The motivational speaker is Eric Thomas (about whom I know nothing), and you can find his “rant” with a web search of “How Bad Do You Want It?” Or use this link.
Now that you’re warned, I’ll cut to the chase. The young man meets the guru at the beach and is walked out into the water till their heads are barely above the waves. Suddenly the guru pushes the young man’s head under water and holds it there for… well, for a heckuva long time in the story:
“He had him held down, just before my man was about to pass out, he raised him up. He said: ‘I got a question for you.’ He told the guy, he said: ‘When you want to succeed as bad as you wanna breathe, then you will be successful.’”
That’s it, the moral of the story. It’s not enough, according to Eric Thomas, to just “kind of want to succeed.” You have to want it as much as a drowning man wants to breathe. Anything less won’t cut it.
And, you know, that really resonates with me—and with many thousands of others, including my usually blasé son. I suspect because it’s true.
A wise man—a guru of sorts—told me once a deceptively simple thing--that life is a crisis. A continuing crisis, in which, by our choices, we define ourselves moment by moment, day by day.
Sounds kinda like “Introduction to Existentialism”? Could be.
The trouble is, we seldom perceive this ongoing crisis. Except when we get the big, obvious theatrical clues. Then it's inescapable.
Like at the final hand at the poker table, when all the chips get pushed to the center and it’s showdown time.
Or in the opera’s last act, when the trumpets sound and the timpani rumble and the Fat Lady gets ready to sing.
Or when we are plunged beneath the weaves and have to fight upward for oxygen.
The trick is to see the crisis when no one else around you does—and to respond with extraordinary effort under seemingly ordinary circumstances.
But Eric Thomas says it better:
“You gotta go days without – LISTEN TO ME! You gotta want to be successful so bad that you forget to eat... I never forget, I went, 50 Cent was doing his movie, I did a little research on 50, and 50 said that when he wasn’t doing the movie, he was doing the soundtrack. And they said: ‘When do you sleep, 50?’ and 50 said: ‘Sleep? Sleep is for those people who are broke. I don’t sleep.’ See I got an opportunity to make my dream become a reality. Don’t cry to quit. You already in pain, you already hurt. Get a reward from it. Don’t go to sleep until you succeed.”