Drive. A peculiar phrase coined to define a sort of mindset that distinguishes between those who can respectably achieve moderate success and those who have that extra yard to reach the pinnacle in their respective fields. Its meaning permeates most walks of life. It’s often the case in professional sport, for example, where plenty of young players are bursting at the seams with talent, but only those who have that cutting edge to be the very best have any realistic chance of become a true success. This is ‘drive’. Much like Neil Sunderland classifying a pilot as a “plane driver,” it seems like everyone is aware of it, but not really sure of what it means. It appears to be a valuable personality trait needed for the path to success in a number of fields. Although I get that drive is one of several key ingredients in a winning formula, it seems to be placed on a considerable pedestal, and I think in pretty unfairly.
What if you are lucky enough to be born a genius in your field with god-given talents, something inherent in your genetics or by a random mutation? What if you are possessed with footballing ability from another planet like Leo Messi, or have an unchartered success at discovering them like Galileo? Not to discredit the levels of hard work and commitment that they must’ve put in, but is it necessarily true to suggest that such geniuses have an upper hand on their rivals purely on that factor alone? Was Newton especially ruthless in the manner in which he went about implementing his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, or was Da Vinci particularly more eager to conjure up a masterpiece than his nearest rival with a brush in his hand? It may be the case, but it also might not be at all. Maybe some people are graced with such exceptional intellectual and creative power, that they’re going to blow everyone else out of the water regardless of how hard the competition works to keep up. And what about the ability to pick the right move at precisely the right moment? Sugar Ray Johnson, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest boxers to ever grace the professional game, was famed for his incredible instincts. He had trained with so much commitment to reach a level where his techniques and responses became almost reflexive. I couldn’t even catch a ruler in the reflex test (look it up, you’ll understand my struggle). But essentially what I am saying is that there are clearly genetic roots, learned behaviour and physical traits that mean that the need for drive is not actually a necessary trait. So why the hype?
In my own life, I feel like I found myself in the driver’s seat a bit later than most, and maybe considerably later than I should have. I’ve always been quite an optimistic and carefree person, and I’ll hold my hands up to admit that I have spent most of my time existing with the clutch down coasting. I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve managed to overstay my welcome in terms of having to work hard, but it meant that it was a sharp learning curve to me when I realised that simply working hard wasn’t the key to doing well, it’s about being consistent. I’ve always been pretty dedicated to whatever I’ve thrown myself into, but it was only in the last few years I’ve been energised with fresh impetus, and so I’ve had to change gears. Nothing is going to start working until I do, and I’ve endeavoured to fully grasp the drive that has the potential to take me places.
For this reason, I feel the term “drive” is too broad and fails to pinpoint what it is trying to mean. So for me, drive encompasses three main things that are arrogance, motivation and resilience.
Arrogance might seem a strange inclusion, but hear me out. I am not talking about an outward arrogance, which includes undesirable behaviour such as showboating, being narcissistic and patronising those are below your level. Humility and grace in both victory and defeat, as well as demonstrating respect to others are of course essential for any good person. The arrogance that I am after is an inward one, a constant, niggling reminder in your head that reminds you of your greatness. And that’s exactly it. Those wanting to be part an elite group of successful individuals have to shroud themselves in some levels of arrogance. Often arrogance is perceived as an insecurity and I feel if done in the wrong way, this most certainly can be the case. But I feel the underrated beauty of having bit of arrogance is that it unsettles your rivals. No one likes to enter a contest in the presence of someone is so assured of themselves, and you can call that person every name related to cockiness under the sun, but the seed of self-doubt has already been planted. I am of the firm belief that you can have as much natural ability and work as hard as you want, but if you do not back yourself to wipe the floor with your rivals the moment you step into your respective arena, you’ve already lost. With the right mindset, limitations become limitless. I’d much rather be known as someone who is perceived for being arrogant due to a firm confidence in my level of self-belief, than to not back myself over fears of a lack of modesty.
To be consistently, relentlessly enthusiastic and determined to sustain whatever you practice represents the motivation I think about. I have always been a huge admirer of sprinters for their ability to stay motivated in what they are trying to achieve. When you’re training with a team, although the skill is a constant, various elements such as tactics, the different type of opposition that you’re up against next week and the natural fluctuations of the team dynamic during the course of a season means that training is going to be different. But with a sprinter, when it comes to practicing the actual sprint for the main event, it must be an irritatingly, repetitive routine. To be able to still salivate at the prize you’re aiming every day, to continue to be meticulous in your planning and preparation, and to wholeheartedly tell yourself that you want success more than anything is an incredible thing that comes from a place deep within. Encouragement from others is warm and positive, but in reality, no one is going to push you other than yourself. I remember when I was 17 and starting a new season on the back of one where I felt like I was playing out of my skin, and that new season being filled with below-par performances and little productivity emanating from myself. Very simply, I wasn’t interested or remotely enjoying playing football, my head was elsewhere with various things, and I frankly, it got to a point where I wasn’t fussed about it. Hindsight is a luxury of course, but to me now, it was an incredibly selfish and damaging mentality to have, and it was a reminder how I was not as mentally strong as I could have been. To be able to maintain tunnel vision with your motivation despite the creeping of self-doubt and external pressures is a powerful tool to wield.
The second of this trinity is in my opinion, the hardest to incorporate in one’s life and to dissect. The problem with being bright-eyed and optimistic, especially when you’re younger, is that the world is your oyster and the sky is the limit. This isn’t even a cliche, ask most people who are in school and starting university about the pitfalls they are anticipating to face. Granted some might be unexpected and impossible to plan for, but how many even question the possibility that they might have to be thrown two steps back to move forward? I feel that as a generation as a whole, being able to remain strong in the face of adversity has been made immeasurably harder by our warped perceptions of success as well as the overinflated gravity of failure. We now feel that if we haven’t achieved a certain goal by a certain time, we are behind. But behind to who? We as individuals are only in competition with ourselves, and I feel the emphasis on how we are progressing has been negatively influenced by how others are doing. This also isn’t helped by the fact that we are becoming more obsessed with the instantaneous, and a lack of success or where you want to be right now is way more of a disaster than it should be. I believe that as long as I am a bit more successful everyday, then I’ve one step closer to the end game.
The gravity of failure that we have decided to accept seems to be the kind we’d expect on the surface of Jupiter rather than Earth. The simple fact is that we are not set up for the inevitability that life contains moments of failure and feelings of helplessness. A guided path is clearly outlined for us at an early age – you do well at school so that you can get a good job to earn money. But this is clearly ridiculous, there are so many permutations that we can and most likely will halt our progress, and so to believe that there is a straight path to the finish line with no spontaneously spawning hurdles in front of you just as you’re about to canter, isn’t just overly optimistic, it is just an incorrect world view. My dad has always said that stress is the difference between your expectation and your reality, and so in times of struggle, it is important to upgrade our conviction to plug the gap. One of the greatest success stories in Steve Jobs, who catapulted Apple into being the first trillion dollar company, was publicly ousted from the company that he co-founded at 30. Resilience for me is where this element of ruthlessness that is often associated with drive lies within. To be able to never accept the bleak reality that you are enveloped in and have that ability to not just survive, but to thrive, is easily one of the most important human qualities. One of my favourite Shakespeare quotes encapsulates this idea of resilience:
“Some men are born great, some men achieve greatness and some men have greatness thrust upon them”
But to add to it, maybe what signifies the sign of true greatness above everything else is the ability to be great once again. It is the ability to bounce back from the bounds of adversity and to prove your steel and your bite, that to me, separates the everlasting greats from the fleeting greats.
So next time I hear these notions being floated around, I won’t be thinking of a simply a set of traits that make me driven – I’ll be feeling securely sat in the driver’s seat.