In 1988, Bill and I had the thrill of our lives. We were living in LA, and we’d gotten tickets to the first game of the World Series. Our hometown Detroit boy, Kirk Gibson (now manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks), was playing for the LA Dodgers. Bill and Kirk went to the same high school, so there was a personal connection. We didn’t expect to see Kirk play because he was hurt, with injuries in both legs.

It was the bottom of the 9th, and the Dodgers were down 4 to 3, with two men out. It looked bleak. There was a hush, and out of the dugout hobbled Kirk Gibson to pinch-hit. With one man on and a count of 3 balls, 2 strikes, everything was on the line. Kirk somehow powered a swing to right field for a home run, winning the game for the Dodgers. I’ll never forget his “jog” around the bases. He could barely walk, let alone jog, but he finally made it to home plate where his team greeted him jubilantly.

Where does that kind of grit come from, that fierce competitive drive that propels someone, against all odds, to win when the game’s really on the line?

It comes from our will to win. This inner grit often springs from experiences with difficulties, and defeat. Learning from tough situations makes us stronger. Some call it the healing power of heartbreak. From these life events we grow stronger. We become the victor, not the victim.

This is important as we drive our careers because the will to win beats skill every time. Baseline talent will get us into the game. Winning, however, takes staying power. How do you handle being turned down for a raise or promotion? There’s the victim response: “They don’t like me”, or “They’re playing favorites”, or other flavors of this. Alternatively, there’s the winner’s response: “I need to understand why that just happened so next time it won’t.” What does it teach me?

A couple of times in my career I was turned down for promotions. Somehow I put on my big girl face and had meetings with the relevant managers to understand why. Such emotional maturity surprised even me. Showing up at those meetings with composure and grace did two things: 1) It gave me valuable insight I could use the next time around, and 2) It showed management I was still in the game. I wanted to win next time.

The will to win is perhaps the most powerful thing we bring to our jobs. Baseline talent will get us into the game, but will beats skill every time.

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