Life knocks everyone to their knees at some point—doesn’t matter who you are. Most likely, you’ll be knocked down a lot more than once. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that the road to success is full of pitfalls and setbacks. The people who arrive are the ones that keep fighting after everything seems lost.
In 1971, my career was picking up as a radio host and color commentator for the Miami Dolphins. Despite the progress in my career, I still wasn’t making much money. One month, I was running low on funds and wrote a bad check. Stupid. Even though the case was eventually thrown out, I had to go through the embarrassment of being arrested and taken in for a mug shot. I was also “dismissed” from my job. Bad day.
It’s the “bad days” that make the difference in people’s lives. How do you respond when you hit rock bottom? Do you fight or fold? Thankfully, my instinct was just to keep pressing forward. I had clear goals since I was a kid—and I wasn’t going to let a few setbacks stop me. Eventually, I got my job back. Six years after the mug shot, I was hired to do a national radio show that was a huge success. Fourteen years after the mug shot, I was hired by CNN to host Larry King Live. None of that would have happened if I’d have lost faith in myself.
My decision to keep fighting—no matter how hard things got—is why I’ve been successful.
I’m often asked for advice by younger people who are trying to make a mark in their career. My answer: NEVER GIVE UP. It’s that simple. I tell them to just keep showing up and things will work out. I really believe that.
But the question I’ve been thinking about more, lately, is—why I didn’t give up when so many others do? There were many times that it would have been easy to think that I didn’t have what it takes—to fold up shop and go back home to New York. There were many times that I could’ve chosen a different path. But I didn’t. In fact, I never even thought of giving up. Why?
I don’t have a definitive answer for that question, but I do believe that three factors contributed to my tendency to keep fighting after others often quit…
NUMBER ONE: Environment. I grew up in Brooklyn and went Lafayette High School. It wasn’t a rich school—but it has some of the most distinguished alumni of any high school in the country. Thirteen major league baseball players, including Sandy Koufax, went there. World-renown scientists, business people, artists and entertainers also attended my high school. Something about that environment that nurtured success. Quitting wasn’t part of our culture.
NUMBER TWO: Heritage. This idea relates closely to the first, but it’s a little different. I came from an Orthodox Jewish family. Many of my friends growing up were Jewish. Our heritage was 5000 years of struggle and beating the odds. Hearing these stories over and over again when I was younger made an impact on me. I learned that adversity always accompanied worthwhile goals. That understanding gave me clear direction when things got tough.
NUMBER THREE: Passion. Probably the biggest reason that I kept going when many others give up is because I love what I do. Literally. I would do it for free (don’t tell anyone!). I dreamed of being on the radio for as long as I can remember. I never wanted to do anything else. And so, giving up wasn’t really an option. Sure, I had to take side jobs to make do at times. I worked at UPS for a while. But I always knew that I would follow my dream of being a broadcaster. That consistency of purpose is what allowed me to break through the obstacles that stood between me and my dreams.
The good news about these three factors is that each of us can take advantage of them. Maybe you didn’t grow up in a successful neighborhood—but you can always choose who you spend time with. And that decision can shape the course of your life. You also can look to your heritage to find examples of people who overcame really hard things. If you’re alive today, there are people in your gene pool who dealt with, and overcame, hardship. Their blood runs through your veins.
Finally, no matter who you are, you can find a career and fall in love with it. If you’re already doing something you love—stick with it! You only have one life, and you should enjoy what you do. Of course, there are always financial considerations. But, you shouldn’t make money the primary reason for your work. People who do that risk losing their motivation as they barter days of their lives for dollars in their pockets. But the people who do something that they love—these folks have a long-term, sustainable advantage over others. They can last through adversity because their work isn’t just about the money.
If you’ve recently been knocked down, I hope that these ideas help you. They’ve certainly helped me. And, if you haven’t been knocked down in a while—well, it’s coming. It’s just part of life. But, when you face adversity, don’t let it stop you from fighting for your dreams—especially on the hard days. Your decision to keep fighting on in spite of adversity is among the most important decisions you’ll ever make.