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Titans’ Quarterback Marcus Mariota: How Greatness Is Built By The People Around You

I recently went to the Pacific Northwest for a business trip, and during my time there I met two interesting and successful athletes.

The first one was still in college. Young, talented, and eager to take his career to the next level, he and I caught up after my talk to his football team. He shared his passion for his game, and how he was driven to succeed.

When I pressed him on what drove him, he said, “All the people who’ve doubted me. I did this in spite of them.”

After he finished telling me he was “self-made,” I wished him luck with his career.

A couple of days later, I found myself at the University of Oregon, touring the building and learning more about the football program. As my host took me around, we passed a unique display—an upside-down pyramid with a Heisman Trophy sitting on top.

The Heisman belonged to former Oregon star Marcus Mariota.

My host encouraged me to examine the display, and it was fascinating. Outside of it being an inverted pyramid, there were so many details that stood out. At the bottom of the pyramid, near the point, was the name of Mariota. Then, as you moved up the pyramid towards the wide top, you came across different layers of recognition: the names of little league teams Mariota played on; the names of different coaches who invested in him; the names of mentors and teachers.

And then, at the very top, the names of every single player from the 2014 Oregon Ducks football team. Lineman, defensive backs, receivers, linebackers, walk-ons, scholarship guys—each one of Mariota’s teammates from that spectacular season were listed on the base where his trophy rested.

But what was even more amazing was what you saw when you looked at the display from above: there, surrounding the trophy, were the islands of Hawaii, his home state.

It was a beautiful display, but I didn’t fully comprehend how beautiful until my host took me to tour the Oregon training room and ran into a tall, muscular athlete coming off a workout.

Marcus Mariota.

After we were introduced, Marcus graciously took time for a quick chat and I immediately asked him about the Heisman display. His explanation was amazing.

“All of those people believed in me,” he said, “and I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if not for them.”

As Mariota went on to explain the impact of various coaches, teachers, and teammates, my mind couldn’t help but drift back to the young athlete I’d met only a couple of days earlier. Where he saw only the people who stood against him, Marcus focused on all of the people who stood for him; where the young athlete was driven by slight, Marcus was driven by gratitude.

Greatness comes in many forms, but it’s achieved in the same way—with the help of others. No person can be Great on his or her own. There is no self-made anything! We all need help and, candidly, we all get it. But we don’t all see it, usually because we don’t stop to look for it.

Marcus Mariota shows us a better way. He’s had people doubt him before, and still has doubters today, but he doesn’t choose to focus on them. He chooses to focus on the people who helped him become great. He chooses to focus on the people who added value over the people who subtract it.

How about you? When you look at where you are in life, do you see the doubters, or do you see the helpers?

Last week, I saw the difference between two great athletes, two different routes to the top. One was lonely—and likely to always be that way. The other was crowded with dozens of people who cheered and contributed to every success. I know which route I want to take.

It’s the one Marcus Mariota has chosen. How about you?

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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