Where’s Your Sense of Desperation?

One of the most common problems in businesses today is that people don’t have a sense of desperation. In life, in business, in football, I believe that to be successful you have to wake up every day with a sense of desperation and a chip on your shoulder.

Here’s why that’s important: if I have that sense of desperation, I get more things done. I’m more curious, I talk to more people, I try more things, and I work harder than ever to find better ways to solve problems and be more relevant. When I’m complacent, when I go along and feel comfortable where I am, then I find that others, who are more curious and have that sense of desperation, catch up and pass me by.

No matter how successful you get, the only way to maintain that success is to hold onto that sense of desperation that got you to the top in the first place.

When I went to the University of Georgia, there were two excellent quarterbacks, both just one year older than me. After a year playing on the freshman team (freshmen didn’t play varsity in 1957), I was ready to go for my sophomore year. That spring, our coach, Wally Butts, told me that he was pleased with my work, but he was going to redshirt me the next year to get an extra year of eligibility. I didn’t want to be redshirted. I wanted to play.

All summer long, I had a sense of desperation that I had to work harder, train better, practice more, because that was the only way I would be able to play. I devised all kinds of game scenarios and practiced making every throw imaginable. I threw hundreds of passes every day, ran the stadium over and over. When camp started before the season my sophomore year, I kept going. I was third on the depth chart, and I was desperate to climb up it. I kept up my intense training regimen, which was unlike anything anybody else was doing. After camp, coach Butts came up to me again and told me that he was really proud of me and impressed with what I was doing, but he was still planning to redshirt me.

When the first game rolled around, the Georgia Bulldogs went to Austin to play the Texas Longhorns. Charlie Britt started at quarterback, but all game long I stood next to Coach Butts, asking him to put me in. Give me a chance! Just let me play! The 4th quarter rolled around, and we still hadn’t scored a point. Texas pinned us at our own 5 yard line on a punt. In the chaos as the offense came on the field and the defense came off, I noticed that Charlie was sitting on the bench, helmet off. I didn’t think twice. I ran off the sideline onto the field, and put myself in the game. To make a long story short, we drove 95 yards for a touchdown, and then scored a two-point conversion to take an 8-7 lead (if we hadn’t scored, I probably would have been taking a Greyhound bus back to Athens instead of getting on the plane with the team!).

It’s one of the defining moments of my life: if I didn’t have that sense of desperation, would I have ever gotten onto the field? Would I still have worked so hard to perfect my craft all summer so that when my chance came, I seized it and never let go? Or would I have just sat for two years behind Charlie and Tommy and never gotten a chance at playing in the NFL? The truth is, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing.

But I did have that sense of desperation, and I have kept it ever since, and it drove me onto the field, into the NFL, and to success in business. I’m 74 years old now, but I wake up every morning with the same sense of desperation I had when I was just an 18 year old sophomore desperate for a chance to play. What can I do to get smarter today? What can I do to get better, to get a customer, to help someone today? That energizes me, and inspires me. It can do the same for you.

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6 years ago

To Susan Crow, you are much richer than you think, sometimes we get confused, me included, and base our wealth strictly as a monetary value. You apparently have planted seeds of Godly values and work ethic that will live through your children and grandchildren for many many years to come, there is no way to put a price on that, it is truly priceless.

William Grubish
6 years ago

All of us retirees have a story to tell. All of us boys played King of the Mountain and most of us simply considered it a game and nothing more.
The common path to success is Goal Setting. When our memory becomes clouded, then to-do lists keep us on track; provided we made a habit of doing such lists.

Fred R
6 years ago

Very easy to say when you’re laughing all the way to the bank. I just love how well-heeled people can completely ignore the plight of so many millions in this country who don’t know where their next meal, or the next mortgage payment, are coming from. Guys like Tarkenton don’t even know the rest of us exist.

6 years ago

Perhaps Mr. Tarkenton is actually referring to motivation as opposed to what he refers to as desperation. What he is describing sounds more like what personally motivates him to try to do better every day. To push himself to excel, as opposed to feeling desperate for how one would meet one’s basic necessities of life to stay alive and healthy on any given day.

6 years ago

If a senior is forced into unemployment and is going to be evicted, and has no money for food, housing or gas … Now, that’s real desperation … Sports? Sorry, we all should be so privileged to even have had the opportunity to get paid to play a game!

Diana Erbio
6 years ago

So true. It reminds me of advice my father gave me and my brother. He told us not to complain when we weren’t chosen for something we wanted and someone else was. It meant we had to try harder so we would be so much better that we couldn’t be overlooked the next time.

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