September 20, 2020

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I am so sorry to have had to skip the blog last week. My deepest thanks to you who took the time to extend your kind condolences and emotional support about the passing of my brother.

I had some serious topic options planned for my next blog, but at this moment, when the world of politics seems to be going a little extra crazy and we are all just trying to cope as best we can with our daily “new normal” routines, I decided to write instead about something fun, an escape from reality — but an escape with useful lessons and a purpose.  Let me explain.

This summer, without Disneyland or our favorite “dinner and a movie” date nights to entertain us, Rick and I enjoyed our own film and television festival at home.  My ultimate escape show is Survivor and all 40 seasons are available for streaming on CBS! Over the years, I’ve seen about half of the 13-episode seasons, but it was a whole NEW experience consuming a whole season every couple of weeks.

I enjoyed the mental and emotional escape of living (virtually) on a literal “desert island” with some of my fan favorite “Castaways,” (Boston Rob, Tyson, Rupert, John Cochran and Queen Sandra, to name but a few). But I was surprised to discover that by watching a whole season unfold quickly, and then watching some of the same players compete in multiple seasons, I could discern patterns in the game that taught me some valuable lessons about what makes someone a “Winner” in pursuing any Big Goal. (The goal of the show contestants, of course, is to be voted the Sole Survivor and awarded $1 million dollars at the end by those who had been their opponents, acknowledging that they were the BEST at “Outwitting, Outplaying and Outlasting” 19 other competitors.)

Here are five major Success Lessons I gleaned from watching Survivor. I think you, too, will find them useful to remember as you pursue any Big Goal in business, finance, relationship, health, sports – whatever you REALLY want to achieve — particularly if your goal seems daunting or far-fetched.

LESSON #1: Do You.

Be yourself.  Don’t play someone else’s game.  Use your own unique strengths and passions to excel.  The challenges that all 20 Survivors must compete in are purposely varied, so that nobody has an advantage in every one.  Some challenges call for physical strength, some call for persistence and physical endurance. Some require balance and dexterity. And some involve mental acuity (like solving puzzles – NOT my strength!) In some seasons, smaller, less coordinated and downright “geeky” players have triumphed, both through the challenges and through playing a great “Social Game.”  You don’t have to match someone else’s strengths to win; you just have to play to your own.

LESSON #2: Build Alliances

The game of Survivor mirrors real life in the sense that nobody wins the game all by themselves.  The only way to make it to the end is to team up with other players in “alliances,” supporting and protecting each other and banding together to vote other people off.  Survivor proves that multiple heads ARE better than one and someone needs to have your back if you want to reach the top.  Winners in the game and in life seek out people they trust and nurture those relationships built on mutual respect and reward. In Survivor “trust” is never absolute, but that also highlights the fact that you can’t get what you really want without taking some RISKS.  You have to go out on a limb and trust others and your own gut in order to succeed.

LESSON #3: Maintain Your Integrity

Even though some deception is required to win Survivor (like keeping your Hidden Immunity Idol to yourself), those players who regularly backstab and betray the trust of their alliances almost never win the game.  They may get to the “final three,” but the jury of their peers who became collateral damage along the way invariably award the $1 Million prize to a competitor who played smart, but with a decent amount of integrity and no personal vindictiveness.  Fans may find evil-doers entertaining, but they rarely win the game of Survivor or life. (Just ask Russell Hantz, one of the Survivor “Villains” who played three times, each time, lying, conniving and betraying others — and lost each time. He ended up angry, divorced and with a mess of personal problems later, too.)  Win-At-All-Costs is not a formula for success in life OR showbusiness.

LESSON #4: Be flexible

As you begin pursuing your Big Goal, you will rarely know the “How” that will eventually lead you to success. Life takes twists and turns along the way and you must be flexible and always ready to seize serendipitous opportunities when they appear.  Survivor winners are all great at pivoting. Sometimes they must switch alliances in mid-stream when their allies are voted off.  They don’t fight reality; they go with the flow and deal with what’s so, not what they WISH were true.  You can’t be attached to your Ego’s plan when God/The Universe suddenly presents you with a “Hidden Immunity Idol” or chance to make a “Big Move.”  You have to just grab a bat and swing for the fences.

LESSON #5: Believe in yourself and commit to your dream

I think this is far and away the MOST important attribute for anyone competing on Survivor or pursuing a Big Goal in life, especially if the odds seem stacked against them. After spending a grueling 39 days with little food, lots of physical challenges and exposure to the elements, you would expect everyone to be mentally, emotionally and physically depleted and ready to quit. But the winners NEVER give in to fatigue or give up when the odds seem stacked against them.

At that point, their competition realizes they are a threat and are looking for an opportunity to vote them out. The future winners know that, but they don’t let it rattle them.  They focus on the final Immunity Challenge like it is the ONLY thing that matters, and they usually win it. They dig down deep, believe in themselves and never, ever consider quitting.  When you have obstacles in your path and not a lot of support from the outside world, you have to decide if you are going to stay 100% committed to your Big Goal or are going to fold.  Winners play to the very end.

P.S. Don’t think that failure never happens to Survivor winners. It absolutely does…just like it does to all of us in real life.  Many of the Fan Favorites have to play the grueling game two or three different seasons, often years apart, before they ultimately win. But they learn something about themselves and how to play the game each time. Then they regroup and start fresh, applying that hard-won knowledge until they reach their ultimate goal of becoming the Sole Survivor.  And how super-sweet that triumph is!

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