As a teenager, I enjoyed participating in the sport of ski racing. I wasn’t outstanding, but I could hold my own. During that time several German companies were leading suppliers to professional ski racers that toured mostly throughout Europe. These companies weren’t yet marketing their products in Canada and kids that were frothing at the mouth with passion for the sport could only watch from a distance on TV occasionally. Reusch produced gloves and mitts. They offered not just warmth, but padding which protected the athletes from being hurt as they would ski with such skill and strength that they would brush against the plastic poles that marked the route down the slope. Even cooler than the padding was the brilliant, bright neon colors of the gloves. Though, as kids, we didn’t have nearly the technique that allowed us to benefit from the utility of mitts like these, our desire for these was pretty deep. For the racers, the gloves offered function over fashion, but for aspiring viewers fashion was the only function. We wanted what the professionals were using because we wanted to look like they did.
My mother originated from Germany and her mother remained there her entire life. Neither had much interest in and knew even less about ski racing. They did know that they had a son/grandson that was keen for the activity. They heard me drone on with delight about these amazing and important mitts that would make all the difference to performance. Anyone that was serious about the sport couldn’t be seen without these. If the professionals could access these, why couldn’t we figure out how in Canada? My mother chatted with her mother via phone. It was the late 80s. There was no internet. No google at our fingertips. If you wanted to find something, you had to leave the house and look around. Yes, there was the yellow pages. However, even this didn’t have company directories listing how or where to purchase particular brands. Sourcing things was a challenge. My grandmother listened to my mother and between the two of them they determined as proud and competent Germans they could figure out how to find these German made gloves and mitts for their precious little son/grandson. My grandmother took on the responsibility of beating the bushes and doing some digging.
My grandmother didn’t live in Berlin, Munich, or even Frankfurt. She didn’t live in a major metropolitan area nor near any ski region in Germany. She lived in a smaller village. Nonetheless, she wasn’t about to let objective reality get in the way of helping her grandson’s progress in a sport. She walked up and down the strip of shops in her village. She stopped in to general sporting good stores and asked about the brand. In her efforts she found those that recognized the brand. She then asked whether they knew of or could access gloves or mitts that were used in ski racing context. It took a couple of visits and conversations with staff and manager, but they slowly got on the same page. She was able to order a pair and some weeks later she received them. She then packaged them up and shipped them off to Canada. During one winter, this teenager happily received a pair of Reusch ski racing gloves. I was able to have something none of my peers possessed. Knowing I had something that others didn’t and that the best of the best did in the sport I cared about helped me stand a little taller and walk with a bit of a bounce in my step. Did they make the difference to my performance that took me to the next level. Who knows? But they sure didn’t hurt. I performed as well and a little better than before.
The experience was much more than accepting that I had a passion for fashion over performance. It was where I learned the Law of TAAW. There’s Always a Way. Just because it seems like you can’t access something or are facing a challenge that seems “unfigureoutable”, you can choose to give in or lean in. If you embrace the perspective that there’s always a way, you’re more likely to lean in. If you lean in, you’re increasing your chances of figuring it out dramatically. There really is always a way. Somebody will figure it out, why not you? Why accept the limits imposed by others? Why give up and tolerate the absence of something? We don’t need to leave progress to the hands of experts. Progress follows the desire of those that care. My grandmother was no expert on sourcing things nor was she an afficionado of alpine skiing. She had little interest in either. What she did have was a grandson she cared about and a clear objective. She could act with the desired outcome in mind and the target in hand. She didn’t need detailed, step by step instruction for what to do. She acted with confidence that there’s always a way.
To prove this wasn’t beginner’s luck, my grandmother stepped forward a few years later on a similar but stepped up task. This time the objective wasn’t measly mitts, but skis. Volkl is a German brand of ski. Some of their recreational models were available in North America with a limited supply of race skis. This time, in the early 90s, right around when Canada achieved its only ever Olympic Gold medal in the Alpine discipline of Downhill. Kerrin-Lee Gartner accomplished this feat in Albertville, France in 1992 with Volkl skis attached to her feet. These were the skis aspiring young athletes required. This was much more than mere want. However, the speed skis were more elusive to find than sightings of Sasquatch. Undeterred, I communicated the imperative of this initiative to my mother who relayed it on to her mother. Off my grandmother went to explore her small, non-ski enthusiastic community for a specialized form of race ski. She was able to locate a couple of pairs. This time she shipped over two pairs. One for her grandson and another for a friend of mine. Together we were the two coolest kids in town. Again, we had something others didn’t have. Our competitors couldn’t dispute the objective evidence that the two of us could access something they didn’t. They figured there had to be something special going on. They looked at us differently. We had an edge from the simple fact of skis separating us from the masses. This time our performance was enhanced. We did ok. The lesson remained the same. The Law of TAAW surfaced again. There’s always a way. Just because you can’t find what you’re after where you are, doesn’t mean you can’t figure out a way to hunt it down.
Now technology offers what grandma did decades ago. The playing field is much more level in terms of all of us being able to access things that were the exclusive purview of the elite and well heeled. The barriers to entry for so many things have been removed. We can access information and materials that were held in restricted supply in the recent past. Yet, the philosophy of there’s always a way remains a useful approach to adopt. Is there an area in your professional life where you’re presently stymied? Is there a situation where you are stuck and waiting for guidance on steps forward? What if you had to figure it out on your own? Embracing the belief that there’s always a way promotes personal responsibility and fosters initiative. It empowers and incites action. Are you struggling to get that elusive prospect on the phone? There’s always a way. This idea is similar to those offered promoting persistence in sales. If you can’t get in the front door, go around to the back door. If you can’t get in the back door, find the door in the garage or side of the building reserved just for staff. If you can’t get in a door, find a window. There’s always a way.
The Law of TAAW is an alternate way to express the Latin idea of Inveniam viam aut faciam. Good luck pronouncing it, but it translates to “I will find a way or make one.” It breeds resilience and persistence through responsibility. It’s up to us to figure things out. It’s at the heart of the mindset of those that achieve incredibly difficult things. For example, a well known Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen received a Nobel Prize in 1922. It wasn’t due to his exploits as an explorer, but due to him leading the charge to repatriate many hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war to their homelands after World War I. Nansen helped over 400,000 people who had been captured during WWI make their way home. When asked how he was able to make sense of doing something which hadn’t been done before and seemed incredibly daunting, Nansen’s response reflects exactly what the mindset of the Law of TAAW and Inveniam viam aut faciam seek to capture. Nansen noted, “The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.” With time, anything’s possible. It’s this deep seeded belief in one’s ability to achieve an outcome that motivates people like Nansen to take on seemingly insurmountable struggles.
Persistent pursuit comes not from the red hot hype of short term motivation but from well earned self-belief and a commitment to an outcome. Those that have these two elements of the Engagement Equation that something matters to them and they believe that they have the ability to achieve it become highly motivated to make things happen. In the mid 1700s, a British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, began to believe that slavery was something that reflected a scourge to humanity. Unfortunately, he was ahead of the times and getting others on board wasn’t easy. Wilberforce didn’t rail against the powers that be. He patiently sought to nudge the needle ever so slightly year after year to eliminating slavery. His persistence reduced resistance as his asks remained small. In The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson, presents Wilberforce’s efforts as akin to trying to cut the Grand Canyon with a fork. It was a painstakingly slow and tedious effort, but trudge along Wilberforce did. Each year for 18 years, he proposed and put forth legislation which in each of those years was rejected. Another 27 years went by while he continued to advocate for constructive change. Days before Wilberforce died, the British Parliament finally passed a bill in 1833 to abolish slavery. His efforts did ultimately come to fruition. The law applied not just to England but to the entire British colonies. Moreover, Wilberforce’s efforts became motivation for another young politician in America to follow in similar footsteps. Abraham Lincoln took up the mantle of this cause in the US and struggled mightily for thirty further years.
As Joshua Medcalf notes in Burn Your Goals, “Take some time to study people who are world class at their craft and you’ll realize most of them built their program, business, or game without world class resources.” This is the Law of TAAW in action. The mentality of There’s Always A Way lies behind brilliance. An absence of resources, experience, contacts, etc. aren’t reasons to run away from getting good at something about which we care deeply. Decide, then do. Find a way. Figure it out. Do something. Those that make progress and find success do so based on effort: commitment and persistence. They don’t do it on the back of making excuses. An iron will forges skill far more than other resources.
- The Law of TAAW. There’s Always a Way.
- If you embrace the perspective that there’s always a way, you’re more likely to lean in.
- Progress follows the desire of those that care.
- Embracing the belief that there’s always a way promotes personal responsibility and fosters initiative.
- Inveniam viam aut faciam.
- Persistent pursuit comes not from the red hot hype of short term motivation but from well earned self-belief and a commitment to an outcome.
- Decide, then do. Find a way. Figure it out.