On greatness, rejection, and living like gladiators

Jul 8, 2024
Z Fellows

1: Kobe Bryant on Greatness

“From the beginning, I wanted to be the best. I had a constant craving, a yearning, to improve and be the best. I never needed any external forces to motivate me.

As a kid, I would work tirelessly on adding elements to my game. I would see something I liked in person or on film, go practice it immediately, practice it more the next day, and then go out and use it. By the time I reached the league, I had a short learning curve.

I wasn’t scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That’s because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was okay with that.

I never felt outside pressure. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and I knew how much work it took to achieve those goals. I then put in the work and trusted in it. Besides, the expectations I placed on myself were higher than what anyone expected from me.

If you really want to be great at something you have to truly care about it.” — Kobe Bryant

Source: The Mamba Mentality: How I Play

2: Chris Dixon on Rejection

If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.

My most useful career experience was about eight years ago when I was trying to break into the world of VC-backed startups. I applied to hundreds of jobs: low-level VC roles, startup jobs, even to big tech companies. I got rejected from every single one. Big companies rejected me outright or gave me a courtesy interview before rejecting me. VCs told me they wanted someone with VC experience. Startups at the time were laying people off. The economy was bad (particularly where I was looking — consumer internet) and I had a strange resume (computer programmer, small bootstrapped startups, degree in philosophy and mathematical logic).

The reason this period was so useful was that it helped me develop a really thick skin. I came to realize that employers weren’t really rejecting me as a person or on my potential — they were rejecting a resume. As it became personalized, I became bolder in my tactics. I eventually landed a job at Bessemer (thanks to their willingness to take chances and look beyond resumes), which led to getting my first VC-backed startup funded, and things got better from there.

One of the great things about looking for a job is that your “payoff” is almost always a max function (the best of all attempts), not an average. This is also generally true for raising VC financing, doing biz dev partnerships, hiring programmers, finding good advisors/mentors, and even blogging and marketing. I probably got rejected by someone once a day last week alone. In one case a friend who tried to help called me to console me. He seemed surprised when I told him: “no worries — this is a daily occurrence — we’ll just keep trying.”

Source: Some lessons learned as an entrepreneur and VC

3: Arnold Schwarzenegger on Living Like Gladiators

Our group fantasy that summer was that we were living like gladiators. We were rolling back time, drinking pure water and red wine, eating meat, having women, running through the forest working out, and doing sports. Each week we’d build a big fire by the lake and make shish kebabs with tomatoes, onions, and meat. We’d lie under the stars and turn the skewers in the flames until the food was just perfect.

Fredi was the source of the gladiator idea. “What do you guys know about strength training?” he asked us one day. “Why don’t you copy the Roman gladiators? They knew how to train!”

Although he was pushing Karl to go to medical school he was thrilled that his son had started working out. The idea of balancing the body and the mind was like a religion for him. “You have to build the ultimate physical machine but also the ultimate mind,” he would say. “Read Plato! The Greeks started the Olympics, but they also gave us the great philosophers, and you’ve got to take care of both!” He would tell us.

Source: Total Recall