My Advice to Graduates: This Is How to WIN

Winning is a pattern, a habit, a lifestyle. Winners win, and win again and win some more.

Winning is a pattern, a habit, a lifestyle. Winners win, and win again and win some more.

What does it take to win? What do winners do differently? By taking a closer look at high-achievers, some patterns emerge that we can use as a guide. In this post, we discuss four “winning ways.”

Winners are attractive. The bewitching ease with which they go about their calling is endearing. You know that what they’re doing is not easy, but they make it look so. Even their sweat, when they sweat, is picturesque. You have fun when you watch winners because they are having fun. They are attractive because they paint—with their words and actions—a believable picture of what could be. Winners make us dream.

Winning Way #1: Winners practice harder.

Muhammad Ali famously said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Winners engage in what Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, call “deep practice,” which means practicing at the edge of your ability. Deep practice is hard, as your brain is constantly forming new neural pathways, and your body is doing its best to adapt to a difficult regimen. But it pays in trophies, in awards, and in leaving a legacy. Contests don’t make winners, they unveil them. That’s why winners crave competition; they cannot wait for their unveiling. They know they have done their homework; there’s no reason to expect a bad grade.  

Winning Way #2: Winners leverage the “Matthew Effect.”

The Matthew Effect, or law of accumulated advantage, is the age old, rich-get-richer/poor-get-poorer dynamic. It’s a term coined from Matthew’s parable of talents where Jesus said, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.”

Winners recognize, develop, and use their natural strengths. Let’s take a semi-hypothetical example of how winners apply the Matthew Effect. A young boy named Leo is poor at math and science and business and music and language. He can either work very hard at developing one of these subjects, or he can work on his soccer skills. By the way, even though he is quite young, it is clear he is good at soccer. In fact, he is better than every other player on the field.

So Leo decides to spend a little more time than others cultivating new skills at soccer. This month, he perfects his dribbling, next month his shooting. He then agrees to move to another country where he can develop his talents even further. He already “hath” at the start, but because he recognizes and develops that, he “shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” Today, that young boy is the best player the world has seen in a generation, and many believe he is the best player ever to grace the soccer field.

Leo Messi’s path to the top is typical of winners. They pick a field they are naturally better at and then go to work. With time, the Matthew Effect kicks in, and they gradually accumulate advantage over others with slightly less skill or slightly less work ethic. What is an indiscernible margin initially mushrooms to an undeniable gulf eventually.

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Advice to graduates and anyone beginning anew:

“Demand from yourself only what is best, and the best is what you will get. Your dreams will come true.”

-Michael Taiwo, author of DREAM


Winning Way #3: Winners put their angels to work.

By angel, I mean any person, process, or system available to help IF you let it. Winners excel at recognizing angels. They possess an uncanny ability to know who or what will help. They unmask opportunities where others see threats. They ask for help, they reach out. They know that if you don’t ask, you don’t receive. They understand that success is teamwork, and the best team wins. Winners invest in positive relationships. They get that great relationships underwrite great accomplishments. Winners also make themselves an angel to other people who need them. By giving of themselves to others, they receive a lot more in return.

Winning Ways #4: Winners love.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of winners is love. We love winners because winners are lovers themselves. They love what they do, and they love who they are doing it for. It is love, or passion, for their vocation that makes them work longer than their contemporaries because lovers always outwork workers.

What would make Edison try 1,000 different materials for the light bulb? That’s not just prodigious talent or even good ‘ol work ethic anymore—that is love.  That transcendental care for the task at hand; that singular determination to reach uncharted depths where priceless pearls lay; that godlike desire to attain purity, the kind of purity that comes when you look back and say, “I gave my all.”


I have mentioned four things that winners do, which you can apply as career advice, or simply at winning in life. But, in truth, there are a countless number of things that winners do that make them win. So maybe the question should be less about what they do and more about who they are. How are winners wired? Ultimately, winners win because they have been programmed to. There’s a coding in their DNA that abhors excuses and loathes failure. They have no fear of success. They win as a matter of habit, as a matter of course. It was Aristotle that said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” Winners autograph their work with excellence. Winners win because that is their nature: the way it is in the nature of dogs to bark, of cats to meow, and of politicians to lie.

The good news is that this nature can be nurtured, and it can even be developed. To win, you must refuse the temptation to take the next exit, the path of least resistance, the well-trodden road of mediocrity. Demand from yourself only what is best, and the best is what you will get. Your dreams will come true.

What other things do winners approach differently? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!


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Break your fears today

For more insights on how to overcome your fears, check out the book Dream: A Little Reminder to Graduates and Anyone Beginning Anew by Michael Taiwo