So Good They Can’t Ignore You

When legendary comedian Steve Martin was asked what advice he would give to aspiring comedians, his response was simple.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Notice what he didn’t include.

There’s nothing about;

  • Waiting for the world to present you with an opportunity.
  • Finding coaches/teachers/bosses who will treat you special.
  • Relying on anything external

It’s all about what you can do for yourself.

Tom Brady exemplifies this.

Every football fan knows the story. Brady was drafted late, served as a backup under Drew Bledsoe, and finally stole the spotlight when Bledsoe went down with an injury. The rest is history.

But it’s easy to hear about his incredible journey and forget one key part. Brady was prepared to thrive when his moment came.

What did he do when he was stuck as a back-up?

He worked relentlessly.

As he told his high school coach while he was still a back-up,

“Drew Bledsoe is such a talented quarterback, but I’ve got one advantage on him. I pay more attention to detail. … If I ever get a chance to get that first-string job, nobody’s taking it away from me.”

He treated each practice like a game, and he knew that he was always just one play away from being a starter.

So when his moment finally came, he stole the show.


But what if you never get your golden opportunity like Brady had?

I lost a quarterback battle at the beginning of my junior year of high school, and found myself sitting as the back-up. I was disappointed in myself. And to be honest, I was bit frustrated with the coaching decision.

But did I sit on the sidelines pouting and complaining? Nope.

I worked harder than ever.

I gave everything I had into being the best back-up I could be. I was ready, waiting for my opportunity.

But that opportunity never came.

So I also looked for other ways to contribute. I started running routes with the receivers. I volunteered to jump into hitting drills and to take some reps on defense.

And eventually, it paid off.

I ended up earning a starting position at cornerback (a position I had never played before) and was able to play a part in our team’s success, and the next year I was actually selected 1st Team All-State as a defensive back.

And I bet Tom Brady would’ve done something similar if Drew Bledsoe never got hurt. You could say that Brady was lucky to get his golden opportunity when Bledsoe went down. And that might be partially true.

But I have a hard time believing that he wouldn’t have found a different path to success if that never happened – whether it was playing for a different team, becoming a coach, etc.


This same idea applies beyond sports as well.

When you start a group project, or you start a new job, you rarely get to do the things you want on day 1. Odds are, you’ll be stuck doing a remedial and repetitive task.

And just like on the sports field, you can complain about it, or you can do something about it.

There’s only one right answer.

Become so good they can’t ignore you.


This post is partly inspired by Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You.