Plain and simple, Valentino Rossi is a person I idolize. In fact, he is probably the public figure who I follow the most, and draw the most inspiration from. More than any other living person that I know of, he consistently demonstrates qualities that I feel are crucial if one is to live a meaningful and successful life.
If you have never heard of Valentino Rossi, that’s okay. This paragraph is for you. Since 1996 Valentino Rossi has raced in, and won, an impressive number of motorcycle races (110 wins as of this writing). The class he rides in is called MotoGP. It is a class which boasts the very best riders from around the world - it is where riders from other prestigious motorcycle racing championships go once they have won a title. Over Rossi’s extensive career he has picked up 9 world titles, vast sums of Euros, and legions of passionate fans all over the world (like me). However this post is not about the easily recorded statistics such as number of pole positions or fastest laps. It is about the attributes that bring him success despite his age, setbacks in the form of uncompetitive machinery, strong rivals, or personal tragedy. Here are 4 life lessons I've learned from Valentino Rossi.
1) Don’t Be A Victim
In 2011 at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi was involved in a horrific crash that took the life of his best friend, Marco Simoncelli. Prior to this tragic day Rossi and Simoncelli were like two peas in a pod. Both Italian, they rode motocross together at Rossi’s ranch in Tavullia, and it was easy to see that Valentino took on the role as mentor to Simoncelli.
In the months and year that followed, there was speculation about whether this event would be too much for Rossi. To many MotoGP fans he was already the greatest motorcycle racer of all time. He made his millions, people around the world adored him, and with this tragedy in the background nobody would question Rossi if he decided to retire. Many people would have taken their fortune and spent the rest of their days lounging on the shores of Lake Como. Not Rossi. He continued racing (he just started his 20th season), and continued pushing the limits of man and machine. I have seen hundreds of media appearances and interviews of Valentino Rossi, and not once have I heard him take on the role of a victim, or beat himself up over what happened that day in Malaysia. Of course, these are all observations I have made from the sidelines, and all without ever meeting the man. But I believe Rossi correctly saw this event as a racing incident, and that his job as a friend to Simoncelli is to hold him in memory, and remember him as the wonderful, larger than life person that he was. Four years on, Rossi still puts a 58 (Simoncelli’s number) on his helmet.
2) Don’t Shy Away From Difficult Decisions
One thing that Rossi never does is shy away from difficult, but necessary, decisions or situations. An excellent example of this is when Rossi fired his long time crew chief Jeremy Burgess. Over 14 seasons the Rossi - Burgess combination produced 80 race wins, and 7 world titles, it seemed to be a given that Rossi and Burgess would retire together. They were a winning combination with a long history.
However, at the end of the 2013 season Rossi decided that he needed to shake things up a bit, and find some new motivation. Burgess also made a comment in the press along the lines of ‘Rossi won’t win again’ which referenced Rossi’s winless streak at Ducati, and how Burgess was accustomed to winning. Given their extensive history, and the fact that Burgess wanted to continue as Rossi’s crew chief, it would have been easy for Rossi to avoid rocking the boat. But that’s not Rossi. While he is a fun loving person, his main focus is winning races, and if he feels that something is holding him back he will make the necessary changes.
So, at the last race of the 2013 season, and apparently without any replacement in mind, he fired Burgess. Interestingly he did this at the start of the race weekend. Timing is never perfect in these situations, and Rossi didn't want to postpone such a difficult announcement. The main take away from this is not to allow sentimentality to prevent you from making difficult decisions. If something is standing in between you and your dream, you can not afford to shy away from the difficult decisions that will be required of you. Rossi knew that for him to continue performing at the highest level he needed a new crew chief, and he also knew that he was not responsible for how this would affect Burgess. He was kind, and showed Burgess great appreciation for all the success they achieved together. And then he showed Burgess the door.
3) Single-Mindedly Pursue Your Goals
In order to perform at the highest level year after year, a rider needs to put their goal of winning Grand Prix above everything else in their life. For Valentino, his life is completely set up to give him the best chance of winning on Sunday. And when he’s on the track, it is crystal clear that he doesn’t have an ounce of personal self sabotage. Riding motorcycles beyond their limits, like living a meaningful life, requires extraordinary skill and a formidable belief in yourself. His goals are what put him in the position to race the fastest motorcycles in the world, but it is his psychology and mental fortitude (whatever you want to call it) that gives him the marginal (but sufficient) edge over his world class competitors. He also never allows his fighting spirit to diminish on track. If an underdog or one of the aliens (the nickname given to top MotoGP riders) pass him, he wastes no time in attacking back. He does not let anyone, no matter how much they deserve it, pass him without giving it their all. And this is crucial. It ensures Rossi the highest level of success that he is capable of achieving, and it is one of the reasons why other riders respect him, and legions of fans adore him.
In a lot of ways this describes a selfish person. As stated, he is totally absorbed with his personal success. Crucially though, when Valentino wins so does his team and millions of people around the world who live vicariously through him. Personally, I always feel tremendously inspired and uplifted when Valentino wins a race.
The point is this. Pursuing goals, even goals that benefit many others, must be done somewhat selfishly. A selfish person is willing to push away any roadblock in between them and their goal. And if your goal is deeply meaningful to you, your chances of success will reach the highest possible level. If Valentino can use his goals and selfishness to win highly competitive motorcycle races, you can use it to live a meaningful life and achieve your goals.
4) Have Gratitude & Celebrate Victories
It is currently the start of the 2015 season, and at 36 years old, Valentino has won 2/3 races. It is truly an incredible achievement. But perhaps the most incredible achievement is how fresh he still is. This afternoon he won an incredible race at the Argentinian Grand Prix, and from his reaction after the race you would think that it was his first win, not his 110th! Whenever Valentino wins there is a tremendous joy that exudes from him. From the sidelines, I get the impression that he is truly grateful for each win, and it is also apparent that he takes the time to celebrate. He doesn't say, 'yeah, I won the race. But I'm not going to really celebrate until I win the championship.' For me personally, it can be difficult to celebrate small (sometimes even relatively large) victories. I sometimes try to defer celebration until some truly huge goal is reached. And in fact, I may never reach my truly lofty aspirations. The thing I've learned by watching Valentino is to take the positives from any situation, as well as acknowledge the negatives. But not to let the negatives prevent you from feeling the success that you have rightfully achieved.
Lastly, I will leave you with this quote:
The trick for the rest of us is to find, and do, the things that make us feel something inside. I think that's a pretty great life lesson.
Want to know more about Valentino Rossi? This three part video series is a few years old now, but it does a great job at profiling this incredible rider.