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A Lesson to Never Give Up from the Playing Field

Tarik El-Abour signed a contract in April as a minor league outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. If his name doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because it shouldn’t. He’s one of about 6,500 minor league players who pin their hopes on moving up to the major leagues one day. The reason Tarik’s story is memorable to me is that he’s heard a lot of no’s in his life and very few yeses. In spite of that ratio, Tarik has persevered.

What also makes Tarik’s journey toward his dream job especially remarkable is that he’s believed to be the first professional baseball player with autism. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and did not speak until he was six. From the time he was eight years old, Tarik would go outside, put an X on the garage door and throw the ball at the mark for hours. He would continue to do this at home and during recess at school until he joined his first little league baseball team at the age of 10.

Fast forward 15 years and thousands of practice hours later, Tarik earned his first professional hit with the Kansas City Royals. If you look at Tarik’s pursuit of a career in baseball, you can’t help but admire the behavior that contributed to his unwavering course of action no matter how many obstacles were put in front of him. And there were many.

Today’s leaders have their own share of challenges and can learn from Tarik’s perseverance on his path to professional baseball. Here are a few characteristics consistent with perseverance that came to mind when I read his story:

Never Give Up Being Passionate

Are you passionate about your goal or vision? Leaders who love their work can dig deeper when faced with daunting odds or seemingly insurmountable tasks. Tarik’s passion for baseball was evident in the joy he felt by simply being present on the field—the smell of the grass, running, hitting the ball, standing at the plate and waiting for the pitch that would spark him into action. These emotionally rich moments strengthened Tarik’s resolve during the toughest of times.

Never Give Up Being Disciplined

Do you have a singular focus on the goal in front of you? Can you ignore distractions that keep you from attaining what’s important to you in the workplace? Tarik’s perseverance was clear from an early age and even through college. For instance, after watching Tarik get up at 4:30 a.m. every day to begin his unrelenting practice regimen, his sister asked him why he worked so hard and he simply said, “I’m just doing what it takes.”

Never Give Up Being Positive

Would your peers and employees describe you as positive? Assured leaders see every challenge as an opportunity to learn something. They look into the future and embrace possibility with optimism. We know from research that optimism is a choice. When Tarik had his exit interview with his junior college coach, he said, “Tarik, you did a great job. I’m sorry this is the last team you’ll play on. No other coach will take you on like I did because you’re autistic.” He never told anyone that happened. “He simply threw it out with all the others who did not believe in dreams,” explained Tarik’s mother.

Tarik was captivated when he saw his little league team practice baseball for the first time. He immediately told his coach he wanted to hit the ball, so his coach responded that he must first learn how to catch it. And so an outfielder was born. Tarik wanted to know everything about the game after his first practice, and that’s when Tarik’s mother said she began to worry that autism would speak for Tarik before he had a chance to speak for himself. Instead, Tarik’s perseverance spoke for him, and the Kansas City Royals heard him loud and clear.

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