“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is that I am not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might have me in nine categories. But if we get on a treadmill, two things: you’re getting off first or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.” –Will SmithWill Smith
Born in 1931 to sharecroppers, Carl was destined to fail. He was a southern black man with an 8th grade education growing up during America’s Jim Crow era, where his opportunities were constantly truncated by segregation.
He enlisted in the Navy and was relegated to the kitchen, where the only water he saw was washing dishes. Undaunted, Carl doggedly pursued his goal of becoming a Master Diver in the Navy. He was turned down for diving school more than once before being accepted. He almost dropped out of the school he worked so hard to get accepted into because he was belittled and harassed daily by those who didn’t want any “n—-r divers” in the Navy.
Once he graduated from the grueling diving program, he was faced with another serious set-back – passing the educational requirements for divers. He quickly failed his first attempt at “first class school” because he didn’t know the math and science necessary to pass. Brashear spent years studying before re-entering first class and graduating third in his class, when only 50% of his classmates graduated.
Tragedy struck shortly after he became a first class diver. In a salvage rescue operation three years after his graduation, Brashear was seriously injured. In his attempt to get fellow sailors out of harms way when a large crate broke away from the ship, Carl was hit by a flying pipe below the knee. The injury to his leg was so great, he spent two months fighting infection and gangrene. When doctors told him that rehabbing his leg would take two to three years and still would leave him with a shortened leg that would prevent active duty in the Navy, Brashear chose to get his leg amputated below the knee.
Carl chose to cut off his leg before giving up on his dream.
Carl then began his own training regimen to return to active duty. After hours and hours of sneaking out of the Naval hospital for practice dives and strength training, Carl signed his own transfer papers ordering him back to diving school. He spent the next year proving to the Navy that he was fit for active duty.
After becoming reinstated as the first amputee diver in Naval history, Carl turned down other promotions to focus on his goal of becoming a Master Diver, the highest position you can hold in the diving community. Twenty-two years after Carl Brashear joined the Navy, he became the first African American Master Diver in the Navy’s history.
Carl’s story, which you may recall from it’s adaptation in the Cuba Gooding, Jr. movie Men of Honor, is the perfect example of success. Carl was not the smartest guy in the Navy, nor the perfect physical specimen. Brashear was simply the guy that would not quit until he reached his goal. He failed and he failed a lot. Achieving his goal was more than two decades – TWO DECADES – in the making.
Carl understood the formula for success is not about talent and not about being perfect, but about never quitting.