Jim Abbott overcame a birth defect to become an incredible pro pitcher and ball player. What is more astounding is that his birth defect was that he was born with only one hand. Jim shows how people can overcome perceived limitations and reach their dreams.
He accomplishes his mission of showing how limitless people are through jokes, stories, anecdotes, and self-deprecation, along with talking about his pain and failures.
As a professional speaker, Jim uses the ADAPT method, which stands for adjustability, determination, accountability, perseverance, and trust.
Born without a right hand, Jim spent time bouncing a ball off a wall to practice fielding and throwing. His father helped him find ways to win. He was the starting quarterback on his high school football team and showed some promise as a pitcher, He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays shortly after graduation but decided to take a baseball scholarship to attend the University of Michigan.
He had a 13 strike-out game and a seven game winning streak, making him a baseball legend and helping him become an inspiration to anyone who has ever had a dream.
Jim has been featured in USA Today, Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated, Parade Magazine, People, and Baseball America. He was featured as part of Olympic coverage and appeared on many news and sports shows.
He is also a philanthropist donating $100,000 to Amigos de los Ninos, an organization that helps groups that care for children in California.
ADAPT: Overcoming Adversity
People will tell you that I overcame obstacles — maybe. But the truth is I was incredibly blessed in my life. More was given than was ever taken away.
Some of you may know that my career statistics weren’t that great. There were some incredible highlights and some agonizing low lights. The truth is, I won’t go to the Hall of Fame. But if a career can be measured by special moments, lessons learned and a connection with people, then I would stack mine up with anyone’s. Maybe there is an obligation to share. To try and learn from the experiences life puts us through.
When you play major league baseball it is easy to become self-absorbed. Your world can become very narrow. One of the aspects of speaking is that I enjoy getting out in the real world and seeing how hard people work. I have been amazed at how much their pursuit of excellence is similar to that same pursuit on a baseball diamond.
The challenge for me as a professional speaker has been to try and formulate a common language. The word that I have come up with is ADAPT. To continue to move towards our goals we must be willing to adapt. To change, and mold ourselves in order to meet the obstacles in our own way. Using ADAPT as an acronym you can put together a powerful set of words that stand alone in their significance, but they also string together like a chain in an amazing way.
A – Adjustability
D – Determination
A – Accountability
P – Perseverance
T – Trust
Let me start with A. Adjustability. To achieve great things in this world you must be able to adjust to what is being asked. My dream wasn’t to play in the major leagues. My dream was to play baseball at all. In order to do that, I had to develop a new way of doing things. I really wanted to join in with my friends but to do that I needed to learn to play in a much different way than they did. When you NEED something, you find a way.
I can’t take credit for this. I was surrounded by wonderful people, who had the patience and creativity to help me devise the strategies I would need to get through life. Starting of course, with my parents, teachers, friends. If there is courage in my story, it was theirs. Their generosity of spirit gave me an ingrained optimism that there is a solution to be found for any problem. It may take some flexibility but it is there.
I learned along the way, that doing things in new ways always involves risk. You have to be willing to take a chance. You will also expose yourself to a lot of skepticism and those who will say you can’t do it that way. This brings us to the next word in our ADAPT chain.
Once you’ve found your way, you have to work it make it happen. Once you’ve found what you love, don’t let anything stand in your way. I don’t have to tell you that the only way to get what you want is to work your butt off. We all know that. A pitcher’s success depends on the training he puts in before he takes the field.
There is another aspect of determination that I think is equally as important. We talked about those who say you can’t. You must be determined in your belief that you can. I can think of so many examples of people who, in one form or another, questioned my playing ability.
Many teams bunted over and over again to see if I could make that simple play. One team bunted 6 times in a row.
My first college win came when they tried to steal home on the catchers throw back to me.
My point is that you have to create a strong filter that weeds out the negativity in whatever form it takes. You know what I mean. When we aren’t feeling so strong, little things can keep us down, little comments, and body language from your boss. Even our own thinking can be corrosive when we let any thought carry us away.
You have to be determined not to let someone else’s opinion of you define what you think of yourself. Only you know in your heart all the things you are capable of… Which brings us to accountability.
Accountability: the heart and soul of my ADAPT chain. Basically, accountability says that we are responsible for the abilities we’ve been given. It is unforgiving. When we look in the mirror can we say that we’ve made the most of our talents, no matter how big or how small? Are we making the most of the potential we have in all aspects of our lives? As a father, as a husband, as a co-worker. Accountability is brutal, but we need it to keep pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.
Sticking with it. Life is full of ups and downs and how we respond to adversity makes us who we are. You may have seen the highlights, the good times in my career, but there were many difficult times.
In 1996 I went out and had what might be one of the worst years a pitcher can have: 2-18.
Sports had always been my crutch. For an insecure kid who wanted very much to be accepted, success in athletics covered up a lot of hurt for a long time. But in 1996 it all came crashing down. I was failing. As hard as I tried it would just get worse. By the end of they year I was sent to the minor leagues for the first time in my life. I’m not going to tell you that I handled that year with all of the grace I would have liked. All I could do was to keep on trying. The following spring I was released from the Angels. Cleaned out my locker in front of my friends and drove home alone through the Arizona desert. My whole world was upside down. I missed it so much. I desperately wanted to get back, but I was also gun-shy from going through a year and a half of failure.
Inspiration can come from unexpected places. An old manager called, he told me that he didn’t think I was finished. And that’s all it took, we started working.
Finally things turned around instead of baby steps those I started making large strides until I was able to call my wife and tell her the Chicago White Sox had just called me back to the big leagues. I could have kissed the mound. To make it back seems to me as great an accomplishment as making it in the first place. That experience illuminated to me that no matter how far we go in life we will continue to be tested. There is no finish line.
Trust is my favorite and it is appropriate that it comes last. After you’ve found your way, after you have put the work in, after you have made the most of the abilities you were given, and stuck with it, it comes down to trust. Believing in the incredible amount of work you’ve done and knowing you are prepared for anything. When push comes to shove you draw your line in the sand and say, “This is who I am.”
Trust in yourself. That belief that you can do it. Trust in yourself and believe that you can respond in any circumstance.
Throwing a no-hitter was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. To throw it in Yankee Stadium made is even more dramatic. That game is the greatest illustration I can think of to demonstrate the importance of trust. During that game the pressure starting mounting in the 6th inning. Pitch by pitch the fans were getting excited, and the atmosphere were becoming electric. That day the mound at Yankee Stadium began to feel like the eye of a hurricane.
Fans, teammates, result thinking, everything starts speeding up big time.
The challenge was to bring it back to laser-like focus. This pitch to that spot. Come on, now trust it. Throw this pitch with confidence.
You see i’ts that trust, that last little oomph in the delivery that makes all the difference.
It all comes back to trusting in yourself and the work you have done, you’re ready for this, bring it on.
So that is why I am a big believer in ADAPTing. Not only can we mold ourselves to the challenges that come our way. We can also break that word down into those 5 components and give ourselves 5 incredible strategies, and apply them any aspect of our lives.
But going through life with a few extra challenges has made me a better person, not better than anyone else but better than I would have been. I’ve learned that sometimes adversity can be a good thing.
“There are no words to describe the impact Jim had on my business, he was nothing short of phenomenal. Jim spoke for breakfast, lunch and dinner seminars. His story touched everyone in the room with standing room only in some instances. Many of the advisors expressed to me that Jim was the best speaker they have ever seen, some admitted to shedding a tear or two. People laughed as they enjoyed every story Jim told and you could tell most people didn’t want it to end. Jim was gracious enough to sign and personalize baseballs and have conversations with the attendees until everyone was satisfied. I am still getting phone calls telling me how inspiring Jim was. I have seen Jim speak now 4 times and the story only gets better. I hope to have Jim back again in the future as well as my company is looking to use Jim at future venues. Also, several advisors approached me to ask if they could get Jim to speak at their engagements. As for me and my colleagues, Jim made it nothing short of a special day that none of us will ever forget.”
“Jim Abbott is awesome. You could hear a pin drop during his speech. Frankly, I am not a baseball fan, don’t really know that much about it, but it really didn’t make any difference. His speech – to me – had little to do with baseball although the stories he wrapped around his words did. We laughed, and many of us (me especially) cried as he wove his touching story of his life and experiences overcoming his handicap. He is charming, very receptive to our guests, and he was willing to take the time to go to our luncheon, pose for pictures, and answer questions from anyone who asked. I now know more about human behavior since I’ve met and heard Jim Abbott. It was a great experience.”
“Jim was definitely the star of our annual supplier event. People were charmed by his demeanor and presentation style and they were truly moved by his message. The feedback we got from attendees about how Jim’s message affected them was phenomenal. We try to top ourselves every year in terms of our programming for this event – but I really don’t know how we are going to be able to top Jim. We may just have to bring him back!”
“Jim Abbott was a great speaker with a fantastic, fascinating and inspirational story to tell. He was funny, engaging and an inspiration, and he kept the group’s attention through the entire presentation and question-and-answer session. Many in our group enjoyed Jim as much as our presentation by John Wooden. Thank you for making our convention one that we will remember for a long time.”
“Jim, I’ve been producing events like these for over 20 years. In that period of time I have NEVER experienced the deafening silence in a crowd that large, all of whom had their minds, hearts and souls transfixed on your speech. You touched the hearts of each and every person on the Civic Center, and your message of adaptability, determination and trust is now embossed on the spirits of hundreds of community leaders. The e-mails and voicemails filled with kudos and praise have been unending since the meeting this morning. You’re going to be a VERY tough act to follow.”
“It is a pleasure to work with such a famous athlete who delivers such a relevant and motivational message. Jim Abbott represents the kind of role model we would like to see in all of our professional athletes.”
“Jim was one of our best speakers. His message was upbeat and well delivered. We enjoyed him very much. We would have him back!”
Johnson & Wales University