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What "Rudy" Can Teach Us About Work Ethic

September 6, 2011
I am absolutely enthralled with it being football season again, so I thought it would be appropriate to balance some “new-school” references with this year’s recruiting class in my first blog, with a timeless football classic – Rudy.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Rudy tells the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, the son of a steelworker in Indiana who wants nothing more than to enroll at the University of Notre Dame.  He’s undersized (5’1 and around 100 lbs), lacks the grades sufficient to enroll at Notre Dame, and has no true means to pay his tuition.

What does Rudy do?  He keeps at it in the classroom after being accepted to Holy Cross.  He gets his grades high enough to transfer in his Junior year.  He balances school and work and takes on a role as assistant stadium groundskeeper to try to pay tuition.  He shows up to tryouts and makes the practice squad.  Enter 6 foot plus 300 pound players who repeatedly beat him down.  Rudy gets up, keeps working.

In the end, Rudy achieves his ultimate goal as he is allowed to dress for one game, giving him mention on the official team roster, and etching him in Notre Dame’s team history.

What a great story.  Especially in an age where it’s believed work ethic has become a thing of the past, this is your classic story of putting yourself out there with heart, fighting with every fiber of your being, and achieving the ultimate result….at least ultimate relative to your own goals.

I have to come back with some pause to this story and say this is also why it’s essential to measure individuals on more than one characteristic.  Rudy was good, relative to what he wanted, but there were certainly more individuals on the team who were truly “successful.” In the end, it takes more than just work ethic to succeed.  However, if you’re looking to build a house with a solid foundation, work ethic rarely lets you down.  In fact, research has shown that work ethic is constantly one of the top three biggest predictors of performance over time.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  The Rudy’s of the world might not jump out at you with their application, but buying their will-do attitude might be one of the most sound human capital investments you can make.

Adam Hilliard