Abbott Speech – ADAPT: Overcoming Adversity
Jim Abbott, 2003
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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
Some of you may know that my career statistics weren’t that
great. There were some incredible highlights and some agonizing
lowlights. 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 that I enjoy is 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. There are so many similar challenges.
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 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
A - adjustability
D - determination.
A - accountability
P - perseverance
T - trust
A - adjustability
Let me start with A. Adjustability. To achieve great things in
this world you must be able to adjust to what’s 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. Those who will say
you can’t do it that way… which bring us to the next word in our
D - determination
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
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
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
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
A - 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.
P - perseverance
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
In 1996 I went out and had what might be one of the worst years
a pitcher can have. Two – eighteen.
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 the 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
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
T - trust
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 you 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
The challenge was to bring it back to the laser like focus this
pitch to that spot come on now trust it. Throw this pitch with
You see it’s 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
The bible tells us to be grateful in every situation. I am
grateful for mine.
For more information on
Jim Abbott, one handed baseball pitcher, and other Motivational
Keynote Speakers, contact Lilly Walters, 909-398-1228.
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