Few who’ve seen the inspirational 1993 sports drama Rudy are likely to forget its true story of resiliency and strength.
Immortalizing one of the most iconic moments in college sports history, the film follows the early life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who defied the odds to achieve his dream of attending the University of Notre Dame and playing football for the Fighting Irish, his father’s favorite team.
The third of 14 children and the son of an oil refinery worker, Ruettiger struggled in school due to undiagnosed dyslexia. Being undersized at 5'6" and 165 pounds was another obstacle. Though he was rejected three times before finally receiving his acceptance letter, Ruettiger not only attended Notre Dame but eventually made its scout team, helping the varsity players practice. Then, in the final minutes of the last home game of his senior year, Ruettiger tackled the Georgia Tech quarterback, becoming the first player in the school’s history to ever be carried off the field by his teammates in celebration.
To hear it from Ruettiger, who will share his story as a keynote speaker at next month’s ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Oil, Gas, & Energy conference (Sept. 14-15; in Dallas, TX; register here), this victory was more than a moment of triumph. Instead, it marked the culmination of years of perseverance, on and off the field.
“People who have a purpose and are not entitled, who work hard to get better each day at what they do, get that Rudy is not about football,” says Ruettiger. “It took me 27 years to play for 27 seconds. Football was a way for me to me to contribute to Notre Dame, but before I got there, I had to succeed academically, personally, and spiritually.”
There are profound parallels between Ruettiger’s story and those of ASUG members in the oil, gas, and energy industries, who face drastic change amid digital transformation and must transition to new business models while planning ahead for future success. And it goes without saying that all of us here at ASUG love a good underdog story.
Below, ASUG speaks with Ruettiger about the importance of getting comfortable with unfamiliar environments, creating one’s own motivation, and showing up to ensure success.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q. That you became a walk-on player at Notre Dame is part of what makes your story so inspirational. In sports or in business, everybody can relate to playing a new position without having all the experience they wish they had, to navigating a landscape that’s new to them. What advice would you give to others facing that challenge?
A. First, be patient with yourself. Take the time you need to learn the landscape, whether you’re "walking on" in business, life, or sports. Understand how important relationships are. Other people will help you get through the toughest areas of your job, of your environment and culture. Once you understand that, you can adapt to anything. If you go in there with the hope that you will succeed, you’ll already be ahead, because you’re committed to that job. Focus on fitting into the culture, getting the help you need, and collaborating.
When you’re placed in a position, it’s because of your skill set, because others know that’s where you can perform, because they know you can do the job. Success from there is about your work ethic, about getting better each day. That’s all you have to do. That’s all you have to understand. Also, don’t be judgmental, and don't compare yourself to others. Comparison is poisonous to your journey. Once you compare, you think about all the things you can’t do. If you don’t compare, you focus on the things you can do. And again, relationships are so important. You earn the respect of other people. You don’t ask for it; you earn it. And that's the difference: when you’re a walk-on, you have to earn it.
By showing up every day with a good attitude, you might also discover there’s something more you can achieve in that culture. If your mind is closed to those opportunities, you won’t see them. If you’re there to work, learn, and build relationships, everything else will take care of itself. New dreams and goals will become clear.
Q. Creating motivation for oneself is essential to success, but no one succeeds without the help of others. How can camaraderie and collaboration with others help you find your motivation?
A. It’s all about relationships. When you see other people succeed, and you find out how they succeeded, you can learn from that and become motivated. I can't motivate you. I might inspire you to be motivated, but you have to motivate yourself. In life, you have to do things you don't like and put yourself in an uncomfortable zone. When you do that, it’s just like getting up and working out every day. It becomes that easy. Inspiration comes from watching someone else do the work, but you have to motivate yourself to do the work that you need to do.
Q. Your story captures the importance of staying on course despite encountering setbacks, of persevering through adversity. How can our failures help us succeed?
A. I swear by the old saying, “It’s okay not to be okay.” It’s okay to fail, because if you're not failing, you’re not trying. You learn from your failures. You can’t learn if you haven’t failed. That, I know. You’ve got to try. And if you fail, you get back up and try again, and you learn from what you did wrong, but then you do right.
That comes from being around the right people, the right information, even the right music. You can program your mind in a positive way. Programming your mind to nonsense or false information doesn’t help you. You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself—which will change the world.
Q. You’re the son of an oil refinery worker, and you’ve spoken in the past about how working at your father’s plant—and surviving the loss of your friend, who was killed in an industrial accident—strengthened your resolve to pursue your dreams. What values did that upbringing, and that early adversity, instill in you?
A. That’s where I learned my work ethic. Maybe that wasn’t the place I wanted to be, back then, but you have to go to work. You have to do your job. You have to communicate on the job, too. I worked at a power plant where I had to communicate, because one small mistake could be fatal. You have to get to know your job. By doing that, you will have other opportunities in your life.
Even when you’re doing what you don’t enjoy, learn to be the best you can be. If you’re complaining, you can’t learn. Sometimes, you’re placed in a position in life that you don’t want to be in. That doesn’t make it a bad situation. It’s a good situation to learn what you don't want to do, and you still have to learn what to do. I also learned early that there’s nothing wrong with being a blue-collar worker. It requires everything. It requires so much skill. I worked at a power plant, and my dad worked at an oil refinery.
When my friend, who was in the Navy, came back, he said, “You’re always complaining about your job, but you always work hard at it.” And if you want to do another job, you have to ask not only “how” but “why.” When my friend died in that accident, that became the “why.” Then, I figured out the “how.”
Also, whether you’re at Notre Dame or in a blue-collar environment, you encounter the same types of attitudes. You meet entitled people, jealous people, and good people who want you to succeed. And those are the people you keep around. You don’t walk to practice with the guys asking you why you’re there. You walk to practice with the guys saying, “Thanks for coming to practice.” It’s that simple.
Q. Even when working to maintain a mindset conducive to long-term success, how do you remain present in the moment, so that you can seize opportunities as they arise?
A. My friend once told me never to live in regret. When he passed, I realized I was living in regret. I had to learn how to listen to what was inside me. Maybe you don’t think you deserve what you want, because people kept telling you not to take what you want seriously. You do deserve it. If you work hard and find out what you need to do, you can go there. Don’t judge yourself based on what’s in the past. Judge yourself based on what you are doing, in the moment, to change your life.
When I was trying to get the movie Rudy made, I had to motivate myself to talk to people, or it wouldn’t have happened. When I went to Notre Dame, I was inspired by the death of my friend to move toward my goals. I became motivated to go to class, ask for help, and get all of the information I needed; it was called “showing up.” If you show up and do the preparation, and don’t worry about whether you're going to play in a particular game or not, you focus on what you’re doing, in that moment, to prepare. When the opportunity comes, you'll be ready.
That’s hard for people to understand. Everyone has a story, and everyone has a purpose, but sometimes people confuse their story and purpose with what’s actually their journey. If you look at your purpose and think it’s never going to happen to you, it’s because you have quit along the way, because that’s what you’re telling yourself. In actuality, you are still on your journey.
If you don’t quit and keep showing up, you’ll be ready for the moment when it does come. I wouldn’t ever have made that tackle if I hadn’t shown up every day at practice for years beforehand. I wouldn't have ever made that tackle if I didn’t have the right attitude. My attitude was, “Why not me? I deserve this moment, too.” I didn’t ask for permission to succeed. I gave myself permission.