The Adaptation Strategy: What To Do When You Don’t Achieve Your Goals


In 1960, Freddie Roach was born into a boxing family. His father had been a professional boxer, his mother was a boxing judge and his older brother, Pepper, was an up-and-comer, learning the ropes (no pun intended). [1]

At six years old, his apprenticeship began under his father, in a gym in South Boston.

This involved training two hours a day, six days a week.

However, by 15 years old, he began feeling burnt out (as would anyone) and started making excuses not to go to the gym.

One day his mother asked him: “Why do you fight anyway? You just get hit all the time. You can’t fight.”

That was the catalyst he needed to reignite his passion. He vowed to prove her – and anyone else who doubted him – wrong.

Eventually, after rigorous training, he beat his brother (arguable the better fighter of the two). This was a feat he previously been unable to do. Roach was getting better; in his mind, he was destined for greatness and to become the best boxer in the world.

Years later, when asked by Robert Greene what his goal was, he commented:

“To be world champion is, I would say, any fighter’s dream. And that’s what I wanted to be . . . I was definitely going to be world champion in my mind at the time”. [2]

At 18, he flew with his father to Las Vegas and trained under the legendary Eddie Futch.

Soon, his career took off. He began climbing the boxing ranks and even made the US boxing team. By 1978 he’d turned professional and had fought 150 amateur bouts.

He learned an effective maneuver from Futch (a shoulder roll with an upper tuck behind it) a maneuver that, in theory, could’ve made Roach the champion he believed he was destined to be, but there was a problem.

In practice, Roach performed it to perfection, but in actual bouts, he’d rely on natural instincts and could never pull it off.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, he’d see red, his is emotions would get the better of him and his fights would fall apart.

This became his downfall and he started losing – a lot.

In retrospect, he realised:

“Fighters with talent who have discipline become world champions. Fighters with talent with no discipline maybe become world champions, but they don’t have longevity”. [3]

His losing streak continued and by 26 he was retired.

His goal of becoming world heavyweight champion was over.

When You Don’t Achieve Your Goals

You probably don’t want to become a world heavyweight champion (few do), but do have goals you want to achieve for one reason or another.

For most people, their goals can means everything to them. They eat, sleep and breathe their goals. The problem is, if/when they don’t achieve them, it can be heart-breaking.

Obstacles are inevitable and seldom do we have control over them. But it’s not what happens to us, but how we respond that matters. In other words, in your impediment, what are you choosing not to see?  When you don’t achieve your goals, it can be a blessing in disguise.

The Comeback

Roach, feeling resentful towards boxing, began drinking and took odd jobs to pay the bills, working as a telemarketer, an electrician, a busboy and a dishwasher.

One day, to his dismay, as a favour to Futch, he agreed to volunteer at his gym and to watch his friend Vigil Hill fight.

He noticed that Futch didn’t pay a lot of attention to his fighters, including Hill (who had no one in his corner), so Roach took it upon himself to help Hill and advised him between rounds.

Soon he found himself back in the ring, sparring with Hill. This became a habit and soon Roach made regular appearances to help his friend.

One day, Hill was demonstrating a newly learnt technique with Roach and that was it, he was hooked again. There was no going back.

He continued to work as a telemarketer, but he became a regular again. He ate and slept when he could. He became the first to arrive at the gym and the last to leave. He trained anyone he could. He found his new calling and one he’d never previously considered.

Are You Committed to Your Goal or Your Passion?

Your goal is the outcome you want to meet, but your passion is what motivates you to achieve it in the first place. The problem is people often favour the former over the latter.

When they do, if disappointed by their results, similar to Roach, they begin to feel sorry for themselves and resent their passion (and without cause).

What you need to remember is you’re not tied to a particular outcome, you’re tied to your passion and pursuing it to its fullest, however you can.

You have to be process dependent and outcome independent. Favour the system over the goal. Adapt, improvise and overcome the obstacles, as and when they arise.

How You Can Use This

If you’re an entrepreneur and your new business fails, you may begrudge returning to “the 9-to-5” to pay your rent, but if you return to a start-up as an advisor because of your expertise, you may learn to love that company more than you did your own.

If you’re an athlete and your experience a career-threatening injury, if your worst fears were confirmed and you couldn’t return to your sport, who’s to say, like Roach, you couldn’t become the best trainer of your generation?

If you’re a writer and you’re manuscript is rejected by every major publisher, you can choose to call it a day, or start your own publishing company and publish your book on your terms (see Michal J. Sullivan). [4]          

A Final Word

By 1995, Roach left Futch to open his own gym: “The Wild Card Boxing Club” in Hollywood, California. Having working with 28 world champions including Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Amir Khan, James Toney and Virgil Hill, Roach is now recognised as one of the most successful boxing trainers of his generation.

He’s been named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America five times and was recently inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Accolades he never could’ve dreamed of earlier on in his career.

If you’re currently encountering obstacles with your goals, keep fighting the good fight. Don’t count yourself out yet. The best is yet to come.


[1] Greene, R., (2012) Mastery, London: Penguin.

[2] Greene, R., (2013) Interviews with the Masters: A Companion to Robert Greene’s Mastery [Kindle eBook]. 

[3] Greene, R., (2013) Interviews with the Masters: A Companion to Robert Greene’s Mastery [Kindle eBook]. 

[4] H. Balson, R. (2013) Bestseller Success Stories That Started out as Self-Published Books, (Accessed: 4th September 2014).