“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
I hope the general public will forgive me for writing about a societal cliche. We should take a moment to recognize that some wisdom becomes cliche because it is still true. We try to excuse ourselves from the umbrella of conventional wisdom because we believe that we are somehow different, better or more unique than the generations of people, and their aspirations, that have come before us. We like to call old ideas antiquated, quaint or situational. Let’s put all those challenges away for just a second and revisit one of the oldest lessons of success known to our people.
“Run it back ... ”
That’s what he said when the play didn’t work out quite the way he wanted it to. When his team would lose during a shooting contest, or just about any practice, Michael Jordan would ask to start again. He would not lose in practice. He believed that if we practiced losing, we would lose.
“Run it back ... ”
People remember the wins. They remember that he became one of the greatest players to ever stand on the court. What people fail to remember, typically, are the number of times that he lost. He was not the first overall draft pick out of UNC. He was the third choice ... and most of you will only remember one of the two other names that came before his that year. They said he wasn’t a team player. They questioned his shooting ability. His potential for leadership was, they said, low.
We probably don’t remember the losses because he eventually won at just about everything. He is quoted as saying that he “never lost at anything, just ran out of time.” This can be true for anyone. We only lose when we give up and walk away.
Most of us will remember that Jordan went to the White Sox for a brief period. What is not widely remembered is the speculation that this move was, at the time, a simple publicity stunt. Walt Hriniak, batting instructor for the White Sox, called Jerry Reinsdorf to cuss him out shortly after hearing about Jordan’s move. Suddenly everyone in baseball and basketball thought that the White Sox were desperately trying to raise some revenue. Internally, half of the White Sox staff didn’t want anything to do with the hotshot basketball player who thought he could do anything he wanted.
Internally, the speculation regarding the motives behind Jordan’s move to the White Sox died after a few short weeks. Most of the public doesn’t know the story, but Jordan showed up on time to batting practice every day with Walt and would practice until his hands were bleeding. There was no question regarding his commitment to practice and that he believed he could win.
His results in MLB are less important than the lesson that he illustrated.
In another frequently referenced Jordan anecdote, he allegedly paid one of the ball boys at the Bulls to stay after practice had ended each day. He would shoot from one particular point on the court, the kid rebounding, until he had made 100 shots from that spot. Only after reaching his goal would he retire to the showers. The truth is Michael Jordan had talent. The talent he possessed did not make him great. His greatness stemmed from perfect and diligent practice.
As professionals, whether in basketball, banking, business, bartending, teaching or writing, we are rewarded in public for what we practice in private. Ready for the scariest internal probing question of the article? What are you practicing in private? Rolling does not count as a life skill. Neither does drinking, although I’ll wager you can get pretty skilled at both. It’s not realistic to use every waking moment building your skills, but we should all recognize that any time spent in personal growth through practice will provide a return on investment greater than most of the potential return from our favorite leisure activities.
That being said, we can’t eliminate the relaxation. Rest and fun keep us in a mental place where we can devote some spare time to personal development. If we don’t take the time to rest, we will not possess the mental energy necessary to commit to perfect practice. Seeking a balance between personal development and rest is a noble goal.
What we should realize, however, is the danger of entering into a cycle of activity that provides no future ROI. For instance, if you are in a position in which the vast majority of your energy is spent on activities that will not improve your future life or business, and your free time is spent recovering from those activities, perhaps the way you spend your energy should be reexamined ... even if it means a step “backwards” or “sideways.” If you are one of the fortunate few who spend a portion of their professional lives on development and practice, look to see how you can leverage this time for yourself.
Leverage looks like practicing a skill that will be applicable for our chosen professions. It also looks like practicing skills that will become important for our lives and our careers beyond our current career. Commit to the journey to be the very best. Relish the struggle. Enjoy the feedback that comes in the form of temporary conditions like pain, embarrassment or loss. If dogged and grim, then you besiege and beset it, you’ll get it ... you’ll get it.
“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” —Michael Jordan
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.