I just finished Roland Lazenby’s book Michael Jordan: The Life. I strongly recommend it – not just for the basketball or MJ fan (both of which I am) but for anyone who wants to gain incredible insight from one of the most remarkable successes the world has ever seen.
What impressed me most, after reading the book, was not MJ’s legendary work ethic, or competitive drive. I was aware of both of these traits before I read the book.
What I didn’t realize however, and what became evidently clear by reading the book, was just how willing MJ was to expose himself to potential failure so that he could live with no regrets and repeatedly test himself.
I think that prior success can sometimes be one of the biggest barriers to future success. When we are successful at one thing we now have “something to lose” – at a minimum the pride associated with our prior success. This can make us risk adverse, wanting to play it safe so that our pristine “success record” remains intact.
When we do this however, not only do we miss out on potential opportunities but we don’t fully live. A fulfilling life is a life that involves continual growth. Continual growth however isn’t possible without the potential for pain, setbacks and failure. I think that a truly remarkable person is someone who doesn’t allow prior success to define their willingness to try (and potentially fail) in the future.
MJ repeatedly displayed this character trait.
Think about it – after winning three NBA championships – in a row – he left to pursue a lifelong dream to see if he could make it as a big league baseball player. The best basketball player in the world was willing to ride a AA baseball bus in Birmingham Alabama just so that he could live with no regrets – knowing that he gave it a shot.
After his comeback, and second three-peat championship run with the Bulls, he retired, only to come back three years later as an aged player, without the once unmatched physical gifts, because he felt that he had more in the tank and he wanted to live without regrets. This time – with the Wizards – the results didn’t mirror the prior success he had with the Bulls, but the larger principle (at least to me is resounding):
He was willing to fail, and get criticized in the process, despite having achieved unprecedented success, so that he could test himself and live with no regrets.
I find that so inspiring – such a model of how I hope to live my life.
I think the only reason that we wouldn’t risk failure, in the face of prior success, is because we aren’t secure in ourselves, and we use our past success to bolster our otherwise weak emotional ecosystem and self-esteem.
But if you are secure in yourself, if you don’t need to hide behind achievements to support your lack of independent self-esteem, then you are willing to risk failure so that you can continually challenge yourself and live with no regrets.
That is how I want to live.
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