The Road

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Michael Jordan in the late 1980s seemingly had every basketball skill imaginable. The NBA’s leading scorer, the game’s most exciting player, able to drive with lightning-like speed to the basket and soar above the rim for easy scores, he controlled entire games against the world’s best players. He received immense recognition in the form of his massive salary and in the number of Air Jordan sneakers bought by his fans, who made them the highest-selling athletic shoe of all time. However, in his view Jordan still lacked one crucial skill that he believed he needed to develop in order to reach his full basketball potential. As his coach Phil Jackson stated, “Michael was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to professional standards.”

In response, Jordan identified and assessed his own raw material. He had the ball handling touch, the rapid reflexes, the body-eye coordination, and the requisite elevation (Jordan could lift his 216-pound frame 42 inches off the ground in a standing jump.) These attributes were the clay which he would sculpt. He hired a coach for education on technique and began an intense practice schedule, shooting up to 2,000 outside jump shots a day in addition to his normal rigorous workout. Within two years he became one of the better shooters in the league, and by the time he retired he had become the one person, if you needed someone to make an outside shot to save your life, that you would choose.

So, if you drill down and identify and cultivate your personal strengths with Jordan-like diligence, will you become famed as one of the all-time greats in your field? Will coworkers refer to you as “God disguised as (insert your name here)”? Will a new style of business footwear bear your name and shower you with millions in royalties? As much as we can all relate to that fantasy, probably not. However, positive and wonderful things do develop for any individual who begins the strength-cultivation process. For a start, you will find yourself improving almost immediately. In addition the very action of committing to cultivation of one or more of your positive attributes is in itself a re-affirming endeavor. And that re-affirmation will carry over when you begin to widely share your cultivated attributes.

Cultivation is where raw material meets energy. Be prepared to work hard. As Jordan himself said, “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

The willingness to work trumps any belief that your attributes are not exceptional. Strong effort will raise their status and by itself will make them meaningful. Derek Jeter, a favorite reference of mine, explained succinctly why you should not worry if your attributes are not Jordanesqe, “It takes no talent to play hard.”

Cultivating your best traits with your full effort becomes a form of salvation that emanates from striving at your utmost best. The ancient Greeks called it arête – that unimaginable happiness that comes from pouring your whole soul, sweat, and courage into achieving, or striving to achieve, a worthy goal. The joy lies in the process, or as better put by Cervantes, “The road is better than the inn.” Cultivation and the effort it entails may appear challenging at first, but the longer you dedicate yourself the easier it becomes and the greater the indirect benefits.

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