Optimism is the most important fuel of champions, of winning, and of success, especially in the face of change. At one time or another, all of us have chased a goal when, in our hearts, we did not truly believe that we would succeed — and more often, we did not. Nothing is more important that all-in commitment and unwavering belief.
Humans are in a never-ending battle with our own minds, our own anticipation of future events, our memories, and our biases often formed from the opinions of others. Nothing kills more potential triumphs than realism or worse yet, the dark cloud of pessimism. Our own expectations, secret or public, change outcomes.
As I watch the 2022 World Cup, I see vivid examples of belief and doubt, expectations and outside influences. Winning and losing on the world’s largest stage requires more than athleticism and fitness. Coaches who manage to motivate their individual players to give in their all while not doubting themselves are the ones who progress against all odds. Sports and tournaments are amazing microcosms, where events play out in a few weeks that take years in normal life.
No one wins the World Cup, or the Olympics, or the mega sale, or the new amazing job, without unequivocal belief in self.
What is your #1 goal at work? What is your #1 goal at home? What is your #1 goal personally? Or for your longer-term future? What’s your goal for health and fitness? Do you believe that you can and will pull off each goal? Will you be great? If you are not sure, if realism and pessimism are gnawing at your confidence, you will probably falter. Only you can change your own mind — the sooner you do, the better — because the decision-making domino effect matters.
The requirement of optimism is present both in small objectives and in large ones. I once played a round of golf with former NBA guard Derrick Harper. He completely believed he would sink every putt. It was amazing how much better he putted because he believed. I suspect he brought that same verve and belief when he first stepped up to the game commentator microphone.
These lessons matter, because the same is true for you and your goals. If you believe you will wow the audience at the big conference, indeed you will. And the domino effect can accelerate your career. If you believe you will be an amazing dad and spouse, you will be just that. If you believe you will achieve the best shape of your life within 18 months, you just might get there 3 months ahead of schedule.
If you are doubting yourself, take inventory of why. List your positives and your shortcomings. Ink and paper are magical. More often than not, I find new belief that I am indeed, ready, willing, and able to overcome the challenge and surprise all those “realistic” doubting Thomases.
This is a “re-post” of a great article, just so that it doesn’t disappear someday. It appears on a new (not sure how new) site that IMHO has a lot of promise: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us (definitely suggest checking in out).
Overcoming adversity, especially in the dense fog of other people’s expectations — expectations greatly exaggerated by the media — is something few people experience to the level that Chauncey Billups has.
Chauncey is one of my favorite basketball players of all time. I would love to have lunch with him one day. His journey in the NBA was extraordinary, as was his optimism. Here he is in his own words, and there is a lot to learn from him. The original is posted on the web, but I posted it here, just in case some misguided webmaster takes it down someday. This story should not be lost.
Letter to My Younger Self
by Chauncey Billups
Dear Young Chaunce,
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
It’s June 8, 2004, about 11 p.m. in Los Angeles. You’ve just lost the most important game of your 28-year-old life. And you’re about to walk onto the Detroit Pistons team bus.
You’re going to leave Staples Center on that bus. You’re going to hop on a plane. And sometime early in the morning, hours from now, you’re going to arrive at home — tied with the Lakers, one game apiece, in the NBA Finals. Yeah, those Lakers: Shaq. Kobe. Payton. Malone. The Zen Master. The three-time, dynasty-building, world-beating champs.
But we’ll get to that later. Right now, we’ve gotta focus on this bus — this bus full of teammates, of brothers, of Deee-troit Baaa-sketball. This bus full of guys who are coming off the most brutal loss of their lives, just like you. And they need you.
They need their point guard.
They need you to calmly, sternly tell Coach Brown — bless him — to miss everyone with that Philly talk. To not even let him finish when he starts in, dejectedly, on, “When this happened last time.” To just cut him off (with love), and tell him, point blank: “Don’t care, L.B.” To make sure he understands — the whole team understands — that no one should care, at all, about what happened to the Sixers in ‘01. And that, when Coach Brown says, “last time” — nah. Nah. There was no last time.
This is y’all’s first time. And this ain’t Philly.
This is Detroit.
Or it will be in a few hours, anyway. But right now, like I said, it’s only a bus leaving Staples Center — and you’ve just gotten on it. And I need you to walk to the back of it — where everyone can see you, can hear you — and I need you to look at your team. I need you to look at all of them — at Ben, at Rip, at Tay, at Sheed — and wait until you have their attention.
And then I need you to say it.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
Yes. Good. Just like that.
And then, listen, Chaunce: I need you to sit down. I need you to put some music on. Enjoy what’s left of the bus ride. Get a little sleep on that flight. Go home.
And win a fucking championship.
But first thing’s first. Let’s back up a little.
Let’s back up to before you’re a Piston, or a leader, or a winner, or a Big Shot — before any of that.
You know what? Let’s back up to before you’re even a point guard.
Let’s back up a full six-and-a-half years. To when you’re a 21-year-old, in Boston, with a bad haircut and a rookie contract.
Let’s back up to … now. When you’re reading this.
Why ’97? Well — I have some bad news, my dude.
You’re getting traded.
I know, Chaunce. I know.
Everyone agrees — it’s messed up. You’re just a rookie, and not just any rookie: A few months ago, you were the third overall pick in the NBA Draft. Third overall. Third overall picks don’t get traded midseason. It doesn’t happen.
Except, it does.
It’s funny — for the rest of your career, people are going to imagine that you had this terrible relationship with Coach Pitino. But the truth is, the two of you will get along pretty well. And I’ll tell you what: When the trade happens, Coach Pitino will — if nothing else — be honest with you. He’ll at least be that.
(This is already better than you’ll get from some GMs.)
Coach will take you aside, and tell you that there’s a lot of pressure on him to make the playoffs — even in his first year with the team. He’ll tell you that, in order to contend, he feels like the team needed a veteran point guard. He’ll tell you that he’s always been a fan of Kenny Anderson’s — I don’t know, I guess the whole New York thing. He’ll tell you that he still feels you’re going to be a great player — but that, with the pressure on him, and the current roster, he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.
Finding out about that trade will be a complete shock. No warning, no nothing. You’re going to feel hurt, and betrayed, and confused. You’re going to feel a lot of things — none of ’em good.
But here’s my advice: Just don’t be embarrassed.
I know that doesn’t sound like much. And I know, I know — it’s easier said than done. But that’s the way you’re going to get through this, Chauncey: by remembering that you get to play basketball … for a living.
And then holding your head up high.
You’re going to get through this, simply put, by not being embarrassed. And by understanding that you have nothing, and I mean nothing, to be embarrassed about.
Oh, and here’s what else I can tell you:
That trade will be a blessing in disguise. It’s not going to seem like one at the time — actually, to be honest, it’s not going to seem like one for a very long time.
But I promise: It will be a blessing.
You just have to stay patient.
In the meanwhile, though … Chaunce, I won’t sugarcoat it: it’s going to be tough.
It’s going to be you, on your own, in the basketball wilderness. Boston to Toronto … Toronto to Denver.
“Stud prospect” to “journeyman” in less than two years.
Or that will be the perception, anyhow.
It’s crazy how misperceptions get started.
But in a league that’s covered 24/7, with rabid fan-bases and evolving media: Perception is always going to be an interesting thing. In the NBA, everything needs a story attached to it — a rumor, a label, a whatever. I know that sucks, in moments like this. I wish I had some advice for you on it. But it’s one of those things that you’re simply going to have to accept and move on from. Perception is going to bite you a few times, Chaunce. That’s just real.
I’ll give you an example.
In Denver, you’re going to play for Coach Mike D’Antoni. This will be Coach D before those Phoenix years, before “Seven Seconds or Less,” before all of his accolades — but he’s still going to be that same experimenter, that same thinker, that same outside-the-box type of guy. Y’all are going to have Nick Van Exel — a veteran, and a really good player still — entrenched at the point on that team.
But Coach D will have an idea.
He’ll say, “You know what, screw it — I’m just starting my two best guards, period. I don’t care what positions: The one, the two, it doesn’t matter. I want the guys who can play to play.”
And you’ll take him up on that offer.
You’ll fight like hell, you’ll adapt, and pretty soon you’ll be starting on that Nuggets team — in the backcourt, at shooting guard, opposite Nick. You’re going to be incredibly proud of yourself for that, Chaunce. And between us: You should be. It’s going to take a lot of guts to make those adjustments as a young player, and a lot of talent. When you make that first start at shooting guard, it’ll be a big accomplishment. But here’s the crazy thing about it: That accomplishment is going to dog you for years.
I can already hear you — reading this and thinking to yourself: What do you mean, “dog me” — I thought you said it’s an accomplishment?
Like I said, Chaunce, this league is all about perception. And as bizarre as it is to say: No one around the league is going to care about the adjustments you made, or the versatility you showed, or the skill set you displayed, that made your coach want to start you at shooting guard. No. What people will focus on is this: Chauncey isn’t a point guard.
They’ll see the trade for Kenny Anderson in Boston. They’ll see the short stint and the second trade in Toronto. They’ll see “Chauncey Billups, Shooting Guard” in Denver. You probably won’t even hear it; it’ll just be a whisper. You see they moved Chauncey off the ball? Yeah, he tried, but he’s not a point. And sometimes a whisper is all it takes to manufacture reality. It’s crazy, I know. But that’s the league.
Chauncey isn’t a point guard. That’s what they’ll say.
They’ll be wrong.
The other thing that’s going to be tough about Denver is that it’s home. When you arrive, of course, people are going to make a big deal out of it. You’re the best basketball player in Colorado history, probably, so for you to land with the Nuggets is going to be big news on a local level. They’ll write things like, Hometown savior, or, This is the change of scenery that Chauncey Billups needs.
But in reality, playing at home as a 23-year-old professional is going to be less blessing and more curse. (There’s perception, again, for you.) It’s as simple as this: You’re just not going to be ready for Denver to be Your City. You’re going to think you’re ready — and they are too — but, trust me, you won’t be. You’re still going to be so young. You’re still going to be hanging out with your boys, doing your old thing. There are going to be those … hometown distractions. And those distractions will add up.
And you have to understand, Chaunce: It’s not just that you made it. It’s that your whole neighborhood is going to feel like they made it. All of Park Hill is going to feel like they made it. And don’t get me wrong — that’s special. But at the wrong age, it can also be tough. It can be a lot to handle. And you’re going to be at that wrong age. You’re not going to be mature enough yet, or developed enough yet, to take on that mix of environments, those responsibilities, that role.
You’re not going to be ready to lead.
During your next stop, in Orlando … you’re not even going to be ready to play. A shoulder problem will keep you out for the rest of that season. Three trades, four teams — and, now, one injury.
And that’s when it’s going to hit you.
It’s going to hit you hard, like bricks, and stop you dead in your tracks. When it first enters your mind, you’re going to want to dismiss it. You’re going to want to think, Nah, I’m 24, that can’t be right. You’re going to try to ignore it, to push it away.
But at some point, during that offseason, you’re going to let it hit you.
You need that.
In fact: Why don’t you go look in the mirror, right now, and say it out loud. Go ahead, Chaunce — say it:
This could be your last chance.
Please internalize that, Chauncey. Please internalize it, and accept it, and grasp the urgency of your situation. And choose your next team wisely.
That’s right — your old buddy Kevin Garnett. He and you go way back, all the way to high school.
Well, the end of high school. For most of your childhoods, you’d only heard about each other: always neck-and-neck on the same prospect lists, the same class rankings. But you’d never actually met. Then, finally, senior year, you were named to the same McDonald’s All-American Team — for that ‘95 game in St. Louis. (You, Garnett and Pierce, all on one team — not bad for high school, right?)
As luck would have it, after the game, your flight and Kevin’s flight both got delayed. And so you ended up with some time to kill at the airport, just the two of you.
And man … you guys just … got to talking. And talking. And talking. Probably two, three hours, you guys spent in that airport. Just a pair of 17-year-old kids: chatting, joking around, asking each other stuff — you know, cutting through the bullshit. About hoops. About life. About the big decisions that you both had upcoming.
That was the first time you really got to have a heart-to-heart with someone who was on your level as an athlete — and who was going through the same growing pains that you were, both as a person and as a kind of celebrity. When your flights finally arrived, the two of you exchanged info and went your separate directions. But that conversation … in this strange way … meant everything.
And Kevin became a friend for life.
And so, with your career hanging in the balance, now, Chauncey — it’s time to align yourself with the people in this world you can actually trust. It’s time to go play with your best friend in the league. It’s time do your thing, and work your tail off.
And see what happens.
Don’t worry, you’ll have help.
You’ll have Sam Mitchell, a.k.a. “Unc,” and he’s going to be invaluable in teaching you what it means to be a pro. Those little adjustments, those little maturations — those subtle lessons that you didn’t even know you hadn’t learned? That’s Sam. That’s Unc.
Ninety-nine percent of communication is nonverbal, Chaunce. This, Chaunce, is how you dress like a professional. This is how you act on the road, Chaunce; this is how you act at home.
That’s that old head, cool uncle, Sam Mitchell knowledge. And you’ll never forget it.
You’ll have Flip Saunders — and, listen: That’s probably a whole other letter. But all I’ll say, for now, is this: Chauncey, respect that man. And cherish him. As coaches go … he’ll be one of the good ones. And as people go … he’ll be one of the great ones.
(But don’t waste a big goodbye on him in Minnesota. You’ll meet him again later.)
And then, finally: you’ll have Terrell Brandon.
Terrell will be a star point guard, in his prime, when you arrive in Minnesota — which means that you’re not going to start at the one right away.
But this isn’t about “right away,” Chauncey. Not anymore.
No, this is about building a foundation, now, and earning yourself a career. You want to be a point guard, Chaunce? Then be a backup point guard. Start at the two-spot when they need you, sure — but don’t shy away from the word “backup,” either. Embrace it. Learn from the star vet. Learn from Terrell. And then build something of your own from scratch.
Build the best Chauncey Billups possible.
You couldn’t have a better mentor than Terrell — so make sure you soak it all in. Pay attention to how smart he is, how diligent and patient. Pay attention to his midrange game: a lost art among point guards — and the sort of skill that could come in handy, during a playoff game or two down the road. Pay attention to his court vision, and the thought he puts into each of his passes — never flashy, always purposeful. Chauncey: Soak in all of that.
And that’s just the intro class. Those are just the basics, young fella. Get ready for the advanced lessons, as well.
“Chauncey,” Terrell will say, during one of your daily film sessions. “I’m not just the leader of this team — I’m the guy with the ball in my hands. That’s not to be taken lightly. That’s a status, and it comes with responsibility.”
And then he’ll break it down for you.
“You’ve got K.G., who’s our best scorer — 21, 22 per. You’ve got Wally, who’s our second-best scorer — 17, 18 per. If K.G. don’t have 12-to-14 points at halftime, and if Wally don’t have 8 or 9 — then I’m not doing my job. End of story. There isn’t a moment that goes by during the game where I’m not thinking to myself, What am I doing to fulfill my responsibility as a point guard?”
That’s going to be a very big moment for you, Chaunce. A “wow” moment. Before Terrell, your attitude going into games is going to be unsophisticated at best: Play well, and win the game. That’s it. But Terrell is going to put you on this whole other level. Now it’s, When does Kevin want the ball? Where does Wally like to catch it? What specific play do I have to call … to get this specific guy the ball … in this specific spot? When, and where, and how, is it best to get mine?
Now you won’t just be playing hoops.
You’ll be playing point.
If your first season with the T-Wolves is going to be Terrell Brandon University, then your second season is going to be the final exam. Because that’s when T.B. will go down with a season-ending knee injury … and you’ll be thrust into the role you’ve been preparing for, working toward, all this time: starting point guard.
Before we get to that, though: Read this next part carefully, Chaunce. Because it might be the most important lesson in this entire letter.
A lot of people are going to say that you got your opportunity to start at the point because of Terrell Brandon’s injury. Hell — in the moment, as it’s happening, you might even think that yourself. But here’s the truth: You got your opportunity because of Terrell Brandon’s generosity.
You’re not going to understand this, yet, I know. You’re too young. But one day you will. One day, when you’re knocking on the door of 40, and looking back on this moment … you’ll understand. You’ll understand how, most of those stories people hear, you know, about the vet helping the young guy along? They’re myths.
Trust me. 80-percent, 90-percent, damn-near 100-percent of the time: The guy in Terrell Brandon’s position would not root for you to succeed. Not for one second. I promise you that.
The truth is: This league is built on a game — but it runs as a business. And a lot of guys are real nice, real nice … right up until the moment where you threaten their spot.
As soon as Terrell goes down, he’s going to know that you’re a threat. In fact, he’s going to know that better than anyone — because he’s going to know, better than anyone, what you’re capable of.
But I’ll tell you what: The first thing he’s going to say to you, when you see him on those crutches after his surgery — you’ll never forget it. He’s going to walk up to you, put his hand on your shoulder, look you square in the eye … and say, “Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
And he won’t stop there. Every time he sees you going forward — every morning at practice, every afternoon shootaround, every night before tipoff — he’s going to have those same four words for you. That will be Terrell’s refrain, that whole rest of the season — and it’s going to help you, more than you can imagine, every time he says it.
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
Once Terrell gets injured … yeah, you’re going to play starting point guard, with or without his blessing. But you’re not going to be starting point guard. For that, you need Terrell. And that difference, of having Terrell’s support — it’s going to mean everything to you.
Oh, yeah, and about that final exam?
You pass — with flying colors.
Later that summer, you’re going to sign with Detroit.
A little advice on the jersey: pick No. 1.
No, not because you’re the best — nothing corny. Pick No. 1, as in … one shot. Detroit is the one shot they’re going to give you — this league, that almost spit you out, is going to give you — at greatness. At running your own show. This will be it, and then that will be that.
If you blow it? Hey — you had a good run in Minnesota, Chaunce. It’s not like you’ll be unemployed or anything. You’ll still be a proven role player, no matter what, and you’ll be able to go right back to that.
But you won’t want to go back to that. You’ll have worked too hard, and overcome too much, to go back to that. And that’s what No. 1 will mean. You’ll have been to Boston. Toronto. Denver. Orlando. And, finally, Minnesota. That’s a lot of pit stops in five years.
No. 1, Chaunce, will mean your one shot … at doing better than a pit stop.
At making everything else the journey.
And Detroit the destination.
The thing about a destination, of course, is that everyone has a different story of how they got there. You’ll have yours, and it’s a wild one. But the best part about Detroit will be the way that each guy’s story on that team seems even wilder than the next.
Take Ben Wallace.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. You think that you’ve gotten up off the mat, Chaunce, from being third overall? This dude is going to go undrafted — out of Virginia Union — and is going to find a way to stick in the league. This dude is a 6’9 center — a 6’9 center — and is going to become the best defensive big in the NBA.
And sure, he’ll seem a little mean, at first … but only on the court. You’ll love him, I promise. Ben will be y’all’s protector, in every sense of the word — and will embody all of the traits that [deep breath] Deee-troit Baaa-sketball will come to represent. Hard-working. Battle-tested. Self-made. A cast-off of some kind.
And, of course, defense-first.
Oh, yeah, and that mean-looking face? That’ll be the face of your franchise — and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Take Tayshaun Prince.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. He’ll be the young guy of the group — you’ll call him “Nephew.” (Hard to believe, I know. You’ll be The Vet — the “Unc” — to someone soon.) Tay will be that shy, quiet guy. Not going to do a lot of talking. At first, if you don’t see him — I mean, physically see him — in the locker room, you won’t even know he’s there. That’ll just be his way. But give him some time. Let the kid grow. Eventually, he’ll open up a little, and turn out to be one of the funnier guys you’ll ever meet. Yeah, that’s right — Tay’ll have jokes. Who knew?
On the court, Tayshaun will be truly unique. There will just be something about his game, that no one can quite put their finger on. He’ll be like this silent assassin.
And, like any good silent assassin …
… they won’t know he’s coming until it’s too late.
In a lot of ways, as crazy as it sounds, Tayshaun will be the future of basketball. The future — bottled up into one, wiry, 6’9, 200-pound frame. He’ll be the prototype: a guy with long-ass arms, who can guard 1-through-4, and kill a team’s spirit with a single defensive play. And at the same time: a guy with a feathery touch, who can fill it up effortlessly from deep over the reach of even the most athletic wing. Ten years after Tay, everyone in the league will be trying to copy that blueprint.
But there’ll be only one original. And you’ll call him Nephew.
Take Richard Hamilton.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. Chaunce — you know all of those years you spent, building yourself, and building yourself, into the best possible point guard? In a way, it will turn out that that was all to prepare you for teaming with one, single player: Rip. Rip is going to be the perfect shooting guard for the point guard you’ll become. And — thanks, Wizards — he’s going to fall into your lap at the perfect time.
Y’all’s games are going to be tailor-made to fit one another’s. And your demeanors, too: You’ll be that calm, laid-back, cerebral kind of player, that steady hand at the point. Whereas Rip — that boy is going to have a motor on him. He’s going to want to cut, and curl, and run, and shake free … all … day … long. That’s that raw energy, that Rip will bring to the table. He’ll be the kind of player who thinks he’s open every single play — like he’s got this rare shooting instrument that never turns off.
But you’ll be ready. You’ll have graduated with honors from Terrell Brandon University, and you’ll be ready. You’ll be that orchestra conductor with the ball in your hands. And you’ll conduct Rip’s instrument to perfection. Sometimes you’ll turn him down. Sometimes you’ll turn him up. Sometimes you’ll do both, within a single possession. You’ll just have this unbelievable chemistry together.
Y’all are going to be great friends off the court, too.
But on it, Chaunce? You’re going to be the best backcourt in the world.
And last, but not least, take Rasheed Wallace.
Who? Nah, just kidding. With Sheed, you’ll know who. But you won’t really know. In fact, before the trade, you’ll only know Sheed by reputation: some of it good … some of it not so good. The good will be great: This is a guy who will have been through wars, in the Western Conference, against all of those great power forwards: from Duncan, to Webber, to McDyess, to your good friend K.G. And he’ll be one of the very few guys in those wars who could say he won as many as he lost.
But then you’ll also hear things — mostly from the media, and mostly out of context — that will give you a little bit of pause. Bad attitude. Weird personality. Short temper. You know — all of the usual stuff about Sheed. As the leader of a team that places a high value on chemistry, those won’t be things you’ll take lightly.
And so, when you find out that The Infamous Rasheed Wallace is coming onboard … you won’t quite know whether you should be fully excited.
You should be fully excited.
When Sheed arrives, you’re going to know almost instantly: This is the guy who’s going to take y’all from contender to champion. You’re not even going to need a single game to figure that out. For real — it won’t take y’all but a couple of practices.
Sheed will just … walk in the door, and blow you away.
Talking, talking, talking on defense. Quarterbacking that back line, that sacred back line of y’all’s D, like he’s been there for years. Calling out plays. Letting guys know where the screen’s coming from. He’ll literally be predicting, perfectly, where the play is going — every time. Go over here. I need you over there. Watch the corner, Ben. Watch the ball, Chaunce. And then, on offense … being unselfish at every turn: seamlessly fitting into the flow — while single-handedly making the flow that much better.
After that first practice with Sheed, the other four of you — yourself, Rip, Ben and Tay — are going to just … stand there, looking at each other … smiling slyly, in awe. Your eyes are going to be lit up from inside. Your jaws are going to be on the floor. No one will have to say the words. But silently, you’ll all be thinking them:
This guy is a genius.
And then the next words — you won’t be able to help it, Chaunce — you’ll say out loud:
The rest of the league is in trouble, y’all. They in trouble now.
So stay patient, young fella.
Like I said at the beginning … just stay patient.
When you get traded, out of the blue, as a rookie in Boston. When you feel confused, and frustrated, and discouraged, in Toronto. When you hear the whispers that Chauncey’s not a point guard in Denver. When the injury bug hits you, at the time you least can afford it, in Orlando. And when you check into the Last Chance Hotel in Minnesota. Stay patient.
Stay patient, Chauncey.
Because that — all of that — is your journey.
And Detroit is your destination.
In Detroit, you’ll have a group of teammates who are nothing like you … and yet somehow, also, just like you. You’ll have a family of brothers who have been through adversity — and come out the other side. You’ll have Ben, and you’ll have Tay, and you’ll have Rip, and you’ll have Sheed. And when you step onto that floor with them … you’ll feel it. You’ll know it: that Deee-troit Baaa-sketball won’t just be your one shot at greatness. It will be theirs, too.
It will be all of yours — together.
And that will make all of the difference.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
It’s June 8th, 2004, about 11 p.m. in Los Angeles. You’ve just lost the most important game of your 28-year-old life. And you’re about to walk onto the Detroit Pistons team bus.
You’re going to leave Staples Center on that bus. You’re going to hop on a plane. And sometime early in the morning, hours from now, you’re going to arrive at home — tied with the Lakers, one game apiece, in the NBA Finals. Yeah, those Lakers: Shaq. Kobe. Payton. Malone. The Zen Master. The three-time, dynasty-building, world-beating champs.
And as you walk onto that bus — climb those big ol’ bus stairs — you’re going to think about how far you’ve come.
You’ve come pretty far, Chauncey.
And you should feel good about that.
As you walk onto that bus, I’m telling you: You should take a second, a real second, and just … feel good about that.
And you should understand what it will mean to have made it to here. You should know how proud I am of you, for everything you’ve been through, and fought through — and you should know that in advance.
But I also want you to understand that there’s still a long way to go.
That you’ll play over 1,000 games — 1,000 games — before it’s all said and done in your career. But that none of them will be as important as these next three right in front of you.
These next three at home.
To win these next three, Chauncey, you’re going to need all hands on deck.
You’re going to need those Deee-troit fans, in their Palace, at Auburn Hills. You’re going to need Coach Brown, god bless him, in all of his brilliance and crazy. You’re going to need your resilient bench, those unsung heroes, from Corliss Williamson on down. And you’re going to need your brothers … your family … your once-in-a-lifetime starting five.
But they’re going to need you too, Chaunce.
And they need you right now. Right here. On this big ol’ bus.
They need their point guard.
And when you take that next step, Chaunce — that’s just what you’ll give them.
You’ll look at Ben, at Rip, at Tay, at Sheed. And they’ll nod. You’ll promise, We’re winning Games 3 through 5. And you will. You’ll tell them, We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A. And you won’t.
We live in a culture currently obsessed with “perseverance” — and I have no doubt that perseverance is a great aspect of people that succeed. Best sellers like Grit by Angela Duckworth are flying off the digital shelves. Watch this short presentation by Angela for a sense of the message.
There is a problem, however. Deciding when to change gears, when to find a new job, when to sell a stock position, when to try a new method, when to get off the hamster wheel is not nearly as heralded but, in my mind, just as important. I have plenty of examples of when I stuck-to-it far too long, wasting valuable time and resources when the writing was on the wall.
If I had a superpower, I would want it to be the ability to make the right decision at the opportune time. What decision have you been putting off that needs to be made? Chasing the wrong thing is very much akin to climbing the ladder of success for years, only to later find out that it is leaning against the wrong wall.
The old Kenny Rogers song extolled that…”You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run” in the context of poker, and life. Optimism is much easier to develop and keep when you are zen-aligned with a pursuit that really fits your passion and purpose.
Don’t wait too long to make those decisions. I think it is high time that I sell Schlumberger stock.
Having a great idea is not the same as making your idea happen. Having great intent to help is not the same as being of great assistance. Having a awesome goal is not the same as accomplishing it.
In this age of social media, daily posts, and group texts, we are more likely than ever to announce our intent. I believe this is counter-productive and will often torpedo your accomplishment. Why? Because all your friends and colleagues will give you positive feedback right away. “Great idea!” “Fantastic goal!” “You are the best!”
Reality check: most goals, ideas, and projects take time — lots and lots of time and determination. If you have already basked in the glow of recognition, what will help you persist? What will help you adapt and overcome? What will drive you to the finish line?
Don’t announce it. Do it first. Well done is much better than well said.
Success in life is simple but expect it will be hard. You have to be up to the challenge. Discipline matters. The world does not owe success to you — you must adapt, overcome, and never give up. You must be optimistic, you must believe that you can. All this and more is captured in Admiral McRaven’s brilliant address at University of Texas’ 2014 graduation. You can watch it on YouTube but I believe it is more memorable if you read it.
“Make Your Bed”
This speech was delivered by Admiral McRaven as the commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.
President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.
It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT. I remember a lot of things about that day. I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married — that’s important to remember by the way — and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.
But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening, and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So, acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.
The University’s slogan is, “What starts here changes the world.” I have to admit — I kinda like it. “What starts here changes the world.”
Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.
800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.
If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people — change their lives forever — you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan: A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush. In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved. Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.
But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is — what will the world look like after you change it?
Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status.
Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward — changing ourselves and the world around us — will apply equally to all.
I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harrassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.
But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.
So, here are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students — three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.
For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each. I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about five-foot-five.
The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the midwest. They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.
SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.
If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.
There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.
Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.
If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.
No one wanted a circus.
A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.
But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.
Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.
But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed wire crawl, to name a few. But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.
The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.
It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation the student slid down the rope perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.
If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.
Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.
There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.
So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.
During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.
To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.
Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.
If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.
It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.
The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.
The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.
The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singingbut the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.
If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.
So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell.
Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.
If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better. It will not be easy.
But, YOU are the class of 2014, the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.
Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.
Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.
Our ability to do new things, our capacity to learn new skills, is far beyond most people’s imaginations.
The problem is that most people decide to not take action, to not even try. If I had a dollar for every time I overheard the words “I wish I…” I’m certain I’d be a multi-millionaire. People wish that they could speak a second language, or understood and had great investments, or could paint beautiful pictures, or could climb mountains, or run triathlons, or simply lost some excess weight, but have no answer if asked what they have actually done, what actions they have taken about their wishful yearning this week, last week, or last month.
There is nothing wrong with wishful thinking — ideas for accomplishment always start with wishful imagination — but you can have almost anything you want, as long as you convert your wishful thinking into a solid plan and then take decisive action to accomplish your plan, adjusting and overcoming setbacks, without loss of optimism and enthusiasm.
I’ve always wished that I remembered the names of people I meet far better than I do. Last year, I bought a book about memory tricks and techniques of the memory masters. Unfortunately, I only read the first few chapters, I became 50% better at names as I applied active focus to the mission that first month, but I then put the book and the effort aside as I allowed other urgencies overtake my time and focus. It was a perfect example that going from wishful thinking to getting what you want is rarely super-human mission-impossible. It simply takes making a plan, and following through with the actions and focus required. Finishing what you start is priceless, however, and I now have to restart the lessons, but that plan too, is simple and obvious.
Believe that you can, and you will find that you can. Make a great plan, take committed action, and follow the footsteps of others who succeeded before you.
Far too many people think “the brilliant big idea” is the root of home run success. I believe home runs happen more often with good ideas, not great ones. The home runs come when three elements are applied — full ‘whatever it takes’ commitment, unquenchable positive enthusiasm, and extraordinary dogged persistence.
Success is barely the tip of the iceberg above the surface for the casual observer to see. No one realizes the amount of work it took for the successful to make it to that point. I believe when the going gets tough — really tough — almost everyone quits, because there are plenty of other options. Those options often make logical sense and your friends and family will influence you to take one of them. It is only the rare person who fights the long odds, who believes that she must see it through and prove the naysayers wrong, that ultimately knocks it out of the park.
Never let anyone talk you out of doing what you believe you were born to do.
All of us daydream with a hopeful attitude from time to time. We imagine ourselves in a different state of life, often fueled by what we see on TV and in print.
Optimism is crucial — you have to believe you can — but it is important to remember to get started before all the lights turn green, be committed to your pursuit with great focus and energy, and finish no matter what for there are no credits, no rewards, no accolades, no windfalls, no satisfaction for those that quit halfway through.
Wishful thinking doesn’t help you…
or loved by others,
or a great investor,
or a millionaire, multi-millionaire, or billionaire,
or learn to speak Spanish,
or play the piano, guitar, or harmonica well,
or speak compellingly in front of a large audience,
or play basketball, or squash, or racketball spledidly,
or do three fantastic magic tricks,
or ski black diamond slopes without breaking limbs,
or become amazing in terms of cardio fitness, or muscular strength,
Today, are you mostly a do-er or a watcher? Do you make up excuses or do you hold yourself accountable? Do you set goals, and then milestones and specific plans to reach those goals? Do you embrace change and risk or do you hide from both. Do you have a burning desire to learn and grow and excel or is being OK good enough for you?
There is no time like today to decide your own DNA.
Too often, we think that those who achieve something really special were born with huge advantages. Yet, if you read stories about the most successful people, the common denominator is not birthright but rather optimism, a tendency to take initiative and action without over analyzing a situation, a confidence that overrides the voices of “realists” and “pessimists” that are ever present, a willingness to take a chance when the odds looks favorable, and a belief that failures are simply little setbacks to learn from on a road of adapting and overcoming every step of the way.
A great way to look at it is “Why Not Me?”
Others become millionaires in less than 10 years. Why Not Me?
Others graduate college with honors, and double majors, and masters, and Phd’s. Why Not Me?
Others change jobs, and careers, until they find a dream gig. Why Not Me?
Others have wonderful marriages, and loving families. Why Not Me?
Others run marathons, learn to fly airplanes, get in killer shape, become published writers. Why Not Me?
Others live without stress. Why Not Me?
Others are genuinely happy, every darn day. Why Not Me?
Of course you can. This is America, the land where the system does not keep the tenacious optimist from success. No one will give it to you on a silver platter, but if you define your goals clearly, create plans with milestones, and get started on the steps others have succeeded with before, you can get there.
There is so much opportunity for those who are willing to try creative ways to solve problems.
Here is a great little story from Kenya that I find inspirational. I believe all of us see problems every day but few try to solve them with innovation and the tenacity to adapt, overcome, and get to the finish line:
The world belongs to those with a positive attitude who get started, put in the work, and persist to the finish line, not the intellectuals who sit in coffee houses debating on what might or might not work.
Choose to be a man or woman of creativity and action.
I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word priority. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: priority was singular only — it meant the single most important item.
Today, we have corrupted the word to mean “important” instead of the most important. I think we should return to the original definition.
So, as January 2017 is nearly here, what is your foremost priority resolution – yes, just one – for 2017?
I would suggest picking a self-improvement habit-of-excellence and focusing on just that one, until it truly is a habit in your life. Once your foremost priority becomes a habit, then and only then, create your next foremost priority resolution. Don’t dilute your effort with the list of 10 or 20 resolutions – that lack of focus is why most of us never seem to accomplish our long list of resolutions each year.
Once you pick your priority, leave reminders everywhere — on your computer, smartphone, and tablet wallpaper screens, your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, in your car. I really like the idea of have a calendar with red X’s on every day you made progress on your one true priority. Excellence comes from focus on building your own habits.
Some goals lend themselves better to the Red X system better than others. For a fitness goal, the Red X feedback is easy. For writing a book, break the long project into small steps, like writing a minimum of two pages or 300 words each day. For complex projects, you will need to pre-plan each day’s progress step with your first cup of coffee, but the idea is the same: make progress daily.
Although I am certain I have used this quote before, I can’t resist including it here:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Why not ask people in conversation what their “foremost priority” is — right now — whenever conversation allows. If you listen well, you will learn something of importance about your friend, and you might just inspire him to improve his focus and succeed more easily. Inspiration is a great gift to give, not only over the Christmas Season, but all year long.
Finally, build a habit of saying “foremost priority” instead of “priorities” in conversation. Let’s do our part to get back to the meaning of the word and do our part to beat back the constant distractions of our modern, smartphone, media, and internet dominated life.
Most people think about goals in a far off in the future sense. Sure, goals are future-oriented but I believe it is better to look at them from both a forward-facing perspective and in the harsh light of “what did I accomplish” recently.
What if, on the first day of each month, you set an alarm on your smartphone that asked you to “write down the one goal that you accomplished last month…?”
Think back to your last four weeks. Did you accomplish one of your goals? I think many of us would say that we didn’t accomplish one of our goals — or make important steps toward a goal — but rather we just kept up with all the urgencies life throws on our plate. There is an immense difference between mission accomplished and mission started.
When we think about goals as a far off in the future concern, it becomes easy to let ourselves off the hook this week, or this month, and make no substantial progress for many months on end. No one else cares if we don’t accomplish our missions — in fact, some of the people secretly don’t want you to succeed — because it helps them feel better about their own lack of accomplishment. Most of us have no self-accountability feedback system… implementing this little alarm and reality-check on a monthly basis, while perhaps adding another reminder on a weekly basis, will change your goals momentum for the better.
Finishing is everything. Completing three and a half years of college is not nearly as helpful as getting a diploma.
Build the habit of monthly progress on your goals. If you don’t, you will find that you are invariably making progress only on other people’s goals and not your own.
PS. If you don’t have a great list of goals defined, I have moved my free video goals workshop “GungHoLife” to youtube. You have a much better chance of accomplishing great things if you have specific targets and plans to do them.
There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the “relative value” of a college education, especially in light of skyrocketing college costs and the corresponding student debt.
From my perspective, that’s the wrong debate. Common sense tells me that, if your goal is “to be all you can be” — to do your very best — finishing college is a given and a must. Sure, we have all heard the stories of the brainiac college drop-out who founded the next billion dollar startup. If your son or daughter has that special mix of entrepreneurial brilliance, unquenchable desire to learn on his or her own, and unstoppable drive, ignore the rest of this article. For most, however, I think the debate should focus on whether an undergraduate degree is enough.
Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?
After doing a little analysis, the answer is an emphatic “yes“; in fact, I would argue that a Masters (or doctorate) is critical to improve one’s cash flow, reduce chances of unemployment, and have a higher ultimate trajectory in one’s career. A Masters offers more doors of opportunity, more chances to succeed. Unfortunately, opportunity does not always equal achievement. Higher cash flow means you have the opportunity to save and invest more each year, but that does not guarantee that a person makes that choice. You must still execute on the job and make great impressions on lots of executives to have a chance of promotions. And of course, you must recognize issues clearly, actively network, and look for new opportunitieswhen the career track you are on proves to be a dead-end. Lots of people with advanced degrees don’t hit the ball out of the financial and career happiness park.
Most studies seem to focus “how much a person earns upon graduation” because those are simple metrics to find, and then asks how many years does it take to pay back the cost of the extra years of school. I looked at it from an investor’s point of view, including factors such as an increased rate of savings, compounded returns on investments, and improved chances of promotions and therefore future earning potential. I also tried to bake in some insidious realities, the worst of which is that people who make more money often spend more money. In the end, my spreadsheet assumes 50% of your additional earnings will be blown in spending instead of invested wisely.
While it varies by area of study, in general, Masters degrees are worth about 30% more income in many fields. That gap tends to become smaller as the value of on the job experience comes into play, but then widens again when promotions into higher levels of management occur. I decided to keep the 30% gap in the model throughout one’s career based on the assumption that these two factors balance each other out.
The assumptions in my “Is a Masters degree worth it” spreadsheet are:
Masters degree graduate earns 30% more before tax.
My Bachelors graduate saves 10% of salary and invests it at 7.5% compounding (Why pick 7.5%?).
My Masters graduate saves 15% of salary (because of better cash flow) and invests it at the same 7.5% compounding return.
Bachelors gets 4% raises annually.
Masters gets 6% raises annually (assumes greater promotion opportunities / and factors in better supply and demand aspects of having a Masters). Note that there are a number of soft benefits of the Masters baked into this 6% number — for example, having a Masters degree from a good brand name college increases your networking and credibility. Also, if your Masters degree is different from your Bachelors degree, it gives you a broader range of jobs to choose from if times turn difficult in one industry (for ex. the cyclical downturns in oil and gas that we are seeing right now are really tough on a person with only a BS in Petroleum Engineering or Geology). Lastly, your “birds of a feather” networking benefit will give you better connections across companies. All in all, this factor might be considerably higher than 6%, especially if you reach the highest levels of a corporation.
The cost of the in-state (yes, price paid for the degree matters) Masters degree is paid back over 10 years with no interest (assumes a loan from family).
No inflation factors are in the spreadsheet – but if they were, both savings numbers would reflect it the same so I didn’t see the need to over-engineer.
My spreadsheet models working until 65, and assume the student attains the Masters in two years time (works two years less in their professional job than the Bachelors-only graduate).
The bottom line is that the person with a Masters, given the same amount of optimism, initiative, and tenacity in his or her career — as well as equal will power to save and invest — is likely to retire / start phase three with approximately twice as much in savings / investments. In today’s dollars, the end result @ retirement was $2,034,720 in investment accounts for Masters vs $1,071,274 for Bachelors.
For the student, it boils down to this one question: Why not spend 2 – 3 extra years in school to enjoy greater cash flow, have more opportunities, and save at least $1 M more by the time you retire?
Click here to dive into the details of my spreadsheet. I could have added more fine-tuning but the case is quite compelling without a lot more spreadsheet work. Please email me with suggested improvements or observations.
Get a Masters. Do whatever it takes. It is not even close.I believe that continuing college, straight through to a Masters, is the best way… because once in the workplace, distractions abound. Discipline is crucial to success in every phase of life, no matter if you are working on your college degrees or your nest egg for financial independence and comfort: It is crucial to start saving and investing right away — starting late makes things much more difficult, because compounding requires lots of time to do its inevitable magic (See rule 21 here within my 22 rules for financial success).
Final thoughts: Given the woeful state of social security and the changes in longevity, I believe that “normal” retirement age is likely to change from 65 to 70 before 2050. In such a case, the Masters advantage will actually become much larger because compounding gains really kick in the afterburners in the latter years of the model. If you missed it, I really don’t believe in retirement as most understand it: here are my thoughts on retirement. Lastly, success and wealth is a broader topic than savings and investments. Here is an article from a few years ago that helps a person take a 360 degree view of everything that contributes to true wealth.
PS. Not every career is impacted by the masters degree equally. I am a professional sales executive in the high-end computer software space, an arena where no colleges (as far as I know) offer any degree. In professional sales, the masters doesn’t help regarding direct earnings which are usually target based, although it clearly does help with promotions and outside opportunities. If you are the parent of a student that seems destined to sell professionally for a living (hmmm, I wonder if there are kids that think “sales” when in school), I would suggest creating your own spreadsheet model and sharing it — I would love to contribute. My gut tells me it is still well worth it, due to the improved odds of moving up into upper management.
The reality today is that lots of sharp minds around the world get left behind, missing out on the value of higher education, for a many valid reasons such as financial hardship, cultural barriers, or unfortunate domino-like events in people’s lives. Without the degree, the doors to many career opportunities remain closed, although a person might have the energy, drive, optimism, and capability to excel in a particular field.
The internet is changing everything — and it is inevitable that it will re-write the model of higher education over the coming decade. Here is a mind-opening presentation by Shai Reshef, the founder of tuition-free and yet accredited University of the People. I’m certain it is only the first of many more online institutions to come:
Imagine the possibilities. They are limitless. It does take vision, grit, and optimism to pull oneself out of your current situation, but it can be done, one decision at a time.
Over the years, I have often written about the essential requirement to be 100% committed to whatever you are doing. Overcoming adversity demands it, and every one of us will run into plenty of adversity. In my life, I learned this painful lesson as a freshman in college, when — and this is most definitely not my proudest moment — I literally threw away a full ride scholarship because I was not committed to doing my best and doing what it takes to succeed academically. The good news is that after enough anguish and self-appraisal, I learned the lesson. I decided that if it was to be, it was up to me, and no excuses matter. I adapted and I overcame.
My little story pales in comparison to Inky Johnson’s story, for Inky has overcome exponentially greater adversity than I have. This is a story well worth watching, and in my opinion, more than once. It is essential to watch it when you have 10 minutes without distractions. I hope that you enjoy it. I hope that it gives you food for thought. I hope that it changes your resolve to give every day and every endeavor 100% commitment:
Anyone with enough will, and enough belief, and a purpose beyond themselves, can achieve greatness and make a positive impact on others. Anyone.
Almost every conversation I’m engaged in or overhear contains a large number of “I wants…” within. I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of those wants remain unfulfilled for most people. I hear people say that they want to earn more money, but do very little, if anything, to earn more. I hear others say that they want to lose 10 pounds, but the weight stays velcro’ed to their waistlines. I hear many say they want to find a better more-fulfilling job, but those same folks don’t go on interviews.
I believe what is missing for most people is “all in” commitment. The answer is to convert your average “I want…” to “I must…”
Abraham Lincoln observed:
Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.
A great start to get this “all in” level of commitment is to write down your goal, in specific, measurable, concrete terms, and then clearly summarize in one or two sentences why this goal is important, now. The “why” behind a goal is crucial. Finally, a goal is nothing but dreamy, wishful thinking without a target date, so decide “by when” and write that down as well. Start right away, without delay.
What if you decided that you must lose 10 pounds this month, not someday in the future? How would you approach things differently that you do now?
The iMUST method works if you concentrate and focus your attention and energy — having a dozen initiatives at the same time divides your focus and energy, and is a recipe for failure. I suggest pale ink and a little always-in-your-pocket logbook to help keep your focus and your memory accurate. If your iMUST goal this month is to lose weight, write down every calorie that you eat, jot down whenever you successfully choose the heart-healthy entree instead of the usual, accurately note your exercise achievements, and track your weekly progress.
Upgrade your attitude to iMUST. Commit, and you can and will accomplish your goals.
“I tried everything to make it happen, but nothing worked.“
How often have we heard this? Actually, how often have you said this yourself? Was this statement ever true?
The truth is that nearly everyone gives up after trying just one or two ways to achieve a goal. Three distinct attempts is quite rare, reserved for only the most important of endeavors. People shoot themselves in the foot when they announce that they “have tried everything” because nothing can be farther from the truth. When you make announcements, they become your own limiting belief. Sadly, a lot of people get mentally stuck, simply trying the same methods, over and over, expecting different results but not getting them.
I see few examples of anyone trying multiple paths and methods. This is true for the math teacher trying to get her lesson embraced by her student, or the student who tries to memorize the key elements needed for the upcoming exam. This is true for the coach trying to help his team win, the manager striving to make his sales team hit the forecasted numbers, the entrepreneur trying to win customers for her start-up, and it’s true for millions of people hoping to improve their physical fitness. Most everyone tries only one or two ways — sometimes for months and years — and then gives up.
But, what truly matters most — in the long-run — is whole-hearted, stake your life on it, commitment. Jumping into the deep end — with both feet — makes up for any shortcomings that you have in raw talent. Your commitment level is the single most important factor that changes how many distinct ways you will try to overcome a challenge. If you decide that “I must succeed at ________ ” instead of “I want to succeed at _______ “, you will find that your success percentages will dramatically improve.
Winning means you are willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.
— Vince Lombardi
Imagine two people, Nick and Mike, who both hope to invent the next big thing. Nick, in his own mind’s eye, simply says “I want to” and so, he will work on his project whenever time allows, after he does his day job, hangs with his family, works out at the gym, sees his friends, checks his social media, watches the ball game, and catches up on the news. Mike, on the other hand, commits whole-heartedly and says “I must” — this one little difference makes all the difference. He etches out hours, each and every week without fail, he pivots, adapts, and overcomes, he gets to the finish line of the project, succeeding with persistence and tenacity. It is rarely about talent alone. Success is invariably about your commitment. Commitment is the seed of will power. Only the committed are relentless in the pursuit.
What’s happening in your life today? What are you trying to achieve? Where you should upgrade your commitment from “I want to succeed” to “I must succeed?”
This is a very important question to contemplate, especially if you are not in the middle of spectacular, unusual successes.
If you are not encountering failure, you are not pushing the envelope of your abilities or the opportunities that are inevitably present in your life. Trying something new and daring is the only way to significantly accelerate and expand your life, not to mention feel challenged and enthused. As Lou Holtz puts it in this video well worth watching, “you are either growing or you are dying” — there is no longterm safety with maintaining the status quo.
Unfortunately, as people age beyond 30 or 35, they take less risks and try fewer new things. It should surprise no one that most leaps in society come from the young. What’s true for people is also true for companies; as most companies evolve, they often transform from bold and innovative to conservative, plodding, and risk averse.
At the core of the problem is a myth about failure: Many believe failure is bad, embarrassing, and should be avoided at all cost, especially here in America. Even more people try to cover up their failures and hide them from others, immediately blocking them from their own minds in the cover-up process. The truth is that taking prudent risks, daring to fail, learning from failure, and treating every failure as an important learning experience is how one keeps failure in the right perspective.
I see failure and substantial success as gauges of “am I trying enough new things” — if I go six months without some spectacular setback or win, the alarm bells go off in my head, letting me know that I’m not trying enough new stuff, not taking enough new risks, and missing out on the successes and failures that come with pushing the envelope. Doing a few percent better this year than last is a clear indicator of wasted opportunity.
You must fail forward:
Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
– Denis Waitley
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.
– JK Rowling
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.
– Napoleon Hill
Forget about yesterday’s failure. Time to try something new, exciting, and at least a little bit risky!
I.M. Optimism Man
PS. Here’s a list of rather famous and successful that failed forward:
Roland Hussey Macy
He failed at selling ribbons, provisions to miners and at a general store before going bankrupt in 1855. His next effort, Macy’s became the world’s largest store.
J. C. Penney
First store went bankrupt when he refused to give whiskey as a kickback for orders from a large customer. Penny went belly up and got a job in a drapery shop that he later purchased and expanded into 1100 department stores nationwide.
Henry John Heinz
Started his first company in 1869 selling horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar. In 1875 the company filed for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest which the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. He immediately started a new company and introduced a new condiment, tomato ketchup to the market. This company was, and continues to be, very prosperous.
Milton Snavely Hershey
Started four candy companies that failed and filed bankruptcy before starting what is now Hershey’s Foods Corporation. Mr. Hershey had only a 4th grade education, but was certain he could make a good product that the public would want to purchase. His fifth attempt was clearly successful.
Lost all his hotels when he could not pay his bank during the Great Depression. Later, he bought them all back and built a few more. Things worked out pretty good in the end. Just ask Paris.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Famous architect lost his home, Taliesin in Wisconsin and was thrown on the street when business dried up in 1922. During the following decade, he designed some of his most famous projects.
First two automobile manufacturing companies failed. The first company filed for bankruptcy and the second ended because of a disagreement with his business partner. In June 1903, at the age of 40, he created a third company, the Ford Motor Company with a cash investment of $28,000.00. By July of 1903 the bank balance had dwindled to $223.65, but then Ford sold its first car, and as they say the rest is history
Opened a shop in Missouri after the First World War only to have it fail miserably. He was further humbled by having to move in with his mother-in-law. Truman later settled his debt for pennies on the dollar when the bank at which the underlying note was written actually went bankrupt itself. He is said to have learned a lot from the misadventure. And it all turned out OK in the in end. You may have heard, he eventually got a good job, in Washington, DC.
His name is synonymous with Mickey Mouse and the “happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. However, Disney’s career wasn’t always a moneymaking venture. In 1921, he began a company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri but was forced to file for bankruptcy two years later because his financial backers pulled out. It must have been fate because Disney then headed to Hollywood and became one of the highest paid animators in history.
His first store was a Ben Franklin discount shop that he made among the most profitable and successful in the chain. Walton’s problem was a short lease. When it expired, the building’s owner canceled his lease and took over the store himself. Walton was broke had to start over from scratch. You may have heard, however, that things turned out pretty good in the end. After these early financial difficulties were behind him, he later created the largest company in the world and became a billionaire.
Many foolishly believe that having the brilliant idea is what makes a person succeed or fail. I believe the truth is found in the value of discipline in our lives. Hundreds of good ideas come and go during any given year. If a person is not disciplined, none of them will pay off. Discipline is the ingredient that makes all the difference.
Here are ten great quotes about discipline to consider over a cup of coffee:
It doesn’t matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline. — Harvey Mackay
Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. — Stephen Covey
It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through. — Zig Ziglar
Discipline strengthens the mind so that it becomes impervious to the corroding influence of fear. — Bernard Law Montgomery
Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability. — Roy L. Smith
Discipline is just doing the same thing the right way whether anyone’s watching or not. — Michael J. Fox
The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline. — Bum Phillips
It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner. — Vince Lombardi
Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is usually painful. — John C. Maxwell
The world conspires to steal and waste your time. It takes true discipline to stay on track while television, social media, and friends of leisure beckon. — Bob Sakalas
If you embrace self-discipline, you will go far in life. Discipline matters. Discipline is what you must be made of.
It — no matter what “it” we are talking about — will not be easy if it is a worthy pursuit. One of the disciplines that I believe matters most is the discipline of optimism and enthusiasm. Rare the success that isn’t fueled by true belief and an excited mind.