How being told NO by the NBA, my friends, coaches, and peers inspired me
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus
5 Inspirational Words of the Day from a Pro Athlete
To be something of considerable value, you must work hard at it. I've probably put in about 30,000 hours of writing and I still suck! But I put in over a million jump shots before I got to the pros and somewhere along the way, someone thought I was good enough at basketball, they'd pay me too much.
“The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit is because it helps callous your mind. It’s the same reason why you have to do your best work when you are least motivated.” — David Goggins
I cried when a coach told me I’d never play D1 college or NBA basketball (I did both) in front of a camp of 100 kids at Wolverine Basketball Camp. I was in elementary school. I felt the fury rise like mercury inside me.
“MULLET, you’re a great young player, but set realistic goals. Focus on your grades. On being a great student. You’ll never play college hoops. The NBA doesn’t happen for kids up North.
”Screw that, I thought, standing in front of the campers. The anger bubbled out in steaming, silent tears. Screw that, I can do it. I’ll show you. But for a while, I didn’t do anything about the embarrassment or what he said. I just denied it. A few years later, at a leadership conference, some professors asked me a question that changed my life:
“If anything were possible, what would you want to achieve in the next five to ten years?”
I looked around.
“What? Wait, now you’re telling me I can do anything?”
Let us ask again, “If anything were possible, what would you want to achieve in the next five to ten years?”
I rose my hand.
“Yes?" they asked.
“Like, even if there’s a point zero one percent chance?”
It didn’t take me long to answer. Heck, if anything was possible, I wanted to be exactly what my previous coaches told me I couldn’t!
“I want to play professional basketball in Europe and the NBA,” I said.
"Well, write down five things you can do tomorrow to help you get there," they responded. "A time, a place, and a plan for each of the five things."
This was the first time I had been told to become clear on my workouts. On my training. On my time. On my where, when, why, how, and what. "Play professional basketball," became one big thing, the infamous letters that changed the course and meaning of my young life. I wrote my workouts on notecards and my goal stayed with me everywhere I went. My dream became tangible. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had taped it to my bathroom mirror, my trapper keeper, my bed, my ceiling, my door, my fridge. It was everywhere. I even wrote "play pro" on my palm with a non-erasable marker.
I discovered the secret isn’t the dream, it’s the system OF WORK SUPPORTING THE DREAM! That’s the foundation that holds a dream together.
After I eventually became a 13-year professional basketball athlete in Europe, a two-time NBA micro-failure (last man cut!), and I’m super duper proud of what I accomplished. I trained my body to run a 4:45 mile. I lifted 300 pounds. I squatted 500. I jumped, I sprinted, I pulled, I slammed, I broke, I broke again, and got surgery after surgery in honor of the obsession I loved. Basketball was my release. My validation. My love. My passion. I needed no girlfriend. Only a leather ball and an empty court to realize my human potential.
My system of work was unparalleled. Two-a-days every day. Dribbling in hallways of high school and around campus in college. I used to take a jog and dribble my basketball for miles. I still have people come up to me and talk to me about how they'd see me dribbling and jogging through town. David Goggins has a similar story. He really wanted to be a Navy Seal. His story is crazy, but he talks about a similar transformation in his book, Can’t Hurt Me:
“I remember my very first day in the gym back in Indiana. My palms were soft and quickly got torn up by the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up thick callous as protection. The same principle works when it comes to mindset.”
I agree with this system of work. He uses a periodization approach to small incremental improvements over time to create huge change. Every day's goal? Get one percent better. This is the true secret of any athlete, or billion-dollar CEO, or successful startup. You have to put in the daily work and get one percent better daily.
If you can have the system for your goals, and write five things down you'll do to improve towards that goal, and you can do use these five words every day to improve towards your goal-- how, when, what, why, and where-- you'll be on your way to becoming something of extreme value.
Do I have talent in business?
It’s there. I have ideas. I have concepts. I’m creative.
Do I have an effort that builds skills daily?
Do I dominate my day with that effort?
This is the only place I’m focusing my intention, energy, and effort as a startup leader.
Asa young man, I knew I had some talent and unique love for the game of basketball.
I can also say that I was willing to do things that most kids weren’t. I would shovel the snow from my driveway in Michigan and play after school. I would dribble at lunchtime in the gym hallways where no one could see me. I would shoot at night with my dad’s car lights on the hoop after my homework was done.
I always felt this hunger inside me — this insatiable hunger to prove something.
As I’ve gotten older, that hunger to be put effort into basketball waned. At 35, I retired and went sailing through the Caribbean after an existential meltdown.
Who would I put effort into next?
What would I be?
What do I want to be?
What am I curious about?
I found Angela Duckworth’s GRIT formula for success resonates with me. She says “talent” does, in fact, influence how much we can achieve in life but, “effort” counts twice as much.
The effort is the hunger to practice, study, build, work, and focus on and find the solution to your problem.
The expectancy theory was at work inside me up until I was 35.
Now, what are you hungry for, Mullet?
What should you be dominating in your life?
Doing with your life?
Just apply the formula.
talent x effort = skill skill x effort = achievement
You will achieve faster what you naturally put effort and your greatest strengths into. This mindset and expectancy of results have to be part of you if want to succeed. That belief your work (effort) and talent (ability to create better skills faster) will combine to give you results over time.
These are the rules of success.
You expect it to happen after a while — always find a solution, always work towards the goal, quit the right things, and say “no” more than you say “yes.”
Brian Johnson wrote, “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them. Of course, your opportunities — for example, having a great teacher — matter tremendously, too, and maybe more than anything about the individual…
Still, I think it’s useful. What this theory says is that when you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things, talent, and effort. Talent — how fast we can improve a skill — absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”