How to take the tragedy of Michael Jordan’s life and use it to your advantage.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons
As a 90s kid, I was obsessed with Michael Jordan. Now his fairy tale life looks like a nightmare.
I watched “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael’s career journey with the Chicago Bulls. I was hoping to be inspired and learn more about the man I once used to idolize as a six-year-old.
All I was left thinking at the end of the documentary was just how bitter and petty Michael has become. No amount of success is ever enough for him. Perfection was and always will be his downfall.
But this is not a sad story — this is a story to learn from.
The choice between forgiveness and holding grudges is huge
In the documentary we see Michael Jordan in his 50s still mad at Isiah Thomas for an incident that happened decades before.
A young Michael and his team defeated their arch Nemesis, The Detroit Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas. They made the unfortunate, unsportsmanlike decision, after the Chicago Bulls defeated them in a historic game, not to shake hands at the end.
Even after all these years, when asked to watch an interview of Isiah Thomas, Michael refused to listen to what he had to say or forgive him. He chose to hold a lifelong grudge rather than experience the freedom of forgiveness and the discovery of unlikely friendships that can change one’s life.
It blew my mind. All the success, money, and fame couldn’t teach him the simple art of forgiveness.
Don’t let this be you. Forgive those who wrong you and help change the world in the process. We don’t need hate and grudges right now; we need love.
Choose your role models carefully
On the outside, Michael looks like someone you can look up to and idolize. There was no social media in the 90s so it was very hard to get a behind the scenes look at Michael and see him off the court without the marketing machine that sat behind him twisting the message.
The Last Dance finally gave us the chance to see Michael off the court for who he really was. That person was anything but an idol.
How you treat people, especially your rivals, says a lot about you. How you control your ego during moments of victory says a lot about you.
You can win every championship on earth and still be an asshole.
Who you are is more important than keeping score of your wins.
Success means nothing if you don’t become a decent role model in the process that people can look up to. Otherwise, your success hasn’t taught you anything and is therefore useless.
The destructive “win at all costs” mindset
I once worked for a boss that thought like this. His view of the world was that there had to be winners and losers. Someone always had to lose for him to win. As a result, his life was torture.
Michael suffered from the same toxic mindset. He had to win at all costs but at the same time he threw tantrums and threatened to walk out if he didn’t get his way. Winning at all costs stopped him from truly enjoying all of his basketball career. You were either on his team and agreed with him, or you weren’t.
The truth is you can’t win at all costs. The best learning often comes from when you lose, not when you win. Sustained winning only deludes you into thinking that you have some magic power or that you’re better than you really are. You’re human which means you’re imperfect and subsequently will never always win, despite how much of yourself you invest.
Alcohol can be a subtle hint
All the way through the documentary series you see Michael sitting down with an alcoholic drink next to him.
For a man that’s supposed to have everything together, something feels off. As the documentary digs into his life, he seems as though he doesn’t have it as together as it may seem on the outside. The outbursts and the arrogant remarks are hard to watch.
I felt like I was looking in the mirror. I remember numbing my own problems with alcohol and letting the liquid confidence block me from dealing with the past. Thinking about why you drink and how your behavior can change with alcohol is a powerful exercise. For many of us, alcohol negatively shapes who we show up as.
Life is a team sport
Basketball highlights the importance of a team. Even if you’re like Michael and have amazing basketball skills, you can’t win alone. And winning alone is not as fun as winning as part of a team.
Early in Michael’s career we see that it’s all about himself. Later in his career he learns to trust teammates like Scottie Pippen with the ball, and allows them to score points too and pass the ball rather than always feeling compelled to take the shot and score.
Watching the change in Michael’s behaviors is refreshing. While I don’t think he is necessarily a good team player, he does show what being a team player can do.
A lot of what you want to achieve in life requires other people. Learning to be a team player allows you to get more done. Perhaps the greatest part about treating life like a team sport is that the people in your team become good friends. It’s the people you do life with that count.
“Never enough” is a burden
At some point you’ve got to be able to look back on your successes and enjoy them. The whole way through Michael’s career it appeared that it was never enough for him. He always wanted more and while that helped him become a billionaire, part of me thinks that he lost some of himself in the process.
You can have enough.
More is not always better.
What you can never have enough of is giving yourself to those who can learn from you.
One Thing You Might Respect About Michael Jordan
Not everything Michael showed us in The Last Dance was bad or made us dislike him.
What Jordan can teach you is work ethic. He worked hard to achieve what he did on the basketball court. Nothing came easy for him and it was daily practice — not luck — that made him the greatest basketballer of all time.
If you work hard daily, and develop habits that support your goals, you can achieve more than you may realize.
Even your childhood idols are imperfect when you get to know them as an adult. While I was disappointed to see the man I once looked up to as a kid be selfish, arrogant, unforgiving and unkind, he taught me so much too and I respect him for that.
Open-mindedness is a fundamental trait you must develop, which Michael lacks in The Last Dance.
Maybe someone didn’t shake your hand thirty years ago when they should have — but is it not time to move past that and forgive them, thus freeing your mind too?
Selfishness in life can become mental torture.
Before you selfishly achieve a goal for your ego’s benefit, ask yourself “How could what I’m doing right now transcend me?”