The Big Game
Our team was down by 1 point with 30 seconds left. The ball was passed to me and I knew this was my moment.
I faked left then took an aggressive move to the right. I didn't make it far though, as the defender reached his leg out and drove his knee into my thigh. I fell down, buzzing with adrenaline as the referee called the foul. Our star player pulled me to my feet and told me "you got this."
With the pressure on, I walked to the free throw line to take my shot. We were in "bonus" time, so if I made it I got one more shot, which would put us in the lead to win.
The pressure was even higher for me. I was a senior on the team, and basketball was my guiding light. If we won this tournament game, we'd win a trophy and bragging rights for life. On top of that, my parents had recently announced they were separating from each other, so I poured all of my mixed emotions into this sport.
At the free throw line, opposing fans booed loudly to break my focus. I took my shot and I made it. Our fans roared in hysteria as we tied the game in the final seconds. At 17 years old, I'd never felt more alive. Feeling overconfident, I looked back at the booing fans and did an 'I can't hear you' signal with my hand to my ear. I felt like the star in my favorite movie.
Before my next shot, our coach called a timeout to go over our plan. In the huddle, with fans and cheerleaders chanting in anticipation, coach drew up the play.
"Alright, when Bryan makes this next shot, here's what we're going to do..."
I have no idea what play he called. All I knew was that the entire team knew I was going to lead us to victory. My teammates had absolute confidence in me.
I lined up to shoot, with the opposing fans booing again and our fans remaining focused. I took the shot.
With the score tied, we went into overtime, where the other team took the lead and we eventually lost.
The bliss I experienced moments before was followed by immense disappointment. My trophy was gone, along with my pride.
Blind Spots in Perspective
I've replayed the ending of that game tirelessly over the years. What if I had made the shot? I was devastated and, as a hormone-filled teenager, the lessons I took away were warped by my lack of perspective. Now over a decade later, I'm finally realizing those traumatic moments are still valuable to me today, but in a completely different fashion.
It's kind of like re-reading a book years later, only to gather completely different takeaways from the author. We could probably spend our lifetimes re-visiting the same experiences and drawing different conclusions, each more insightful than the last.
After re-visiting my traumatic defeat, here are the lessons I've uncovered with new perspective.
Habits Over Final Moments
The most thankless position in sports is the field-goal kicker on a football team. Most teams run well over 100 plays per game, but when the kicker misses and we lose, we often blame the kicker. Teams duke it out for over an hour and have countless opportunities to score, but when the end of the game nears, we irrationally focus on the final moments.
I can't tell you what the 33rd play was, but I can tell you about the last few.
When we look at final moments, we sometimes forget the early ones that led us there. We forget about the silly fouls where we gave the ball away, but instead focus on the 'game-winning' play.
I'm reading a life-changing book called Atomic Habits (James Clear) where the premise is to focus on tiny actions that slowly compound until great things are achieved. Too often we see the child prodigy or the tech billionaire who struck gold and think, "must be nice." When in reality, they've be training their entire lives for an undisclosed future. Inching closer to their vision each day until they reached an inflection point.
The same works in the opposite direction too. In personal relationships, we say that a couple broke up because one of them 'cheated,' but what were their daily actions in the months leading up to the moment of betrayal? Poor habits compound and can lead to catastrophe.
Relating the concept to business, I've learned that small wins each day will eventually lead me to becoming a master of my craft. And while my big moments are now centered in conference rooms instead of basketball courts, I know that daily advancements will keep me paced ahead so I’ll never need to rely on a last-minute effort.
In that tournament game, my coach let the team know he trusted me, and everyone followed suit. From that moment forward, I chose to step into the shoes of a leader. Even though I missed, everyone considered me a leader, so I took the loss with class and encouraged my disappointed teammates to do the same.
If done right, being dubbed a 'leader' can change a young person's life. It's a lot easier to step up when someone you look up to believes in you. As an employee, my manager has found countless ways to make me a leader in our organization, and now it's my job to do the same for the associates at our firm.
If you're a manager, it's important to help your people train intentionally each day so that, when they're ready, they can lead you to victory. They'll never have the opportunity to succeed unless you give them the chance to fail.
Learn from Your Own Autobiography
Biographies are fascinating, but if we look at our own memories, there are dozens of gems you can learn from. No purchase from Amazon necessary.
With new life experiences, comes perspective we can then apply to countless personal memories. Perspectives change over time and traumatic memories can often be transformed into beautiful lessons. Sometimes it just takes a decade to see them.