‘Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” This is John Wooden’s definition of “success.”
On a vacation trip I had the opportunity to read Wooden’s entire book, Wooden, A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court in one day.
The book is published by Contemporary Books in 1997 and is authored by Wooden along with Steve Jamison. This column begins with the coach’s definition of success as the entire book supports the premises set forth in his definition.
Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins basketball team for 26 years from 1949 to 1975. Many believe he is the greatest college basketball coach ever. If his greatness is measured by national championships, he clearly is the greatest as he coached the UCLA Bruins to ten national championships in a twelve year span between 1964 and 1975. No other college coach has ever won even half as many. He coached players like NBA Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.
Wooden, who is still alive at 97 years of age, and I share the same birthday, October 14th. He has much wisdom for us to learn from. There were many valuable concepts in the book. I would like to share some of them with you.
In the book he emphasizes that only you can ultimately determine your level of success. Read the definition of success at the beginning of this column again. He emphasizes what his father always told him, “Always try to be the very best that you can be. Learn from others, yes. But don’t try to be better than they are. You have no control over that. Instead try, and try very hard, to be the best you can be. That you have control over. Maybe you’ll be better than someone else and maybe you won’t. That part will take care of itself.”
Applying what his father taught him to his coaching basketball and life, Wooden said that there is nothing wrong with another team or person being better than you are if you’ve prepared and are functioning in the way you’ve tried to prepare. He emphasized, “That’s all you can do.” Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others. Measure yourself against yourself. What another has or doesn’t have has no bearing on your ability to be the best you can be. Don’t worry about the preparation put in by your opponent, worry about your own preparation, that is the only preparation you can control!
Wooden said that his coaching efforts in his “worst” year was exactly the same as it was in the championship years. Success for him came from his effort, not from the results. Others could perceive his efforts however they wanted and they could measure his success by victories or loses if they so chose. Coach Wooden can’t control how others measured his success. This Is why he emphasizes success is ultimately measured individually.
Wooden ties success to preparation. He says, “The preparation is where success is truly found.” The journey is more important than the goal. Wooden says, “Too often we neglect our journey in our eagerness or anxiety about reaching the goal.” Success comes from attention to details both in basketball and in life. He commented that what he misses most about coaching is not the games, the national championships, nor the trophies, but the practices.
To ultimately explain how Wooden defines success, he states that if UCLA had never won a national championship during his coaching tenure, he would still have considered himself a success because he was judging himself “on other things, things he had control over.”
Wooden talked about how UCLA had four seasons with perfect records while he was coaching them, but they never played a perfect game. His goal was to strive for perfection, but understand that perfection is impossible.
Wooden talked about “character” and “reputation.” He said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are.” He continued pointing out that reputation is often based upon character, but not always. The way I picture his message is that character is the tree, it is at the center and is reality. Reputation is the shadow thrown by the tree. It is what is perceived by others. If you take care of the tree, the shadow should take care of itself. But regardless, all we can control is the tree. What happens with the shadow is outside what we can control.
Wooden shares the concept, “You should learn as if you were going to live forever, and live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Always be learning to help equip you for a long journey ahead, but live life as if you are going to die tomorrow. Live with relish, immediacy, and with your priorities in order so you don’t waste a minute of your life.
Wooden talks about the greatest joy is one that comes from doing something for someone else without any thought of getting something in return. He shared a quote from President Calvin Coolidge, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been rewarded for what he gave.” The years haven’t changed this concept.
One of my favorite concepts from Wooden is that no one can give 110 percent or 120 percent. It is just not possible. All anyone can give is 100 percent. If you give everything you have, you reach 100 percent. There is nothing anyone can do to give over 100 percent. Here is where it really gets good. If you fail to give 100 percent on one day, it is too late to make it up tomorrow. Since the most you can give tomorrow is 100 percent, if you give 50 percent one day, the other 50 percent is lost forever. Think about it!
Wooden says that some believe that sports builds character. He believes that sports reveal character. He emphasizes that if he is given a player of good character he can develop the player. But if he is given a player without character, there is little he can do.
Asked if Wooden was proud of all of the players he coached who went on to play in the NBA after their time at UCLA, he responded, “Yes, but I’m equally proud of the fellows who became doctors, lawyers, dentists, ministers, businessmen, teachers, and coaches.” Wooden summarized his philosophy with a quote by former University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg who when told by a reporter, “Coach Stagg, it was a great year! A really great year” responded, “I won’t know for another twenty years or so whether you’re correct.” It took that long to determine if he was successful in his coaching efforts based upon what the players did with their lives after the season was over.
Wooden’s favorite saying about his own life is, “I am just a common man who is true to his beliefs.”
My challenge to you today is to be true to your beliefs. Do the best you can with what you have. Success for you is only measured against yourself. It’s not measured by the final score. Don’t waste time focusing on whether you are better or worse than another or others. You are likely better than some and not as good as others. What they do or don’t do will determine that. Your are responsible for what is under your control. Be a person of high character and give 100 percent each day. Be true to your beliefs and you are a success.
Just a thought...
Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to rkraft@ kraftandhunter.com or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, N.M., 88202-0850.