It is no secret our “millennial” generation faces a lot of criticism: ”you are entitled,” or “you want hand outs, participation trophies, constant pats on the back.” Essentially, we seem to expect achievement to come easily.
On the other hand, I believe the more alarming trend is the expectation of perfection and the highest achievement from our generation. It seems society conditions us to fear failure above all else and yearn for our helicopter parents’ constant reaffirmation of our greatness.
I believe this results in individuals either aiming low, simply quitting at the first sign of trouble because “I don’t feel like I am very good at this,” or, my personal favorite, having Mommy and Daddy spoon-feed it to you. God forbid little Jimmy or Janie doesn’t get an A+ on their 2nd grade science project.
It seems our generation has been put in a position we cannot win. We have been told how great we are our entire lives, made to believe we achieved so much before adulthood through constant positive reinforcement, and developed a petrifying fear of failure.
In this piece, I’d like to share how opportunities and failures impacted my college lacrosse career. My hope is for some of these insights to resonate with members of my generation and help them gain perspective in their approach to any achievement they aim to accomplish.
I believe the achievement of any goal comes down to a series of opportunities and an individual’s ability to make the most of those opportunities. I believe the most common misconception is thinking it all comes down to one, huge, glorious, high-pressure moment when the stars align and the opportunity is seized in a dramatic fashion.
Despite what Hollywood wants you to think, this rarely is the case. The most successful individuals I have studied and worked with as well as my own anecdotal learning have taught me one overarching lesson: the greatest of opportunities are born from hundreds, if not thousands, of maximized small opportunities.
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, maintained that he was never surprised whenever he hit one of his dramatic and acrobatic game winning shots. To most it would seem a nearly impossible feat. The degree of difficulty, the pressure, and the defense knowing he would be the one to shoot the ball.
However, Kobe maintained it was a subconscious action. He explained for every game winning shot in front of thousands, he had practiced that same shot hundreds of times in an empty gym, and visualized it thousands of times in his own mind.
More from Kobe later.
My lacrosse career at the University of Georgia began in the fall of 2012 when I tried out for the team. I remember being nervous but found comfort in knowing that while I was about 500 miles from home, the game was still the same.
My freshman season in 2013 would prove a fantastic time. We finished with a record of 15-5 and won our first conference championship in 7 years. Despite only being a freshman, I played a major role in our championship season.
I will admit, I began the season a bit timid. After our third game, one of the veterans spoke to me directly saying “we need you make plays if we are going to be successful this season. Don’t worry that you’re young. You can play, and we need you to get out there and play.”
Following that conversation, my perspective and confidence was amplified. My play on the field improved and, simultaneously, I felt a part of the team’s brotherhood and family. I began training with the veterans on the team outside of practice, and it payed dividends when it came to perform in the games.
Expectations and my own self-confidence were at an all time high going into my sophomore and 2014 season. Coaches and teammates had expressed the need for me to assume a bigger role on the team if we were to be successful again. This made my ego grow even further.
At this point I knew my teammates, I knew our system, I knew our competition, I thought I knew it all. Everything the year before came to me so easily. I had a great year, for a freshman. For a freshman. I think with everyone stroking my ego, I forgot the second half of that sentence. The saying the top gets farther the more you climb is certainly true in sports. I was about to learn that lesson first hand.
My ego began growing to a point I could not manage. I began skipping workouts, negating responsibilities to the team, losing focus on what had allowed me to be successful my freshman year. I was so confident in my talent and natural abilities, I put myself above the team.
Athletics are an arena in life where individuals truly reap what they sow. My lack of preparation and discipline was evident in our first game. My conditioning was poor, my skills looked dull, and all the while I kept trying to find something or someone to blame.
It seemed this complacent attitude was contagious, as I noticed many of my teammates appeared the same way. The 2014 UGA Men’s lacrosse season was one of the worst in the last 10 years. The conference and league were buzzing with questions about how a championship team could fall so far in only one year.
In hindsight, I believe I became so fixated on making the most of the big opportunities during games that I did not take advantage of the small ones in practice, in the weight room, and in my own skill development. I can remember several opportunities I had to make plays, where I missed, dropped, choked, or simply failed to execute. As an athlete, those are the worst moments because you are truly beating yourself.
At the end of the 1996 season, the Los Angeles Lakers were in the playoffs facing elimination against the Utah Jazz. Kobe Bryant was the first overall draft pick that season and was contributing in his rookie campaign. In the closing minutes of the game, Kobe air-balled THREE open three-point attempts. THREE!!!!
He was crushed. He said he flew back to Los Angeles that night and went to a local high school gym and shot baskets all night. He broke down his game and worked diligently on every aspect of it. The next season, the Lakers first game was against, who else but the Jazz. Kobe went off, had a sensational game, and the Lakers won. He maintained that the feeling of vindication and satisfaction after that game was something he will never forget.
After my own 2014 season, I watched a documentary where Kobe described that incident, and it gave me a fresh perspective. I completely shifted my attitude and strategy in preparation and training. All entitlement was gone and I began training longer and harder than ever before. I began training multiple times a day, getting to practice early and staying late, and even adjusting my diet to maximize my performance.
By maximizing every early morning run, session in the weight room, or time spent practicing by myself, I was able to gain the confidence and preparation needed to lead and play my best. A large part of maximizing improvement opportunities is not simply going through the motions but constantly visualizing your goal and how your current action is feeding its achievement. Constant visualization and repetition makes difficult action seem effortless because your mind and body are able to work together harmoniously, rather than one dominating the other.
As a result, the hard work paid off in 2015. While we fell just short of the championship, I was elected as a team captain in my junior year and stepped into my role as one of the key playmakers on our team. I maintained this drive, focus, and discipline into my senior year and our 2016 campaign. We finished with a record of 15-2 and I was a 1st-Team All-Conference selection.
I believe the humiliation and disappointment of my sophomore season helped me realize what it would take in order for me to be the best player and leader possible. I will try to keep this from sounding as clichéd as possible, but failure is the key ingredient of success.
To push yourself past your perceived limits, there has to be an element of a desire to vindicate previous failures. It was amazing to see the work payoff. I take more pride and satisfaction thinking about the days of grueling preparation and incredible relationships on the team than any of the awards or accolades I received as a result.
In conclusion, try to maximize the small opportunities presented every day because they make up the big moments. When you fall, understand that it is just another step in your path to your goal and look at it as yet another opportunity. Lastly, in times of struggle, remember why you want to achieve your goal and what it will feel like when you do, for that will propel you through the darkest times.
Relentless taught me what I needed to be great
Kobe Bryant went from good to great through relentless hard work and sheer determination. Choking hard and missing three three-pointers, and the overnight gym session that followed planted the seeds that led to his sensational game next season against the Utah Jazz and the beginning of his greatness.
Written by Tim Glover who took greats like Kobe and made them greater, directly and with brutal honesty, breaks down what it takes to be unstoppable. In his Relentless 13, he details traits shared by the most intense competitors and achievers in sports, business, and all walks of life.