Monday, March 28, 2011

What I learned from Kobe Bryant

A few weeks ago I was listening in on ESPN radio and none other than the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant, happened to be on. The show’s host had invited him on the air for an interview. Immediately, curiosity set in and I turned up the volume. Now, I should be honest here. Nothing against Kobe, but I’m not a huge fan. I always recognize and respect basketball talent, but that doesn’t mean I cheer for the person. Part of this has to do with being a Blazers fan growing up and always wishing the Blazers could have taken it to the Lakers when it really counted. Alas, this never happened. My bitterness, though, has receded over the years. I’ve been healed. It was good money spent on therapy.

Anyways, the interview with Kobe was fascinating. Kobe shared some of his thoughts on the NBA and on how the Lakers were doing so far this year. He answered some critical questions by the host and with an air of confidence, assured the listeners that the Lakers would be doing just fine come play offs. I have to say, I completely believed him. One thing I noticed from the interview was that Kobe never took the focus off of himself. When asked about the Heat, he brought it back to himself. When questioned if the Spurs would upset the Lakers, again, without hesitation, he brought the issue back to his setting and his life. This move wasn’t done out of arrogance or some deep seeded narcissism; rather, I realized, it was done out of confidence in his pursuit of excellence.

Kobe believes his success is not contingent upon what other people do around him. That is why on the air he didn’t get rattled by criticism or even react to the mentioning of the successes of other players and teams. It just didn’t matter because he was confident in his job and his skills. One line from the interview that really stood out to me was when Kobe said, “I know I have to put the work in.” Putting the work in, as Kobe explained, is about doing what you know you need to do in order to be the best you can be. “Putting the work in” is not about comparing oneself to others or living in a state of reaction, based upon what’s happening around you. On the contrary, it’s about focusing on oneself.  Besides, as Kobe mentioned, the only real improvement I can make is to improve myself.

Many of us find heroes or successful people we want to emulate. We see the good they produce—the books they write, the movies they make, the songs the compose—and we want to be like them. We see loving families and notice strong friendships between people.  It looks attractive and we want that for our lives too. The only problem is, that most of us don’t want to do what they did to get there. We want the success, but lack the work ethic and discipline to achieve it. Reading a good story is always fun. Writing the story, on the other hand, rarely ever is. We all want to tell good stories, but first we have to be willing to write them.

Perhaps this is the reason why there is only one Kobe Bryant.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sometimes the best advice is no advice

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the best advice you can give someone is no advice at all? We live in a society where we are constantly searching for answers. It seems like everyone has at least one consultant they can call upon. You have someone to help you with your finances; another to give you “life coaching” (whatever that is); and if you’re rich then you might have a personal trainer as well. In every aspect of our lives, we are searching for those who can give us good advice.

I think this is true in my life to a degree as well. Especially in hindsight, I can see the many people I sought advice from over the years. Some of it was great advice. I had people who genuinely cared about me. They wanted what was best for me. Regardless of their motives, though, the best advice doesn’t always come in the form of stating your opinion. In fact, I think it rarely does. The best advice I’ve ever received was when someone intentionally chose not to give me advice at all. Their silence spoke louder than words or proactive plans that I could follow. They helped me because of what they didn’t say. Their ultimate refusal to tell me what I “should do” was not a hindrance to my growth as a person; rather, it was an opportunity to become the person I had to become on my own initiative. No advice was good advice. Further, not giving me advice was really a sign of someone’s wisdom.

When I think of wisdom, I can’t help but think about the book of Proverbs in the Bible. It is a book full of wise sayings that were passed down from different generations. This book of sayings and adages, though, were not secret formulas that automatically gave you wisdom. Rather, they were ideas that could help someone live a good and fulfilling life. Proverbs devotes many of its chapters to the achievement of wisdom and the importance of seeking wise counsel.

Wise counsel.

When we ask someone for advice, what we are really asking for is their counsel, right? But wise counsel doesn’t necessarily mean giving people answers or telling them what they should do. That is not counsel. That is not empowering someone. That is simply the stating of your opinion. Which depending on who you are, could mean very little. It’s like the person who is always sharing advice on relationships and they’ve never been in one. They might have read some Joshua Harris book in the past, but that in no way gives them credibility to speak on the subject. They are a purposeless voice, who may have great intentions, but is nevertheless, an incessant and annoying reminder as to why some people should keep their opinions to themselves. No one wants to be “that guy” or “that girl.” Do we seek to give wise counsel or to just be heard?

Counsel is really about helping someone find their way. It is assisting them on their journey and allowing them the power to choose and figure things out on their own. When we constantly “counsel” people by the sharing of our opinion or telling them what we would do in a given situation, we take away the power of their choice. Our influence can become too big in someone’s life. Instead of figuring out how things should really be, they just do what we say. That is not helping someone become a mature and complete person. That is hindering them. Parents do this. Pastors do this. Friends do this.

Viktor Frankl, the famous concentration camp survivor and author, said that the last of any human freedom is the ability to choose—to choose one’s attitude, thoughts and to make decisions. Do we allow people to truly choose if our counsel is always giving them answers? Sometimes our silence says as much as the words we say. Furthermore, our ability to not tell people what to do has a tremendous impact, even if it is not immediate. It is a sign of maturity when our counsel gives people freedom to figure things out on their own.

Mark Twain once said that if he had to live life over again, he would have said less. Perhaps there should be times when we practice the art of restraint. Not because we don’t have meaningful ideas or good things to say, but because our silence can mean someone else finds the solution they were looking for. Moreover, I rarely hear someone praised for his or her “advice-giving-opinion-stating” abilities. People are praised for their ability to listen. A good leader, and a good friend for that matter, will artfully and tactfully choose when to give advice and when to say nothing. They will allow their silence to be as important as their words.