Times of misfortune require us to ask different questions. What is the one thing you can do right now that wouldn’t even have occurred to you, but for the situation you’re facing?
As I reflected on my blog post from last week on the Serenity Prayer and the importance of focusing on what’s in my control, I recalled of one of my favorite Kobe Bryant memories. It was December 1999, Kobe’s fourth season in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Portland Trailblazers in a regular-season home game. Living in Los Angeles at the time, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to attend. Normally, this would have been a relatively uneventful game, but for the fact that it was Kobe’s first home game back from an injury that kept him sidelined for the first five weeks of the season. He had broken his right hand – his shooting hand – in a pre-season game. Already a superstar, the injury was a huge blow to fans and, of course, to Kobe himself. Most professional athletes face injuries like this, some much worse. A fifteen-game absence even early in an NBA career, while disappointing, is not the end of the world. But there’s more to this story.
Like so many times in a life that ended way too early, Kobe did something exceptional. He understood the difference between what was in his control and what wasn’t. Instead of complaining and resigning himself to a lost opportunity, for six days a week and six hours a day, Kobe focused on one thing and one thing only. His left hand. He shot, passed, and dribbled with nothing but his left hand. Rumor had it that he was determined to not just develop the best non-dominant hand in the league, but to be better with his left hand than even players who were naturally left-handed.
When he took the court that evening in December 1999, Kobe shocked everyone in attendance. He not only took his first few shots left-handed (if I remember correctly, he made them), but he played much of the game seamlessly using both his right and left hands. It was his statement to the league – one he would repeatedly make – that he wouldn’t allow his injuries to be a setback. Rather, he would use them to become even stronger. At the young age of twenty-one, Kobe Bryant saw the gift in his misfortune. He knew that his injury presented a once-in-a-career opportunity to focus on developing a skill that he may never have had the chance to build. He focused on what was in his control. And he took action. Powerfully.
2020 has not been the year any of us had hoped for (and it’s not even over yet). Complaining about it, however, is useless. Instead, you would be well served to follow the lesson of Kobe Bryant and take action in the part of your life that you can control. Times of misfortune require us to ask different questions. What is your “left” hand? What is the one thing you can do right now that wouldn’t even have occurred to you but for the situation you’re facing? These are powerful questions in a time when it’s easy to feel disempowered. These are questions that will change your life.
I loved this article What My Sled Dogs Taught Me about Planning for the Unknown. It makes the convincing case for the need to front-load rest. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, or leading a team that is, this is a great piece. Thanks to Tanja for sharing this with me.
A longer, more philosophical read is In a Pandemic We Learn Again What Sartre Meant by Being Free. This article gave me a profoundly richer understanding of freedom and the clarity that crises can provide.
A quote that has inspired me. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Howard Zinn. Thank you to Michael for sending it to me.