Can You Be Like Mike?

Published: Mar 10, 2009

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The press ran out of superlatives to describe Michael Jordan's performance during his years with the Chicago Bulls. He was the most magnificent player we had ever seen. He combined the multiple attributes for success - ability, skills, discipline, leadership, grace under pressure, focus and never-give-up determination - all in one amazing package.

For his book, How To Be Like Mike: Life Lessons About Basketball's Best, Pat Williams combed through news articles and interviewed 1,500 people for others' perspectives on what made Mike great. Here are some gold nuggets about hard work, fear, focus and the importance of passion:

Fear. Jordan didn't fight the fear. Instead, he never gave it a place in his head. Jordan on fear:

"Some people get frozen by a fear of failure. ... They might be afraid of looking bad or being embarrassed. I realized that if I was going to achieve anything in life, I had to be aggressive. I had to get out there and go for it."

Mark Vancil, a sportswriter, asked Jordan about his last-second shots, "Don't you feel fear? Don't you have negative thoughts?" Jordan said, "Why would I think about missing a shot I haven't taken yet?"

Vancil concluded, "Michael had the ability to execute in the moment. He didn't allow time to wash over itself. He moved through life in step with time, and that was what made him special, more than any physical gift he had. His focus was otherworldly."

Worrying about past mistakes. You've heard it so many times that it's become a clichi: Learn from your mistakes and move on. We blame ourselves for mistakes, even when the mistakes were out of our control. Being stuck in that mud of self-doubt just increases the elusiveness of our dreams. Jordan on mistakes:

"I play the game over in my mind and get out of it what I can. I'll think about it for a while then let it go. I'm strong enough mentally to put it away."

Passion. Passion is being in love with what you are doing - the fire that makes you unstoppable. Passion leaves no room for skepticism or apathy. Skepticism is, after all, just another form of the fear that keeps you from taking action. Jordan on allowing your doubts to stop you:

"You're only bitter if you reach the end of your life and you're filled with frustration because you feel you missed out on something. You're bitter because you regret not accomplishing things you could have accomplished. I won't be a bitter old man."

Hard work. Jordan on hard work:

"You can't turn it on and off like a faucet. I couldn't dog it during practice and then, when I needed that extra push late in the game, expect it to be there. But that's how a lot of people approach things. And that's why a lot of people fail. They sound like they're committed to being the best they can be. But when it comes right down to it, they're looking for reasons instead of answers."

The Vault career change message boards are filled with reasons why the posters shouldn't take action. "Am I too old? Where do I start? Networking isn't working for me. ... I'd have to take a pay cut. ..." With every message that I read, I hope that the poster is looking for answers. But many of them sure do seem to have those "reasons why not" lined up. Success isn't an express elevator to the top floor. You can't push one button and step back and wait for the doors to open onto your dream career. The path to success is more like a ladder. You climb it one rung at a time.

If you're not in love with what you want to do (passion), willing to work hard (commitment) and determined to improve your mental game (focus), then head for the showers. The game's already over for you. If you do have what it takes, get going. You, too, can be like Mike.