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The Chip on Stephen Curry’s Shoulder

NBA great Stephen Curry has a chip on his shoulder. It’s clear when you watch him play. Even as he’s gotten better, it’s grown bigger. This is what great performers do. They play with a chip.

Steph is a great example of how the factual truth of a situation by itself does not dictate what kind of orientation we have toward it. There are two stories about Steph Curry, both true.

In one story, he was born with great genes to an NBA star dad and volleyball playing mom. He grew up with plenty of money and access to basketball training facilities, coaches, mentors, and opportunities galore. He honed his skills, went to a good school, played well, got drafted for good money, and continued to excel with a great team and organization around him.

By this account, which is factually correct, he is one of the most fortunate people on earth. How could this gifted athlete have a chip on his shoulder?

In another story, Steph grew up with more pressure than most people could imagine. His star athlete parents had done more than most kids could ever hope to in sports. He lived under their shadow. He didn’t grow as tall as he should have for basketball, and was too skinny. Despite practicing the sport almost from birth, not a single major college was interested in him. He ended up at a tiny liberal arts school. He played well, but he was not fortunate enough to be on a team with any hope of a national title. Despite his amazing shooting ability and NCAA tournament performance, Steph was questioned as an NBA talent. He was seen as too small, and mostly just a shooter without a full range of skills. He entered the league with virtually no hype compared to most future MVP’s. He had to scratch and claw through a historically great Western Conference for the first several years of his career before making it to the finals. When there, even though the team he led won, he did not get finals MVP.

By this account, which is factually correct, he is one of the biggest underdog greats in sports history. How could this constantly overlooked late-bloomer not have a chip on his shoulder?

Steph can choose which set of facts to focus on and which narrative to tell himself. Off the court, Steph is likely aware of the great life he’s had and thankful for it. Remembering the best facts about ourselves is a powerful defense against self-pity. Yet it seems pretty clear that, come game day, he’s thinking about the second story. He’s not just happy to be there. He’s got something to prove.

At Praxis we like to tell the participants at the start of the program these two bits of professional advice:

  1. Don’t take anything personally
  2. Take everything personally

The first is a reminder to think in terms of rational choice theory. Deciding someone is wrong or out to get you is unhelpful for determining how to work around them.

The second is a reminder to stay sharp because no one cares about your success. In fact, if you’re doing your own thing, they probably doubt you. Good. Use that. Not with malice toward them in real life, but as fuel for the narrative you weave of your own hero’s journey.

See, we can all be like Steph Curry after all! Now go watch some amazing highlight videos.