In my story about learning how to carry the tray, I discovered the power of practice. I went from being really bad at something to being really good at something simply because I dedicated a period of time to do a few boring things over and over again until I mastered a new skill.
Today, I’d like to share a couple of examples from sports about the importance of sticking with the process even when it’s not easy or fun. These stories will illustrate a valuable lesson about what it takes to create epic moments in your own life.
As a kid who collected baseball cards, I always wondered what it would have been like to live in the old days and watch guys like Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Hank Aaron while they were in the middle of making history. I'm glad to finally know what that feels like.
On April 13th, 2016, my generation of sports fans witnessed something special: Multiple historical milestones were achieved on the same night.
The Golden State Warriors surpassed the ‘95-’96 Chicago Bulls by breaking the record for the most victories in a single season. Before the game began, Steph Curry had a season total of 392 three-pointers. He was already the only player in history to hit 300 three-pointers in a single season. If he could only hit 8 more, he would enter an entirely different sphere and become the only person to hit 400 three-pointers. Well, Curry hit 10 three-pointers that night and surpassed the 400 mark. Two historical achievements in the same game.
On the same night, Kobe Bryant played the last game of his career and he put on a performance that was nothing short of dramatic, breathtaking, and vintage. With the Lakers trailing by double digits with less than two minutes remaining in the game, Kobe Bryant scored 17 consecutive points to lead a come-from-behind victory against the Utah Jazz. Bryant finished the game with a total of 60 points. This was the most points scored by anyone in the NBA all season. Moreover, it set a record for the most points ever scored in a final career game.
Both of these games had a lot of epic moments. What impressed me most, however, were the reasons Kobe Bryant and the Golden State Warriors were in such a position in the first place: their undying and unparalleled commitment to making the most out of non-epic moments.
It's easy to take epic moments for granted.
It's easy to focus solely on the fact that a fantastic player hit a fantastic shot in a fantastic situation. But those moments don't matter very much if those players are not in a position to take shots that actually count for something. And the only way those players get into a position to take shots that count for something is by working their butts off during all the moments when there is no crowd standing around to cheer them on.
What if Golden State had decided to take just one night off against a weak team during a meaningless regular-season game? No one would have really cared or noticed all that much. After all, everyone does it. After all, no one can play hard for every single game. In fact, the Warriors had been criticized all year for focusing too much on 70 wins and failing to "properly" rest their players for the playoffs. There are very good reasons for believing that the Warriors would have been praised for taking it easy, settling for 60-67 wins, and saving themselves for the playoffs. Had the Warriors done such a thing, they would have still been a great and respectable team, but their last game of the season wouldn't have had the same meaning. The epic nature of their last game was made possible by all the epic effort they put forth during non-epic games.
The same is true of Bryant’s game. The Lakers had had a horrible year. In fact, they’d just completed the worst season in Laker history. To top things off, Bryant had dealt with nagging injuries all season. Many people said he should just retire before the season is over so everyone could move on. Many people said he should ask to be traded to a better team. Bryant did neither of those things. He slugged it out and remained loyal to his love for the game and to the Lakers organization. This day-to-day display of commitment is what made his epic moment so sweet. Bryant was in the position to have such a phenomenal moment precisely because he was willing to endure the non-phenomenal.
Although we live for the epic moments, most of life is lived in the spaces that lie between the epic moments. It's the faithfulness, integrity, and creativity we exercise in the ordinary moments that set the stage for the dramatic and record-breaking moments.
Sometimes Moving Forward Means Taking a Step Back
If it feels like you’re not making progress, that may be because you’re still in the process of unlearning and relearning.