I was lucky enough to have lunch with a famous NBA player last week (let's call him PA. professional athlete). It was a lot of fun hanging with someone who has been successful in a different line of work. Here are my takeaways:
Success = Talent + Effort
Professional athletes are by definition gifted at birth. Clearly, no matter how hard I try, 5'9.5" Chris just ain't going to make it to the NBA.
I always assumed that an athlete's genetic gifts were what led to his or her success, with a little bit of work thrown in to smooth out the edges. This was most notably NOT the case with PA. What we don't see during game time are the countless hours of practice: the day an uncle supervised his 8-year old nephew's 200 straight free throw shots, quietly giving him guidance; the lonely late night workouts at the gym in high school when everyone else went out to a party; and much, much more.
Genetics alone won't get you to the NBA, and your natural gifts won't ensure success in your field either. Everyone who wants to get into the NBA is gifted: that's just the ante. You need years and years of hard and often lonely work to get to the top.
So: a simple recipe for success. Pick something you are naturally gifted at, and where you are willing to work hard. Because most of the work feels like play to you. And - be willing to put up with a little bit of drudgery too. "Every toad has its warts". Just pick the warts you are willing to tolerate with a smile.
Attitude really is everything
This particular athlete had some pretty difficult setbacks during his career with injuries, trades, and some plain bad luck. But PA really hung in there. How did he do it? He has an incredibly positive attitude. PA is recently retired but is facing this new chapter with the same zeal and willingness to learn that his younger self displayed many years ago on the court. (It's actually why I ended up having lunch with him - he wanted to learn about investing in real estate).
Time and time again, rather than focusing on the setbacks, PA focused on having a positive outlook. He's taken up meditation and is enrolled in business classes. You can't help thinking he's going to be a winner in his next chapter too.
Believe in something bigger than yourself
PA believes in God and not once did he mention the benefits of success to himself (he's focused on his family, underprivileged kids, and so on).
I repeatedly find that the most successful people in all fields are motivated by something outside of themselves. Selfish motivations, by their nature, peter out.
Whether you are inspired by a belief in God or helping out those less fortunate, a focus on that outside force will help you deal with everything that comes along with the hard work of success. Long after selfish motivations die off.
Don't interrupt a celebrity when they are with their family
PA got approached by fans 7 times before, during, and after our lunch. I asked him what this was like. "It's fine in a situation like this, but difficult when I'm just trying to enjoy a meal with my kids".
PA was universally courteous and delightful with all of those who wanted time with him. But it's important to respect that, celebrities, too, occasionally just want simple family time. Let's not assume we have a right to interrupt their family time any more than we want people interrupting ours.
As an aside, I couldn't help enjoying the small attention I got by being alongside PA. I can't imagine what the feeling would be like getting that kind of attention 24/7.