Like me, I am sure you have heard the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school varsity basketball team in ’78, what I did not think about though, until recently, is the larger lesson there for us to consider when thinking about one of basketball’s all time greats.
In The Invitation to Love, I speak about possibility, and the idea of speaking to others potential. I shared in one story about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Whitt. Recently, I got a card from Mrs. Whitt after she learned that I had mentioned her in my book. After all these years, the love I have for Mrs. Whitt and she has for me is still there. She spoke about how she was not surprised to find where I had landed in life, and spoke of her pride in me.
As I read the card, I reflected on my days sitting in her class, and I also reflected on the story of Michael Jordan. Both my teacher and Jordan’s coach, I am sure, knew the power and potential that we both had to contribute to our respective field…for Jordan it was on a court, for me, a classroom. –but what the teacher and coach did not do, was allow the potential and possibility of the future, to compromise the truth in the realities of today. – that’s a lesson, a large one at that!
You see, I have mastered the practice of telling people they are great, my admiration in who they are, and my confidence in what they can contribute to the world. What I have not been as skilled at doing, is taking that possibility in potential and complementing it with descriptions of current day realities.
Michael and I were both people with potential, and we needed teachers (and coaches) who reminded us of the possibility of what we could become. Beyond the pep talks, encouragement, and hope in our future selves, what we also needed was realistic articulation of our current performance. It does not serve Michael well to brag on his skills on the court, when in all reality he is not ready, and/or able to perform at his fullest potential. Similarly, it would not have served me well for Mrs. Whitt to say how bright I was, and not remind me that I was failing classes in school.
Life is all about lessons. Now, I pause before offering my praise of someone else. I question, am I speaking to their possibility while giving accurate space for their current reality, or am I glossing over areas of ineffectiveness, bolstering the ego of others, to the detriment of them having an accurate understanding of themselves. Love is in the truth, and diluted versions of the truth are diluted versions of love. With our kids, partners, and with ourselves, we need to take time to love ourselves enough to delight in our accomplishments, give gratitude in our potential, and at the same time remain humble like that famous number twenty-three and know when I current performance (or the performance of the ones we love) is not at varsity, its not their season, and practice off the court is required for their true greatness to emerge.