Tuesday, March 28, 2006

To enjoy peace of mind, do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming

I saw the ugliest college basketball game I have seen in many years last Saturday afternoon.  Some of you probably saw it as well.  UCLA defeated Memphis State 50 to 45 to advance to the final four in the NCAA tournament -- "March Madness".  It was the least number of points scored in an NCAA tournament game since the shot clock was instituted back in the early eighties.  Neither UCLA nor Memphis State could, as Chick Hearn used to say, "Throw a pea in the ocean."  Both teams threw up enough bricks to construct a small building.  Now, there was a reason for this.  Both teams, but especially UCLA, played the most stifling defense I have seen in a long time.  They simply would not give Memphis State an uncontested shot and held them to 45 points where they normally would score in the eighties.  Some people may have found the game boring because of the low score and absence of three-pointers swishing through the net, but I personally found it to be very exhilarating.  Playing good defense is very demanding and requires great discipline and hard work.  I admire UCLA's coach, Ben Howland, for teaching and inspiring his players to work so hard at this most important part of the game.  Offense comes and goes but the one constant a great team can control is the defense.

I don't know whether UCLA will win the national championship but I give them a good shot at it because of their toughness and willingness to sweat and work hard at playing defense.  I also do not believe that their "success" necessarily depends upon them winning the championship.  I would imagine that John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who won the NCAA championship Game 10 times out of 10 appearances, would say that this year's team, whether they win or lose, has been one of the most successful in the great UCLA tradition.  John Wooden, I believe, was the greatest basketball coach of all time. Still alive in his early nineties, he is a man of great character who always saw himself as a teacher as opposed to a coach.  In fact he was an English teacher at one time and was almost persuaded to make it his profession instead of coaching basketball.  He never felt that winning was necessarily equated with success.  His definition of success is classic and deserves to be pondered and hopefully applied: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming." [John R. Wooden]

I am sure this is not UCLA's most talented team of all time.  However, I get the feeling they are doing their best to become the best they are capable of becoming.  That should bring them great peace of mind and self-satisfaction whether they ultimately win or lose.  Of course, this definition of success is not limited to basketball but to all aspects of human endeavor.  We grow up falsely thinking that winning the game, making lots of money, being very popular, having an extremely high GPA, obtaining higher degrees etc., being called to high profile positions in the Church, or even converting lots of people in the mission field constitutes success.  I believe Coach Wooden's definition of success puts things into proper perspective -- SUCCESS IS PEACE OF MIND... KNOWING YOU DID YOUR BEST TO BECOME THE BEST YOU ARE CAPABLE OF BECOMING!

I think many of us, if not careful, may buy into the world's competitive vision of success and in doing so never ever experience the peace of mind that comes from doing the best we can with what we have been given. We may be short sighted enough to compare ourselves with others which is never a very intelligent thing to do.  There will always be those more handsome, beautiful, talented, or intelligent than we, or unbelievably, those who are less handsome, beautiful, talented, or intelligent than we.  If we measure our success in life by how we compete and compare to others we will be using a false standard.  Only as we maximize that which we have been given, that which is uniquely ours, to the highest degree possible, will we ever know the peace of mind and self-satisfaction that is the essence of true success.  I believe most of us tend to live far below our own potential because we have bought into measuring our success by the standard the world has set.

John Wooden put it this way: "Now, we're all equal there [in our capacity to do our best]. We're not all equal as far as intelligence is concerned. We're not equal as far as size. We're not all equal as far as appearance. We do not all have the same opportunities. We're not born in the same environments, but we're all absolutely equal in having the opportunity to make the most of what we have and not comparing or worrying about what others have."[John R. Wooden]

As I was struggling to adapt to my new condition after my accident I received some important advice from a good friend of mine who is a physical therapist.  He saw me not being able to come to grips with the fact that I had a "complete" injury which meant I would never regain the physical capacities I had lost.  I was unhappy and depressed because I was "competing" with my former self -- a self who could run and walk and play the piano and etc. He told me in a frank conversation that if I were ever to have peace of mind I must openly and honestly admit to myself that there were now many things I would never be able to do again in a physical sense, evaluate what capacities I now had available to me and then exert every effort possible to maximize these to the highest degree possible.  I took his advice, difficult as it was to admit certain things to myself about myself, and then began to work as hard as I could with what I had left. Over the years following his advice has brought me great peace of mind and self-satisfaction.  I'm surely not implying that I am a "success", because I believe I am still living far below my true potential.  However, 17 years ago I quit comparing myself to others in terms of what constitutes my "success" and it has been a great blessing to me.


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