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7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

I’ve played basketball for over a decade, but it was only recently that I realised what a brilliant metaphor it is for life. I’ve lost loads of games in my career. Probably more than I’ve won if I’m really honest. I’ve also probably missed more shots than I’ve made.

At the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a lot of success. In training and whilst practicing, I was really good. I was assertive. I made shots. I led my team. I just played how I knew I could. But I could never put it together in a competitive environment, in actual game. As you can probably imagine, this drove me crazy. In the end, though, things did change. They got better. Much better actually. If you’re intrigued (come on, of course you are) then read on. If you like metaphor (and basketball), you’ll love this:

1. I play better when I’m relaxed.

When I’m frustrated, I play terrible. I force things. I get upset. I take bad shots. I ignore my teammates. I’m easily agitated. And, it’s hard to snap out of.

When I’m relaxed, I play great. I play free. I don’t force anything. I read the game. I let it come to me. I take my time. I’m patient. I make better decisions. It’s easier to get “in the zone.”

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I’m also able to better focus on the most important thing: winning. How many points I scored, how many rebounds I grabbed…these things cease to really matter. All I care about is winning. And, seeing as that’s what I care about, my play follows in accordance.

2. Assertiveness leads only to great things.

If I drive to the hoop assertively, I’ll likely score or get fouled, or both. If I go after a rebound assertively, I’ll probably get it. If I play assertive defense, my counterpart will get flustered and make mistakes. The more assertive you are, the quicker you get what you want.

There’s a delicate balance between assertiveness and aggressiveness though. When you’re assertive, you know what you want and you go after it with focus. But, you’re also relaxed enough to be smart about it. When you’re aggressive, your thoughts become clouded, or you just don’t think. You act heavy-handed and make mistakes as a result. You might momentarily get what you want, but it doesn’t last, because how you got it is unsustainable. Assertiveness is the choice you want to make.

3. I worked really hard for a long time to get better.

This is simple. I could only hazard a guess at the amount of shots I’ve taken in my back garden, at the park, and at practice over the years. It’s well into six figures, I’d say. And that’s not even practicing every single day. I’m not a professional basketball player. So how many more shots would I have needed to have taken for that to have been realistic? Double? Triple?

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You work hard and you work smart because you know it’ll be worth it. I didn’t absolutely love every minute of basketball practice, but I did it because when I went out on the court to play I wanted to know that I’d be good. That I could make shots. That I was worth putting on the court.

I knew I could play because I’d spent years and years getting better; the evidence was right in front of me. Or, even better, the evidence was me.

4. Self-esteem = performance

I used to be great in training. I’d play relaxed, free, smart. I shot well. I made good plays. I read the game easily. Overall, I played about as well as I could most of the time. I was always one of the best players. However, the thing that frustrated the hell out of me was that I couldn’t ever seem to replicate this in games. I’d always kind of freeze up. Everything took a lot of effort, and I didn’t always reap much reward. It was so annoying, and I remember being upset after a lot of games because I just hadn’t played how I knew I could.

The reality was that I didn’t think I was good enough. Didn’t think I could do it. It was like I didn’t think I was allowed to play at my best (If this resonates with you, check out The 3 Things That Will Give You Stronger-Than-Iron Man Self-Esteem).

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Once I let go of these extremely limiting beliefs, it was almost like magic. I started playing how I did in training. Relaxed, assertive, making shots… it felt fantastic. This was what I’d been waiting for all this time. I’ve since won championships and individual awards, and it’s all down to a shift in how I was thinking, not my physical skills. I just developed a deep belief that I was good enough and I was allowed to just go out and play and actually have fun with it. It works infinitely better and is a hell of a lot more fun than the alternative. Shocking, I know…

5. It’s a team game

You can’t win a basketball game on your own; you just can’t. You need your teammates. I’ve been on teams where I’ve been the best player and I’ve tried to win the game on my own. It’s not fun. I got frustrated that I was having to do everything, or, rather, thinking that I had to do everything. I ended up playing selfishly and resenting my teammates. The best teams I’ve played on have had lots of good players and we’ve played well together. Everyone plays to their strengths and we help each other do that. Because of that, we won more games and had more fun. I know which option I prefer.

6. Score

If you want to win a game of basketball, you need to be able to put the ball through the hoop. If this isn’t a metaphor for setting and achieving goals, I don’t know what is. If you want to score, you have to shoot. To become a great shooter, you have to practice. The reason you practice? Because you want to become great. Because it’s important to you. Because that’s who you are.

The top teams in the NBA shoot around 50%, but usually lower, which is another great metaphor for achieving goals. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you fail. You won’t succeed every single time, but you absolutely will succeed. If you’ve worked your ass off to keep getting better, you’ll take better shots and score more points and be a more effective player. You will succeed.

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I also find that the tougher the shot, the more satisfaction I get from making it. That’s something I didn’t truly realise until writing this article, and is a good lesson to remember!

7. Letting go

Each team has so many possessions in any basketball game. You’re going to score a lot of baskets, and you’re going to miss a lot too. You might as well accept it. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball in the world, most players shoot around 50%, if not slightly lower. Which, for the math geniuses amongst you, means they miss about 50% too. These are the best players in the world, and they “only” make half their shots. If they took each miss with them to the next possession and thought about it, worried about it, obsessed over it happening again…what do you think would happen? Might they be frustrated? Might they lose confidence? Think they suck? Probably. Does that sound helpful?

It’s important to let go. You gave the ball away? Let it go. You missed a crucial shot? Let it go. Why would you hold onto it? There’s nothing to gain. Learn from it and move forward.

How do you let go? You have to trust yourself. If you trust that letting go is the right decision, then you can live with whatever the result is of that decision.

Featured photo credit: Air/Thomas Hawk via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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