“Yo, Huff — is that LeBron James?”
“Um, it is.”
“Well — here we go then.”
That is how my younger brother, Damon Huffman, spoke to me back in 2006, as Lebron James strolled onto the court to play in a pickup game at Akron University.
LeBron was a young superstar being touted The Chosen One as the next Michael Jordan and was already worth 90 million, so I think I can safely say his rise to professional basketball was much different than mine.
That said, wink, wink, we both had spots in Sports Illustrated magazine in 2001–2002.
Thanks, Bron-Bron for all your support.
But I want to talk about what LeBron taught me. I realized there was much more I could do with my life, to hack my growth, overcome my emotions, earn respect, and succeed despite my own patterns of self-sabotage.
LEBRON’S LIFE LESSON #1: HOW TO EARN RESPECT
LeBron James has had to prove he could live up to the hype since he was 17. If you want to do something, to earn respect, you have to be willing to put yourself on a tightrope and silence the internal and external critics while you go out and do the work to become successful.
LeBron has had critics. Naysayers. Haters. Pressure. But it never stopped him from working and putting the time into his craft. He earned his own respect by his actions.
How many of us are afraid to jump on the tightrope and risk something day in and day out?
I have been afraid of taking risks my whole life, but the beauty of taking them is you learn that on the other side of that risk is a chance for growth.
In Robert Fritz’s book, The Path of Least Resistance, he speaks about the vital process of holding the tension between our desired outcome and current reality. The pressure is what we must lean into and accept as part of the growth process. Playing against LeBron felt odd. I felt a massive amount of stress before the pickup games started. Being on the court with him felt like an illusion, and yet, it was something I had built my life to become; to get paid to compete and play against the best players in the world.
But I still didn’t feel like I was ready to play against LeBron.
Until you have to lean in and question a new reality, a new fear, new insecurity, and handle the stress, there is no better moment where you can begin earning your respect, both internally and externally.
How do we earn respect and grow faster?
Seek out the experiences that push you right outside your comfort zone.
The moment where you can shift your consciousness from feeling — fearful, anxious, overwhelmed, angry, hesitant, insecure — we can begin to understand how to act outside our comfort zone We can dispel the illusions we floating around in our head. As we run into this iceberg like the Titanic, we begin discovering the 90% of the iceberg we have to deal with is something we can’t see inside us.
As Susan David, Ph.D., author of Emotional Agility says, “Our raw feelings can be the messengers we need to teach us things about ourselves and can prompt insights into important life directions.”
Playing LeBron reminded me the infinite game of growth is never over, that even the best players in the world are always changing and growing.
Self-respect is a hard fight. It is won every day you decide to jump on the tightrope and walk the line — in front of the world or alone in your head.
LIFE LESSON #2: CREATE REALITY THROUGH TENSION
It’s okay fam, let me offer you some tension — if your life is your message, what are you saying to me right now?
Rumi says, “If your knowledge of fire has been turned to certainty by words alone, then seek to be cooked by the fire itself. Don’t abide in borrowed certainty. There is no real certainty until you burn; if you wish for this, sit down in the fire.”
Shit, LeBron was going to burn me: my game, my life’s work, of what I cared about the most.
This writing is going to burn me too.
Everything worthwhile can burn you if you think about it.
Einstein says: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
This persistent struggle has been part of my life. Maybe it is always a part of our lives when we care too much about the end result. I was afraid to take risks in high school. I was scared to shoot the big shot. Talk to the pretty girl. It felt like everything was on the line if I missed. This anxiety was inside me, moving with every thought and fluttering mind moment. I wasn’t that afraid to lose, but instead, I valued shame, rejection, and disappointment more than I did try to win.
By living afraid, of talking to the pretty girl, of taking the big shots, of accepting all the criticism, I could never receive the moment and find my own self-respect.
LeBron caused me hesitation to play a game I love. This primary emotion led me to something else. How do I untie myself from this fear of not feeling good enough, of not feeling worthy enough to be on the court with him?
This was the real moment of growth for me.
Realizing the tension between your desired outcome and your current reality isn’t always a comfortable experience, but rather the necessary flint to spark growth.
LIFE LESSON #3: PRACTICE BEING AN UNDERDOG
Fam, most of us are underdogs.
I know I am.
I’m not the smartest. Not the quickest. Not the tallest. But as I got into college and the pros, I realized there is no running from fear or anxiety. I found joy in the art of practice; in applying comprehension to what I learned through hard work. This is an infinite game: the celebration of growth is never won, and it is played because you choose to play regardless of accolade, achievement, or disappointment
I think Lebron understood this infinite game at a young age.
“That’s his greatest gift,” says Frank Walker, who partially raised LeBron. “His comprehension. If you teach him something, he’ll apply it to his game.”
Fear, anger, or anxiety are the very things I need to confront in myself if I want to grow, succeed, and live more fulfilled.
The timeless game of conquering ourselves comes from practicing self-awareness, of searching out the actual people we may fear to seek or compete against, of finding the events and experiences that we know will make us grow, learn, and handle the tension of our lives. What I learned about playing against LeBron were my fears and anxieties were an illusion I had already designed into the architecture of my mind.
“You think the shadow is the substance.” ~ Rumi
If the pillars of my mind can’t be broken, burned, and replaced with better ideologies and values, then I will have very little growth. If life is always better in some distant future or past memory, my beliefs need to change ASAP!
My success as a basketball player was from not living in the shadow, by being an underdog and stepping forward to challenge myself.
By playing against the best talent in the world, LeBron brought out the feelings and emotions I had to face in myself. He didn’t say anything to create fear inside me. He was a gentle, soft giant of a young man, smiling, joking, competing, and losing himself in the nuances of the game, in the next moment or play.
LeBron’s ability to disconnect from the world of internal and external critics is what makes him truly special.
Underdogs don’t care about the critics. I had always loved being the underdog, but Lebron James was an all-time underdog moment for me. Even after the days of my Kent State NCAA Elite Eight game, even after coming off an MVP and professional National Cup championship in Portugal, I had to practice being an underdog again.
As LeBron James ripped the leather ball past me, there was one thing every human should know to succeed in life.
LIFE LESSON #4: FACE YOUR COURAGE
Yes, that’s right, face your courage.
Listen to it. Act on it. This life hack can spur growth quicker than you think.
LeBron just comes at you on the court. He has a physical presence I’ve never seen before and to put it plainly, I’ve never felt like I was watching a live video game in 3D until I played against him.
Turbo button on, homeboy.
Once the game started, I wanted to win. I tried to beat LeBron. I needed to muster up my courage. I wanted all these things, and to be real, I didn’t know if I could do any of them. And that is the beauty of sports and competition, they make you act despite your fear.
The love of the game, of competing, of expressing my work, of playing as hard as I can, it usually always motivates me to use courage in beating the emotions that tell me to sometimes stop.
First, practice self-awareness. Second, confront those primary emotions with courage. Third, accept and understand the dichotomy of your actions reflects the values you currently believe in.
LeBron’s fantastic combination of athletic skill sets — the speed, power, length, height, and explosiveness of the most graceful ballet dancers of all time — creates visual art for all of the basketball lovers out there. But that changed the moment I had to guard him. That is when I realized the mental game is 10x more important than physical one.
“The lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero compared to the lion who overcomes himself.” — Rumi
Competing and winning against the best in any field, industry, startup, craft, passion, and stage takes a fantastic amount of practice, dedication, self-awareness, courage, E.I., and grit. To get moving, we need one thing:
Merriam-Webster’s definition of Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Origin and Etymology: Middle English corage, from Anglo-French curage, from quer, coer heart, from Latin cor
Living by an internal code of honor to venture out, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty, you may actually indirectly choose to increase your chances of failing or feeling more fear.
But more importantly, this also means you are choosing to live in rejection of old habits, out-dated values, and pillars of belief you used to limit yourself and your future reality.
Courageous people get off their ass after they fall down. They persevere and act when they feel a problematic challenge coming at them. They earn respect by putting their egos on the sideline and getting into the game.
And sometimes, there are still 19 truths holding you back from creating your own reality.
SO WHO WON THE GAMES AGAINST LEBRON?
How did I do? How did I play? Did I score? Did my team win?
Playing against LeBron reminded me to keep playing the infinite underdog game that is always ruminating inside me. There is always someone better at what you love doing, so play the game and get your self-respect by jumping on the tightrope and walking the line.
Courage comes from within and requires a willingness to act.
Yes, playing against the world’s best player taught me some invaluable lessons about internal life hacks for growth. Find the tension between our current life and what we desire our lives to be. Walk that line and remain vigilant of those emotions and how they attach to our hidden, shittier values, and self-limiting beliefs that stop us from acting and expressing our true self.
The tenacity to prove yourself right and earn respect takes living like an underdog at times.
It takes self-awareness to let go of the old mindsets that limit who we can become. This courageous mentality will help you to live fearlessly and not allow your internal baggage to get in the way of the magical performances we are allowed to display to the world.
Only then can we begin issuing an infinite currency of self-love, success, and growth towards a better tomorrow.