When I was a kid, I wanted to master the game of basketball. I asked my dad if he would help me. My dad, the farmer, lawyer, and businessman philosopher told me creating a masterful life starts with asking yourself a question.
I snapped my head to look him directly in the eyes. “Well, what’s the question?”
“You sure you want it, you may not like the answer, because it involves very dutiful work, much like chopping wood every da— ”
“Dad, tell me. Stop messing with me.”
“Okay, the question is this: what can you do to make today your masterpiece?”
“Wait, what is a masterpiece?” I asked solemnly. I was 12 and ready to enter my name into the NBA draft.
“It’s work you want to do, BUT IT’S WORK YOU DO EVERY DAY… with supreme skill, care, and focus. It’s like a piece of artwork that is recognized for its extraordinary quality. A Beethoven concerto, a Picasso painting, a Da Vinci invention…” he said.
I screamed in excitement, “YESSSSS! YES! I WANT THIS! I WANT TO CHOP WOOD!”
“Well, where’s your basketball, your biography books on NBA stars, your daily training regimen? That’s how you start chopping, kiddo. Your masterpiece is waiting to be made.”
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What I learned on my 30 year professional basketball journey, I believe can be applied in any field, in any craft, in any endeavor, and any career.
Rule #1 to Mastery: GO FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE. SHOOT FOR THE STARS. DON’T SET REALISTIC GOALS. GO BIG, OR GO HOME!
“Okay, Trevor, but why go for the big impossible if it’s impossible?” you might ask. “Isn’t it kind of stupid to go big if it’s actually impossible?”
Let me tell you a true story. When I was a freshman in high school, I wore basketball shorts and high tops to class, sometimes even in the middle of a Northern Michigan winter. I’d shoot before school started and showered during homeroom. I’d come back to algebra after lunch in a complete sweat and do it again after 6th hour. Yeah, people glared. Stared. Whispered. Their norm was seeing a gangly six foot white kid dribbling a basketball down the hall. Other days, I wore Strength Shoes, also called Jump Shoes. Yes, these shoes were made for aliens and humans alike (see below), so we could all jump higher.
Dunk like Kenny Skywalker.
But it was slap-me-in-face embarrassing to wear these things around school as a freshman. Looking back, I’m really proud I did.
See, my dream outweighed the voice of contempt, self-sabotage, and ridicule. I learned how to have a sense of humor about how crazy my dream was. Hell, I had too. I was the jester to their jokes. The clown of crazy. The kid with a dream. Some days, I did little dances and side shuffles on my way to lunch, and as people shook their heads in disgust, I’d say things like, “Happy feet equals a happy heart!”
“Footloose lives inside me!”
“Just getting better today Wendy, just getting better so I can dance with you at prom!”
The reason I didn’t give a shit or care enough about those initial voices was because I had set my sights so high, the Jump shoes were a huge part of launching me to my big bullseye in the stars.
And even better, if I was going to catch the NBA greats of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton, I had to learn to laugh and let go of what other people thought.
I had to be me, unapologetically me.
Strangers, coaches, parents, and friends told me it was impossible, or very unlikely I would reach my ultimate vision, but in the end, my chattering head only had to answer one daily question:
Was I chopping today or not?
Going big is more about igniting the possibility, meaning, purpose, passion, and hope deep inside us. It is about not taking yourself too seriously when you get shit on or people laugh at you or critics splatter their verbal vomit on you. Going big is, and was, deeply spiritual to me for one big reason:
It taught me how to stay unattached from the outcome, and stay attached to the present moment of chopping my big tree, from my big forest, on my own damn time.
To be brutally honest, I loved the chopping, the sweat, the callouses, learning the trade, even if the trees sometimes fell the wrong way. It was really damn fun. Back then, wood splitting was jumpers. Dribble drills. Spin moves. Making 45 out of 50 threes before I could go home. Wind sprints. Weights. Finding tougher players to compete against.
The giant vision quest created momentum and I could see results.
Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” but sorry Norm, this is actually backwards. I’m guessing he is talking about shooting a rocket ship here. Or using a human sling shot. The moon is closer to us (238,900 miles) than the closest stars (24 trillion miles), therefore if you aimed for the moon and fell short or missed, you’d actually be floating in the black nothingness of space between Earth and the Moon, alone and flippant like Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity. His quote should read, “Shoot for the stars, at least you’ll hit the moon or something else out there.”
Because let’s be honest, the moon is an awesome place to land. You have gravity. You can walk. Talk to moon people. Yeah, it’s not the stars, but guess what, if you hadn’t shot for the stars, you may never have gotten the right trajectory to land on anything of meaning to you.
I was cut from the NBA twice but absolutely loved playing in Europe for 12 years. A shorter trajectory would have never allowed me the unique experience of playing across 6 different countries and cultures. From Porto, to Caracas, Charleroi, to Dortmund, Brussels, Antibes, Ostrow, and Ostend. Europe was my moon, but there could have been many other great landing spots for me: college coaching, high school coaching, NBA film rooms, NBA skill development, radio and TV, or building youth skill camps. There are so many more moons when your trajectory is further away.
So here is my challenge to you. Start shooting for the stars and going big by writing out the biggest thing(s) or experience(s) that bring you joy, happiness, curiosity, depth, passion, and purpose in 2018.
Start with the biggest, furthest stars first. And stop taking yourself so seriously when you fail. It’s all right homeslice. I failed so many times, I literally can’t count them. Laugh at your mistakes, whether it is in parenting or CEO-ing and get back to chopping as soon as you can.
Need some inspiration? I got you! You want to milk goats for a living? Let’s milk a million goats! Let’s milk those goats to the cows come home (I’ve always wanted to say that). You want to start a space colony, why not? You want to run an Ironman and lose 50 pounds? Sure, go ahead, I support you. Mt. Everest, that’s impossible, you can’t do that (yes… yes you can, but turn around if you aren’t at Hillary Step by 1:00pm). Travel the world for four months and help humans live better lives? I love the movie Gandhi.
Leave your job and start an organic soap company. Here, read this.
Ever heard of an Earthship? No, nor had I, until Central America by boat slapped me across the face for 5 months. Do it. Build it. Prepare for it.
Now write these impossible ideas and dreams down! Always write it down!
Writing down your ideas makes them tangible. Real. From floating through the cosmos to something you can touch. Feel. Measure. Remember. Smell. The white mesh fabric of paper meeting pen is good for the soul.
Maybe your mind will conjure up ten things. Maybe it will be just one. If you don’t have any, just fake it. Remember this is usually something you are deathly afraid of and your brain will try talking you out of doing. I’m afraid (more embarrassed actually, which morphs into fear) of doing just this; writing, capturing stories, and sharing them with an audience to help coach, inspire, and move people to be kinder, happier, and live less traditional, fearful lives.
Yet, I always write my vision of going big, my why, my impossible, in my journal. It’s something I’ve done since I was 12, and it helps me see what my heart truly wants.
Rule #2 for a Masterful Life: YOUR WOOD CHOPPING PROCESS REIGNS SUPREME
One day, a few years from now, you are going to be sitting on a pile of wood you chopped yourself. The best process to master a new craft is to figure out what the best in that field did, and steal it. Use it. Do it. Act just like them. From the time I was 12, I started acting just like NBA players. I read about them. I studied them. Like my dad told me, there was only one way to be like them:
Chop my wood, every day, rain, snow, sleet, or shine.
Below, I’ll copy and paste one of my different (and new) big visions and the corresponding big process from my journal as an example of my two rules to mastery in action. It’s your turn to try this experiment. See if the power of shooting big motivates you, or diminishes you. Figuring out what the daily chop will be is actually just as important as figuring out your heart and what you want your life to look like.
I want you to write out your big process below your big vision like I have below. I want you to print them, cut it out, and tape it somewhere you can see. Here is my example:
MY BIG VISION: Be a published creator, writer, story teller, and film maker. Reach over one million people to inspire, coach, and move towards staying true and living with more laughter, kindness, happiness, and less fear.
MY BIG PROCESS: Write 500 words a day. Make and edit a video a day. Read a chapter every day from someone I admire in these creative fields. Finish at least one lesson from my writing class or MasterClass (right now, Werner Herzog is amazing) on being a better creator every day.
Sharing with one million people seems ridiculous to even imagine. Fake almost. Like a star that is too far out. That has no name. This feels embarrassing to admit. My ego is 100% sure all of you people are scoffing at me right now.
I mean, this guy can barely spell for God’s sake. He went to Kent Read, Kent Write, Kent State! Who would want read this crap?
“It’s okay Wendy. Once my feet start moving, my words will make more sense.”
My big vision motivates me to lash back against my sincerest of fears, my self-doubt, my guilt, even my lack of confidence. It helps me disregard my own fears, self-loathing, self-sabotage, and difficult to handle emotions.
So I write a little each day. I finish another lesson each day. I learn more each day. I study, I listen, I read, and I write. I edit. I film. I edit. I listen. I read. I write. Edit again. But really all I see is the same process I used for basketball:
Copy what the best did and chop. Repeat. Chop. Chop. Repeat. Repeat.
There are hard days. I procrastinate. I glean my axe and sharpen the blade, and I start to go places I wasn’t aware of before. Dreadful anxiety. Mind numbing panic. Thought provoking sadness.
Maybe I should quit, I tell myself. Turn around. Don’t chop today.
And then I see that big dream written in my own head. The cut out paper taped to my mirror. I remember the Strength Shoes and the stares as a kid, yet the jest is different now. I see less faces and feel more critics, you know, the sad critics that stop laughing, sharing, living, learning, and dreaming.
I stop and stare and wonder why I share. Is anyone even listening? Does anyone even care?
Then I swing the axe and all the voices stop.
My fingers click-clack-click-click as fury unleashes onto the keyboard. Maybe someone out there struggles with the same things I do. Maybe they need to hear how I beat my anxieties. Maybe they will feel inspired to face their fears. To create more laughter. Stay true to themselves above all else. To aim their rocket higher, change their trajectory so they land somewhere they are proud of, even if it is the most glorious moon.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” — Stephen Pressfield
If your why is bigger than you imagined it would be, you will find a way to move forward day after day, through that fear and resistance.
Years from now, sitting on cords and cords of split wood, you will laugh, learn to accept what becomes your new reality, and live masterfully in whatever you choose to chop every day.
Stay true my friends,