“From the point of view of the fixed mindset, effort is only for people with deficiencies. And when people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to lose by trying. But if your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies — if you’re considered a genius, a talent, or a natural — then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you.” — Carol Dweck***
But after a two decades in D1 and pro hoops, I must say: effort alone isn’t enough to arrive in the one percent club. Even though Carol Dweck talks about effort (like a lot) in her book, Mindset — The New Psychology of Success, she has also missed some things about effort that help us get to the very top of our crafts.
My passion for the last 25 years was basketball. I saw a lot of effort from a lot of guys in high school, in college, and in the pros, all doing more than the average person and putting tons of effort into their passion, yet some of them never had success. Some of them bombed. Never saw the court. Or plateaued and never reached their potential.
To get to the One Percent Club, one must give more than just effort, they must live in a high state of self-awareness about what their effort should look like.
Your one percent may be in a different field than me. I hope it is. Mine used to be basketball. Now it is writing. Startups. Getting to the top one percent is going to take a ton of learning, effort, and tweaking.
But why will these words I’m typing help you?
Because I learned a ton from trying to get to my one percent club, to becoming the All-Time Leading Scorer at Kent State University, to living my short, white guy dream of playing in the NBA and Europe. I want to inspire you to do take what I learned and use it. Steal it.
“Be it baby!” Dicky Vitale would say.
If success depends on effort (like Carol Dweck writes), how do we measure different types of effort (logical, analytical, physical, etc) when people are genetically gifted in certain ways that others aren’t?
For example, if your heart rate hits 190 on a basketball drill that only gets my heart rate to 130 on the same drill, who is putting in more effort?
Or better, if I shoot a thousand shots a day (what a big effort!) and you only shoot 300, but your shots are at game speed, are game shots, with variety and added mental pressure, who’s effort is greater?
Mine or yours?
Which one did you pick (hint, take the smarter effort)?
Or maybe effort is a philosophical argument — meaning your best (most consistent) effort is all that matters in sports, life, business, relationships, and mastery. There is some truth to this and it hits home for me as I leave the world of pro sports and try to understand what made me successful in that world compared to this new business world I live in.
So maybe the real questions to ask are:
1. Does your best, most consistent effort make you feel reduced?
2. Does your best, most consistent, effort make you feel vulnerable?
Admittedly, lately it does me.
Especially as I got comfortable playing professional basketball, I lost that enthusiasm for effort, for daily challenges, for tweaking my game, and pushing myself outside my “comfort zone.”
I’d scoff at an idea like running in the water, or learning to swim faster, or riding the bike 20 miles, or having a trainer teach me new moves.
But let’s go back in time to when my best effort to learn or grow didn’t make me feel split open, my insides on display for the whole world to see, when I was truly in growth mode, when I didn’t really give a fuck about what people thought about my obsession for getting to the one percent club.
To becoming the best of the best.
“Do you want this or not? How many times do I have to tell you this? If you don’t want it, I’m not going to spend money on helping you get there. You can either get a real job or start working like basketball is your job,” my dad said.
I had heard softer versions of this talk since I was 12. The problem was, it was 6:00 a.m. and there was a dusty ass weed whipper next to my face. I sat up and thought for a second, brushed my thin fingers through my blonde hair and looked at the rows and rows of paint cans across from me.
Man, screw this shit, I thought. I can just get a job. Make some money. Who cares, right? It’s not like he’s there to help me when I go back up North to mom anyways.
I listened to that voice and then shook it off. The “victim mentality,” my dad called it. I looked around. There was a table saw. A worker bench and hundreds of carpentry tools hanging from the unfinished walls. It was cramped in here. My dad and I were both sleeping in his garage (which at the time, seemed completely normal, but now I’m like: what the fuck dad, really, to lower your living expenses, to succeed at making it to a million faster?) My dad was hovering over me with a pink collared shirt, his hair neatly parted with hair gel.
“Get up. It’s time to decide what you want to be.”
Why was he talking to me so harshly, I wondered, why did I have to make a decision now, I was only 15?
There was a rule and a reason why he spoke to me like this, or anyone for that matter. My dad was raised by my grandparents, two muck farmers that made it through the great depression. His typical day helping his parents started at 4:30 a.m., and he was shouting orders at the “hillbillies” (they were called on the farm) by the age of 12. By 17, he could run the whole farm to semi-truck loading operation and before he became a lawyer at 28, he literally vowed to us he would never live the farm life or in poverty again. It was obvious my father was possessed with the notion of making his dreams a reality at all costs. The farm had taught him the value of work. Of effort. Of learning. And mostly, of doing whatever it took to succeed and make ends meet.
But that still didn’t explain why was he talking to me like that, I mean, I wasn’t born on a farm, and I wasn’t a hillbilly — I was his middle son.
“Dad, why do I have to decide this early in the morning?” I argued. “Not all people are designed to wake up and be ready to go in the morning.”
“Trevor, listen, you have to decide what you want to put effort into. I know what happens when you lose your focus. Your mind map said D1 basketball, not D3. I know what it’s like at the top, to compete with these guys. They’re junkyard dogs Trevor. They don’t care what or who you are, or where you came from, they want to win. You are trying to play with the best players in the world. And this happened to me — the women, the parties, the success — it got to me and I got lazy. It’s why I didn’t make it to varsity basketball at State. It’s why I had to transfer to Albion, because I didn’t keep my effort levels high and stay outside my comfort zone,” he said seriously.
“Dad, can I sleep in a bit more?”
“No, if you’re going to stay with me all summer, you’re going to get up and work — either on your game, or your new job.”
I listened to his words. He was right. The truth was, I had made varsity as a freshman, I had hit my goal of doing what no other freshman had ever done in our school’s history.
But the journey was just beginning. And does it ever truly end?
Ask him why he isn’t moving up North next year, my voice said. I missed him being there with me, to help motivate me, to get me up, you know the basic shit, to be there and be my fucking dad. I thought of my best friend Johnny, of his parents and his sisters all sitting around having dinner.
Their lives were perfect.
My life felt like a grenade had gone off inside me and my body parts were exploding across the floor every morning. Emotional as a roller coaster, I’d try to pick up the pieces and move them, oh, here’s my heart. Yep, that’s my brain. My bad, did you want this thigh chunk over here?
I moved my sore legs to the cement floor. He was sleeping on this shit, I wondered? There was just a goose down comforter on the ground where he slept. I looked at him incredulously. My father, the enigma, was built like a brick house — short, wide, and strong. His hands were as wide as catcher mitts, his shoulders as thick as boulders. The idea of doing construction work the rest of the summer was enough for me to choose basketball, nonetheless the goals I had and the Class A players I couldn’t beat yet. Plus, I hated the loud noises, the sounds, the hammering, the shoveling, the dirt in my nails, and the monotony of manual labor. I knew I wanted basketball, but I didn’t want to wake up early to get it.
Trevor, there are no days off in being the best, another voice told me. Get going. You can do this. Don’t stop just because your parents are splitting. Because Jeremy is drinking. Just go. Get moving.
I stood up and moved my hips in a circle.
“I’m in dad. But you have to promise one thing?”
“Tell me son.”
“You have to move to Petoskey. You have to come live with us again.”
I wanted to succeed in reaching some college or NBA basketball player vision I had in my head, just like my dad had been. I just didn’t know how to get there.
And that’s just it, what you think gets you to the one percent club isn’t always what you expect, mainly, that effort isn’t always the only variable you need to succeed.
Benjamin Barber, an imminent sociologist once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.”
Effort is just one variable in the formula for the 1% club:
- Learning in the right domain (the one you have genetic strengths in) is huge because your ability to cultivate your natural strengths may be the only way to get you to the one percent club. For example, for me to get into the one percent of the math club, even if I put all my effort, learning, and tweaking into achieving that vision, I may actually only get to the 50 percent of the world’s top math minds (and that’s a stretch people). And that’s because I really struggled with math. And I got tutors. I got lessons. I got extra work in high school to stay eligible. And guess what, I squeaked by and barely made it with loads of effort.
- Put more effort into learning. How to tweak and pivot yourself, your product, your business, your life, your relationship every day is smarter effort. Today’s effort should be more intelligent than yesterday’s effort. What did I do well today? What am I getting so good at that doesn’t push me to grow anymore? If you choose a passion you are naturally good at , curious about, or or pick up quickly, your chances of getting into the one percent club are much higher. You’ll get so good the people, the world, the media, your competitors will be forced to recognize how good you are.
- Just giving your best effort doesn’t account for plateauing. If I gave my best effort and hit the weights the same way every day, I’d never grow like I should. Variety is the spice of life. Look for new mentors, new processes, new coaches, learning models, and competition to push you further than you thought you were capable of. Move to where this petri dish of growth happens.
- Lastly, be self aware. An important question to answer and know is are you compatible with your field, profession, relationship, career, hobby, or startup? I ask because if you are putting in all this effort, tweaking the product, and learning new models and self-improvement practices, I hope your answer is yes.
Meaning, do you like eating your flavor of shit sandwich or not?**
Yes, I won the geographic and genetic lottery (well, not that I was seven feet tall, but rather that I was white and my parents had time and money to invest). Actually, I was born in a trailer on Saginaw Street in Flint, Michigan, and because it was cheap to live there, my parents used their savings to invest in real estate and get us out of debt (the root of all financial debacles, right?)
This is when the one percent club process really started for me.
As a kid, I learned more and more about basketball, I realized it wasn’t just effort that mattered. It’s why talented kids or prodigies when they’re young plateau and stop growing. They never learn the secret sauce of the “Underdog Life.” For me this life was learning the game from new trainers and watching my favorite NBA players for hours. It was learning how to train; learning what to watch for in my game tapes and tweak my next week’s practice session accordingly; learning my effort as a ninth grader compared to my effort as a senior in college were literally, like light years away from each other.
If a high schooler worked and put in the same effort as me in college, they would literally puke (*this is a good story about my younger brother and his high school teammate) and I would constantly yell at them to get out of their “comfort zone.”
My dad would reinforce this as a kid, “This isn’t where you grow — where things are too easy. Where you never mess up.”
Being in the “comfort zone” became taboo and my tepid attempts to buck his early morning system were always met with discipline, threats about getting a job, and stern-talkings-to. As the rift between my parents grew in my teenage years, basketball became my therapy, my outlet, and I started playing, learning, and practicing at all times of the day. These were typically the time slots I’d put immense amounts of effort into playing and training.
These were the times I set aside for playing the game I loved and I usually hit two out of the four. Actually, three of the four was typically pretty routine for me.
But many of those other hours were spent reading about the greats, about sports performance, about point guards in the Detroit News, and I compared myself to them. What did my competition do? Who was training more than me? How were they training?
I wanted to know, without a doubt, I was out-training, out-learning, and out thinking my opponents. And this imprint, this sturdy foundation of learning, effort, tweaking my game, and goal-setting came from those early morning talks and workouts with my dad.
I never felt like I was going to be good enough, and I think my dad knew how big of a long shot it was for me to reach my goals. Do underdogs care about the odds?
In this sense, being an underdog was exactly what I needed to succeed and become part of the one percent club that made it to pro sports. After the journey was over, an epiphany hit me: being an underdog is about realizing you have deficiencies and realizing you can overcome them with obsessive, consistent, highly analyzed amounts of intense effort and feedback.
My childhood taught me about more than just effort. Short spurts of intense effort are easier when you choose the right sport, the curious profession, the compatible partner, or the truest of friends. And compatibility is important, but it isn’t everything. Self-awareness shows you the way. Listen to yourself. Trust your gut and your strengths. Tweak your best effort as you go and never be scared to try.
Then tell me how it feels to be in 1% club because I miss it.
*My brother Damon and his friend worked out in the weight room with one my time and both of them while trying to keep up with me, threw up all over the rubber weight room floor. Ironically, one felt challenged by this, and the other felt like he could never lift like that again (my brother is now the top ranked three on three player in the world for Team USA), the other didn’t make it to college ball.
**Kris Gage and Mark Manson, really like to talk about this idea of struggling (eating shit sandwiches Mark calls it) where you most prefer to eat shit (and then die a better, shitty, non-special life all alone in your grave).