“Get the fucking ball Trevor,” Andrew, my Kent State teammate from inner-city Detroit said to me. “I’m serious, go get the fucking ball and end this.”
“I will,” I said, but somewhere inside me, I was afraid. I was scared. There were 14,000 people watching, and I wanted to go to the NCAA tournament. I did. I wanted to win, but even more, I didn’t want to lose. We had to beat Miami of Ohio in the finals to even have a successful season after being in Sports Illustrated.
And that’s the paradox of life — winning is what you want, but losing is what you fear the most.
When you wake up at 6:00am to shoot because you had a 4–22 shooting game against Xavier. When you wake up to finish your emails because your company needs you to get work done. When you call your girlfriend after a fight. When you stay to 4 a.m. to go over the numbers and the pitch deck one last time.
You do this because losing is humiliating. You don’t want to miss the shot and feel the embarrassment when you play on ESPN or NBC or even at the park or the YMCA with your homies. It’s what drives most athletes. Losing is what drives most successful businessmen and women. Losing is what drives most marriages to stay together. Losing is what you are wired to fear because scarcity and fear is real to your subconscious.
A thousand years ago, if you didn’t win as a caveman, you and your tribe died because it meant you got eaten or didn’t bring home the kill.
Today, if you lose, you will be judged. You will be fired. Your meat will rot. You will be labeled. You feel your honor is gone and you don’t have enough time, money, love, laughter, and if you don’t play to get it, you will lose anyway.
But your soul, you know you have to go get the ball and take the shot, regardless of knowing what losing entails.
Taking the shot carries certain wisdom with it.
You are 38. Balding. Single. But you are wiser. You realize there is always the next move. The rook takes the pawn, the pawn takes the queen, the queen takes the king, and then you play again.
The circle of life is never over, even when you lose, so why fear losing? Why fear taking the big shot, getting the meat for your tribe if you continually play?
Focus on playing, on building your game.
There is enough for everyone, really, there is.
You realize how scared you are to lose; how we are wired is why we are scared; how our society molds your values and the values of your tribe:
Rock and roll.
Fuck yeah, man — let’s win, but let’s win the right way.
What values give you back happiness, peace, content, purpose, and sustainability?
Let’s not forget why we play in the first place.
Wait, why do we play in the first place?
You want to make a million dollars and blow it on hookers in Las Vegas is not a good reason to win. You feeling the need to buy the BMW. To conform with the clothes, things, travels, and being special. You want your body to look better than most dads your age. You want the million dollar house. You want the private jet.
Is that winning to you?
Getting what you want doesn’t make you a winner if the values are finite. Wanting doesn’t make you special. You aren’t special. All those things you want don’t make you special, you can’t take them with you.
Playing your game is the first step of being special. Waking up and doing it because you know your game has endless qualities, like the cosmos, the creator of the game is here for you — a part of you, you part of it.
You get on your phone and look at Instagram and see your friends with their kids and their wives and you realize you don’t have what others have.
Your dog comes up and licks your hand.
Walk me, bitch.
You tell him to lay down and wait. You are working, but you aren’t working, you are comparing. You scroll through Facebook to check on people and you realize you haven’t spoken to most of them in years. Your Instagram friend Mark is in Thailand, again.
You aren’t sure why you feel so busy, but maybe it’s the distractions. Perhaps it’s the subconscious routines. Maybe it’s our society just pressing you like an orange.
So yeah, you compare yourself to these guys and you aren’t winning the game of life, you aren’t rich, you aren’t famous, not like when you had to take that big shot on ESPN and go get the fucking ball.
Did the shot go in?
But maybe you want to win for the wrong reasons — to not look dumb, to not feel embarrassed, to not lose, to not be rejected, or to get the attention of making the shot.
All dumb reasons. Those reasons don’t make you unique. You aren’t going to be winning the real game if you care about the shot going in too much.
Real winners can draw the line and understand losing is temporary, and that playing is the actual blessing.
Not just playing. Playing with reckless abandon. Giving your heart to it. Giving your fear back. Getting up and doing the work, playing the game, expressing the art, is the real infinite game.
Lose, win, it doesn’t matter when you focus on the play, on taking the shot.
Running three miles in the morning and calling your wife at lunchtime is a blessing. Driving to a meeting and watching the sun peak over the Hancock Building is beauty. Taking your dog to the dog park is a blessing. Working out with your friends is a blessing.
Building the habits to play is winning, taking the big shot is just part of the game.
Andrew dribbled over half court as I slid behind him for a handoff. The game clock was counting down. It’s time to take the shot.
There was no time to think. The last shot was mine. So I did what I always did when I played on TV or have those moments where I fear losing, rejection, winning, competing, taking action — I took a deep breath and said the words I always said.
“Just play your game. Stay positive. Let go of the result. Thank you for letting me play.”
The spiritual nature of basketball was in letting go of the fear of losing. It reminds me we can’t fear the shallow values our subconscious has ingrained in us.
Winning is going to get the ball to take the shot, not valuing:
Missing the shot.
The labels scare you. You don’t wake up to play that game anymore because it’s a finite game. If you always feel like a loser, you are playing the wrong game.
You like the feeling of wind on your face. You want to ride your bike to work. You want to be with friends. You want to make money, but you want to do it so you can help others find their meaning and freedom. Winning at the expense of our environment, or impoverishing others, is it possible?
Building the habits to get over your fears and play is winning and taking the big shot is just part of it.
Even when people label you without you knowing it.
Life is the endless game.
So you wake up and start the coffee and fret over the small things. You hear the L train rumble along and listen to the people scuttle to their cars to join their highways to join their jobs. You pour your sugar and check your iPhone. You get a text from someone at work. It irks you that work texts you before you check the interwebs for funny vines.
You open YouTube and watch a Casey Neistat video.
You laugh. This guy is a fucking genius.
You stop watching and turn on your computer and put on your headphones.
Your fingers hit the keyboard and you type.
You take the shot.
It goes in.
You are the fucking man.
You realize life is much like going to get the ball and taking the chance to shoot. After all this worry and stress, taking the shot was just part of the game.
Winners are built, not born.
Play after play, day after day, thought after thought, habit after habit. Even when you lose, you know to play again.