Thursday, June 10, 2010

To Sir, with love...

"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
This is the definition of success coach John Wooden hit upon when frustrated by the grading system in place at the high school where he taught English. As definitions of broad topics go, this one is pretty succinct. However, in what became a hallmark of a storied life, Wooden was dissatisfied with it and strove to do better. He spent the next 14 years coming up with 25 behaviors he felt were essential to practice in order to reach success. He ordered them into a pyramid in 1948, and unlike so much in this world, that diagram has remains as relevant now as it was in the aftermath of World War II.
I am returning home to a small town to become a teacher and striving to find success in my life, but that is where the parallels between John Wooden and myself end. The man who single-handedly made thousands, if not millions of lives better, passed away a week ago at the age of 99. I sincerely doubt I, or anyone else in the near future, will make the kind of impact Mr. Wooden did. He was king of the sports world but never forgot he started out a peasant.
Many, many news organizations have eulogized Mr. Wooden, but the article I really feel captures how singular a life he led is Rick Reilly's from Reilly's first line is about as accurate as a sentence could ever be - "The awful thing about knowing John Wooden was that when you left him, you realized how weak you were as a man."
The Wall Street Journal did a story on Mr. Wooden, which offers a little background on his life before winning 10 national basketball titles at UCLA. I think what I enjoyed learning the most from this article was that his nickname at Purdue was the India Rubber Man, because while he fell, apparently, a fair amount while dribbling - "He bounces back to his feet immediately and is away once more." That is a pretty good metaphor for how Mr. Wooden lived his life.
Mr. Wooden was known for his pithy but epically true suggestions on how to live your life, and listed ten of their favorites. My favorite from the list is no. 9 -"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team." Take that, Kobe/LeBron/Jeter/Big Ben/etc...
The LA Times's TJ Simers appears to have been close to Mr. Wooden, and his article reflecting on Mr. Wooden's life is a nice twist on the usual bestowal of sainthood. While John Wooden would have my vote to be a secular saint, Simers focuses on the devilish good humor that colored Mr. Wooden's life, mentioning at the end of the article how he used the occasion of a nationally televised special to give the author a singing bass. 

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