From “You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned”
The definition of success:
When the great John Wooden (UCLA basketball coach) first coached, he also taught a full load of high school English. During his first year he came to the realization, all the parents expected their children to get an A in his class. They believed their children were capable of obtaining the highest grade.
But Wooden knew, God in his infinite wisdom did not make all of us the same and while some of his student were rather gifted in English, others struggled greatly to spell and write. For some, a C grade would have been a great accomplishment. He continually tried to get across to those students, doing one’s best is success no matter what the outcome, but he saw it didn’t really register. So he came up with a definition for success to help them.
His definition was influenced by two people—his father and a Major League Umpire. His father had always told his children, “Never try to be better than someone else but never cease trying to become the best you can be.” That had a great impact on the young John Wooden. When he was on his own he ran across a poem by George Moriarty, “The Road Ahead and the Road Behind,” which said in part,
For who can ask more of a man,
Than giving all within his span.
Giving all, it seems to me,
Is not so far from victory.
He then penned his definition of success:
‘Success is the peace of mind, which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing, you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.’
It is human nature to compare oneself to another person. When at UCLA, I played behind the great Bill Walton and so in practice every day, I played against him. For two years, that was frustrating. He was such a good defensive player, I could hardly get a good shot. After practice, I often hung my head is depression, knowing I would never be able to compete against Bill. So I know exactly how some of Coach Wooden’s English students felt when writing a simple paragraph was a daunting struggle while the person next to them made it look so easy.
But John Wooden, seeing my despair, talked to me one day in his office and told me exactly what he told his high school English students. He told me, while I may never be as great as Bill, I had talents of my own. I was very strong and extremely skilled at rebounding (getting the ball when a someone missed a shot). He encouraged me to look at my own talents and work at becoming the best Swen Nater there is. in parting, he gave me a quote that helped me,
“I am me. I am the best me there is. I will always be a second-best somebody else.”
So, I stopped trying to become a second-best Bill Walton and focused on improving myself. I liked the results.