Ok, for starters, let me fess up.
I hate “sports as life” metaphors. Sports is not life. For 99% of us, life doesn’t consist of tens of thousands of people watching us play a game. When we do our jobs, we don’t have the best leaders and trainers there to help us fix something that’s going wrong. And, most unfairly of all, if I do say so myself, we don’t get highly lucrative endorsement contracts for being people who work in an office (or, if you’re my awesome sister-in-law, on a ship), no matter how good we are at answering 200 emails a day and scheduling meetings.
However, I saw a moment last night that has me metaphoring about sports and life all over the place. There were 54 seconds on the game clock, 5 on the shot clock. The Celtics were up by one. Paul Pierce, who’d had a generally lousy game in this pivotal game 5 of the Miami-Boston series, saw Lebron James step back and basically say “Go ahead, Pierce. You’ve shot like crap all game. Take the 3. I dare you.” Pierce leaned over, holding the ball on his hip, eyed James, and smoothly rose up and fired. James defended (probably thinking “oh, crap, he might make this”), but the ball sailed through the net and stunned the Heat crowd and their annoying white shirts into silence.
Pierce trotted back on defense, having just hit a dagger of a shot that he probably shouldn’t have taken. It wasn’t a high percentage shot. If he’d missed, Miami could have grabbed a long rebound and fast-breaked to a layup and the outcome of the entire game might have been different. The pundits would have bemoaned Pierce’s need to be the hero, his bad shot selection.
But he made it.
The life lesson, for me, is about confidence. Pierce had a terrible game. He was probably pretty pissed at himself by this point. You would think that he’d look for the pass. But he was given a step, and took it. And basically won the game.
Confidence. Pierce, deep down, must have thought he could make that shot. Even though he’d missed a bunch before. He knew, subconsciously maybe, that his training would kick in, that he’s a kick-ass player, and that it was his job to take and make shots like that.
How often to we sabotage ourselves at work by not taking that shot? We reflect on the crappy day we’ve had, or the boss who yelled at us, or the project that didn’t work as planned, and we say “it’s not my day.” We pass to someone else. We stay quiet in a conversation that needs our input, or we decide not to suggest what could be a brilliant idea. We forget that we’re good at this, that we know what we’re doing, that just because something bad happened earlier, something good could happen now.
But, the analysts say, the percentages aren’t in our favor. We might fall on our faces. We might lose the game for our teammates.
Here’s the thing – the Celtics generally want Pierce to take that shot (though they would probably have preferred him to drive, attempt a layup, and get fouled, but I digress). They know it’s his job. Just like it’s ours to speak up, contribute, take a risk. No, we won’t get a top 10 highlight the next day, even if we hit the metaphorical office shot. Yes, if we miss, we might get yelled at. But if we hit it, we could jog back to our offices like this, with a small smile on our faces, and a few more seconds to be in the lead.