For Michael Jordan, the first six years of his pro career represent his time spent on the side of the mountain. During that time, he dealt with season-ending and even career-threatening injuries. Despite his emerging basketball brilliance, the Bulls in those early years struggled, and he endured criticism that his personal achievements came at the expense of his team’s success. Experts questioned whether he had the leadership and attitude to elevate his franchise to an elite level. As Jordan and his team inched their way gradually forward, they suffered heartbreaking defeats and near misses multiple times before finally, eventually getting over the hump. Through all that, Jordan persevered. He learned and he grew. He kept competing and battling and improving. We all know of course how the story ended. What we don’t fully know and probably can’t really appreciate is how hard those years on the side of the mountain must have been for him, as they are for anyone striving to become a champion in any area of life.
What separates people like Michael Jordan from everyone else is their commitment to that climb, to that process, to that pursuit that being your best requires. These days, it seems most people hope they just magically fall on top of the mountain. When they don’t, and instead face that harsh, sometimes painful, and often overlooked or underappreciated journey to the top, it’s easy to justify walking away or leaving to try again with something new or someone else or someplace different. Average people aren’t willing to endure all that the journey requires.
There’s plenty we can learn from Michael Jordan’s path to greatness, and plenty we can apply to our own pursuit. Maybe, of course, you’ve achieved your goal already. Maybe you’ve made it to the top. But more likely today you find yourself on the side of the mountain. That means, probably outside the spotlight, you’re responsible for deciding how you’ll handle the setbacks, the challenges, the criticism, and even the failures that come along with the climb. You may be tempted today to do what most people do – to abandon your pursuit.
Or you can do what Michael Jordan did. You can do what champions do. You can use those setbacks, challenges, criticisms, and even failures to fuel your commitment. You can persevere. You can learn and grow. You can keep competing and battling and improving. You can allow the journey to refine you into the kind of person that real, authentic success requires you to be. You can continue to climb.
If you do, then it’s likely at some point you’ll reach your desired destination. Some day you’ll get to the top. When that happens, enjoy the view. You’ll have earned it. Just don’t forget the harsh, sometimes painful, often overlooked and underappreciated reality of what your success required. Be proud when you get there, but remember…you were made on the side of the mountain.