Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life

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For Rick Pitino, the first coach to bring teams from three different schools to the Final Four, success isn’t about shortcuts.  Pitino’s secret–and the reason he has become both a great coach and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the nation–is his strategy of overachievement.  Now, in Success Is a Choice, he takes the same proven methods that have earned him and ...

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For Rick Pitino, the first coach to bring teams from three different schools to the Final Four, success isn’t about shortcuts.  Pitino’s secret–and the reason he has become both a great coach and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the nation–is his strategy of overachievement.  Now, in Success Is a Choice, he takes the same proven methods that have earned him and his teams legendary status and gives you a ten-step plan of attack that will help you become a winner at anything you set your mind to:

·Build your self-esteem
·Set demanding goals
·Always be positive
·Establish good habits
·Master the art of communication
·Learn from good role models
·Thrive on pressure
·Be ferociously persistent
·Learn from adversity
·Survive your own success

An inspiring program that is as fun to read as it is practical, Success Is a Choice can make the difference between achievement and failure in your own life.

“So much more than another Armani suit, Pitino has done a job of psychology and salesmanship that should serve as a how-to manual for his profession.” –Chicago Sun-Times

“Pitino’s track record is extraordinary . . . his personal style is also winning.” –Time

One of America's most sought after coaches and motivational speakers offers a lively and practical guide to achieving success and happiness. From strategies for becoming a super-achiever to tips for making a job more fun, this book acts as a personal coach and as a source of inspiration and advice for getting the most from oneself, one's business, and one's life. 288 pp. 25-city publicity tour. Targeted ads. 200,000 print. (Business)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767901321
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 226,201
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Read an Excerpt

When I became the coach of Providence College in the spring of 1985, I was inheriting a program that had been languishing near the bottom of the very competitive Big East Conference ever since the conference began in 1979.  I had been an assistant coach with the New York Knicks at the time, and there were people who warned me that the Providence job was a graveyard for coaches.

In one of my first meetings with the team, I listed four categories on the blackboard: basketball, school, work ethic, family.  The four supposedly most important parts of my new players' lives.

"How many of you want to be professional basketball players someday?" I asked.

Virtually every hand in the room went up.

"Well, since you've had a losing season last year and there is no one here in this room who averaged at least ten points a game last year, it's obvious you are not a success in the basketball part of your lives," I said, erasing one quarter of the blackboard.  "And since I've seen your grade point averages, it's also obvious you aren't successful in school either."

The room was silent as I erased another quarter of the blackboard.  Then I turned to the trainer and asked him how many players had been in the gym every day since the season ended.  I wanted to know how many had been working on their games.

"No one, Coach," the trainer said.

"So it's obvious you don't work hard either," I said, erasing another quarter of the blackboard.

Then I started raising my voice.

"Let's see," I said.  "You aren't successful in basketball, you aren't successful in school, and you don't work hard.  What's left?"

I paused for emphasis.

"Well, hopefully, you're a close team," I finally said.  "Hopefully, you care about each other."

"Oh, we do, Coach," said a player named Harold Starks.  "We're a close team."

I pretended to think for a minute.

"Okay, Harold, how many brothers does Steve Wright have?"

Starks slowly shook his head.

"What does Billy Donovan's father do for a living?"

Harold now looked like a deer stuck in the headlights.

"So you really don't know anything about each other, do you?" I asked.

No one spoke.

I made each player stand up and talk about himself and his family.  Then something wonderful happened.  What had been twelve individuals suddenly had become a cohesive unit.  The makings of a team.

Twenty-two months later that collection of individuals--now a team--would be in the Final Four, the greatest stage in all of college basketball.  The message I tried to communicate had started the players on the road to becoming a cohesive, hardworking group of people whose change in attitude about themselves as individuals had made all the difference.

Fiery speeches and locker-room dramatics can be effective and certainly have their place, but you have to remember that their message is essentially short-lived.  True motivation must go way beyond that; it must make people understand the process required to achieve success.  In this case, that message was the bonding of individuals sharing the same dreams and goals.

But the must important thing I learned was that the keys to performing well--on or off the court--were the same for all of us.  Whether it's a college athlete playing at a level he never thought he could, or a salesperson striving to break records, or anyone taking more control of his or her life, the formula is the same.

Hard work and togetherness help us to soar to the next level.

Success means different things to different people.  For some, it's money.  For some, it's power.  For others, it's the respect of their peers, or it's self-satisfaction.  For many, it's the desire to have better relationships with the people in their lives.

Everyone wants to succeed, no question about that.  Even people who are the most cynical and pessimistic.  We all want to be more productive.  We all want to feel as though we are reaching our full potential.  We all want to feel as though we're controlling our destiny, that we're not being controlled by it.

I have often been approached to do a motivational book.  Although I was convinced that I could tell people the correct way to go about achieving goals, I had always refused.  Over the past several years, I have witnessed many rags-to-riches stories and have been around so many athletes who have gone on to accomplish things that even they once thought were impossible.  Yet I have also seen promising people get swept up by victory and fall back into laziness and complacency.  I have seen people face tough times and give up, shielding themselves with excuses you will never hear from people who are true lifelong winners.  It is the knowledge I've gained from watching both these groups that makes me feel that I'm now ready to share what I've learned.  You see, from these experiences and various efforts, it has been proven to me over and over that success is truly a choice for people, and there is a formula for a lifetime of successful behavior.

That can't be stressed enough.

We want to reach our dreams but often lack the proper direction necessary to see those dreams come true.  We seem to be forever floundering without knowing why, our good intentions wasted, all but programmed for failure.

We all want to be recognized for what we do.

We all want to feel we have value.

The problem is that many of us don't know how to get there.

Most of us, of course, don't have a coach following us around in our lives to make sure we're on track.  I hope that this book will be your own personal "coach" or tool for success.

It will show you how to create discipline in your life, establish a work ethic, create a sense of self-esteem in both yourself and others, learn how to fight through the inevitable adversity we all encounter in life, and be able to accomplish things you never dreamed possible.

All these goals are attainable, but each requires action and commitment.

It's up to you.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Deserving Victory 1
Step 1 Build Self-Esteem 11
Step 2 Set Demanding Goals 45
Step 3 Always Be Positive 71
Step 4 Establish Good Habits 93
Step 5 Master the Art of Communication 117
Step 6 Learn from Role Models 141
Step 7 Thrive on Pressure 163
Step 8 Be Ferociously Persistent 191
Step 9 Learn from Adversity 217
Step 10 Survive Success 239
Overachieving in Business and Life 259
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First Chapter



Our self-esteem is the value we put on ourselves. It's the person we see when we look in the mirror.

I learned a long time ago as a coach that you can expect great things from people who feel good about themselves. They can push themselves. They can set long-term goals. They have dreams that everyone expects to be fulfilled. People with high self-esteem are risk takers, but more important, they are achievers.

Conversely, people with low self-esteem are often unfocused and easily frustrated. They tend to be underachievers, complete with the package that is so characteristic of those kinds of people: lack of discipline, poor organizational skills, an inability to finish things, a sense of discontent, sensitivity to criticism, envy of others--an entire laundry list of negatives. Whether you're a coach, employee, or co-worker, it's difficult to work with people with low self-esteem, because they tend to be emotionally fragile and conditioned for failure.

These negatives surrounding low self-esteem can sabotage us. If you become a victim of this condition, every other step in this book becomes meaningless.

It's the same with any organization or team. I've learned that when my team is leading at half-time I can be tough on them and demanding, for the simple reason that if the players feel good about themselves, they are better able to handle criticism and added expectations.

Yet when one of my teams is doing poorly at half-time, I am seldom critical because I know the players' collective esteem is low and they are more fragile. At times like this they need support, need to feel better about themselves; their self-esteem must be built up.

So we cannot minimize the importance of self-esteem.

Without it, we become paralyzed. We are unable to move, to go into action.

I didn't always understand this.

When I was a young coach at Boston University I believed you treated everyone the same way. This was the philosophy of the times, and I was a product of that era. We all are products of the values and attitudes that shaped us. When I was growing up, the coach was the absolute ruler. His words were chiseled in stone, his authority unquestioned. It was his way or the highway.

Even back then, I understood the importance of having a work ethic. I also understood that you had to have discipline to push yourself hard to deserve victory. A strong work ethic and discipline have been integral parts of my repertoire for the past two decades.

But I didn't understand the value of self-esteem. What I hadn't learned was that individuals with great self-esteem will do great things. They're the ones who make the big shots, the ones who want the ball in the closing seconds when the game is on the line and everything hangs in the balance. They're the ones you want in the workplace. They're the ones others count on to boost results and productivity when the company needs it most or who save an account in the waning moments by making a successful last-ditch effort.

Greatness can never be achieved unless we feel good about ourselves.

Mark Jackson is a perfect example of this.

Mark had been the eighteenth pick in the first round of the 1987 NBA draft. He was a local product who had been an excellent point guard in college at St. John's. Being the eighteenth pick in the draft means that seventeen clubs had already passed on the player we picked. The eighteenth pick is always a bit of a crap shoot. Still, there was much jubilation when the New York City product was chosen by the Knicks.

When I met with the staff to discuss our personnel, the mood suddenly turned somber when we began talking about Mark. There was anything but jubilation.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Well, Jackson's a little slow," one scout said.

"And he doesn't shoot it very well," said another.

There was a moment's hesitation.

"We also don't know if he can guard the quick guys in the league," said another voice.

I was stunned.

"Let's see," I said. "We just drafted a slow guy who can't shoot and who can't guard anyone either."

"It's the eighteenth pick, Rick," said one of the scouts. "That's what you get at eighteen."

I was devastated.

Mark was our guy, so I had to try to make it work out for us in a positive way. To begin with, I was determined to raise Mark's self-esteem because I knew that this was the only way he would believe for himself that he could perform better. He had to do what my players at Providence had done in order to get to the Final Four--establish a great work ethic, understand that they had to deserve success, and use that discipline to improve their self-esteem.

It became more complicated with Mark, because he held out for more money and was getting crucified in the New York tabloids, criticism that reminded him and everybody else of his weaknesses. So by the time he actually signed and came to camp, he had doubts about his ability to be successful in the NBA because the media kept bringing him down. He kept hearing he was too slow, that he didn't shoot well enough, that he couldn't defend. The same things my scouts had said to me.

Not surprisingly, Mark began to think he was going to fail. He looked around at the other rookies in the league who had been drafted ahead of him and began to envy them. Their games weren't being ripped apart in the press. Their abilities weren't being doubted.

Mark was falling into that all-too-familiar trap that so many people fall into. He was beginning to think everyone else had his act together, everyone that is, except for him. It was as though he no longer felt he had the control to determine his own fate.

In order to reclaim the control he perceived he had lost, Mark had to exploit his strengths.

One of the first things I did was tell the rest of the team I thought Mark had a legitimate chance to be Rookie of the Year because he would flourish in our system. You could tell from the expression on everyone's face that they were not buying in to what I was saying. They laughed, and I could tell Mark was embarrassed. After all, eighteenth picks didn't become Rookie of the Year in the NBA, right?

But the strategy was to make Mark's strengths--his passing ability, his leadership, his charisma--as big as the sky and to shrink his weaknesses down to the size of a pea. Mark would focus on making himself unbeatable in his strengths, which I constantly reinforced to the team. If Mark thought the coach had confidence in him, he would rise to a level he never thought he could achieve.

I used to tell Mark that, outside of Magic Johnson, there wasn't a point guard in the league I wanted more than him. By making him feel good about himself, by raising his self-esteem, I got him to start his doubts, and he began to play great basketball for us. And that spring, in a ceremony at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan, less than a year after being chosen as the eighteenth pick in the draft, Mark Jackson was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year.

The thing to understand is that without a significant rise in his self-esteem none of this would have been possible. We must understand that Mark rose early, stayed late, and worked on all facets of his game that needed improving. He certainly paid his dues. For Mark was like most of us. As he began to feel better about himself, his performance started to improve. This, in turn, had a snowball effect. The more his performance improved, the better he felt about himself. He had begun a cycle of success that would give him the momentum he needed to clear every hurdle.

Mark became a classic example of what we talked about at the beginning of this chapter: You can expect great things from people who feel good about themselves.

Shortly afterward, I told Mark it was time to take his game to the next level. It was time to make the All-Star team.

He laughed.

"You know that's political," he said at first, thinking that he didn't have a real shot.

But because his self-esteem was now firmly established, he was able to raise his expectations and visualize himself getting picked. That next season Mark Jackson was named to play in the NBA All-Star Game.

Mark is also an example, however, of how fragile self-esteem can be. At the end of his second year, I left the Knicks to go to Kentucky. Soon after, I began reading in the New York papers that Mark was in trouble, that he didn't have our system anymore, a system that maximized his strengths and hid his weaknesses.

All of a sudden, I started reading about Mark's weaknesses again. And a strange thing happened. By the end of the next year Mark Jackson was no longer starting, and he was later traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Though he's gone on to have a solid career and remain in the league, he's yet to return to the heights he did those first two years.

This should be a lesson to all of us. Extraordinary self-esteem produces extraordinary things.

Mark Jackson is the classic example of how we all need that powerful image of ourselves, that belief that we can accomplish great things, that magic elixir that we know as self-esteem. Without it, we are never going to reach our full potential.

None of us wants to be listless and floundering; none of us wants to feel as though life were controlling us. We don't like feeling powerless to do anything about it--like working on a mystery without any clues--feeling that we are miles away from reaching our true potential and that we have become little more than spectators watching life's parade go rushing by.

We all want to have more control over our lives. We all want to feel as though we're on the path to becoming more successful, complete with a road map to get us there. We all need a plan of attack and it starts with self-esteem.

Our plan of attack is the catalyst that jump-starts things and sets them in motion. Once we start to feel better about ourselves, we can then start to learn and practice the art of overachieving.

In real life, we don't have coaches or cheerleaders praising us to anyone who will listen. Real life isn't sports, although there are many similarities between the two.

So how do we, as individuals, raise our self-esteem?

First of all, let's begin by looking closely at that person in the mirror. You're not going to fool that person. He knows more about you than just how well groomed you are or what your hair and eyes look like. He knows exactly how hard you work, how organized you are, how good your plan of attack is. Much of self-esteem, in fact, is tied to being honest with yourself about whether you deserve victory. Therefore, don't try to fool the person in the mirror. You're only wasting time if you do.

You must establish a solid work ethic and a sound strategy in order to believe that you deserve success. Do that and it will make you feel better about yourself. It's all interrelated.

Consider the person who is overweight and unhappy about it. That person's self-esteem is almost certain to be low. How does he set about changing that situation?

The first thing he should do to conquer this unhappiness is establish the great work ethic. Set up a plan of attack, then put it in motion. This person might want to aim for something as simple as losing a few pounds over a couple of weeks.

The plan of attack creates the work ethic and the discipline to stay on a weight loss program, the attainable short-term goal. Reach the goal, and the message is sent to the overweight person that he now has a real plan and it's a successful one.

The message is that if you stick to that plan, you will start to control your weight problem rather than being controlled by it. Once you attain the short-term goal, you will inevitably start to feel better about yourself and your self-esteem will start to rise. The more it rises the more you can demand of yourself.

I have followed this basic approach with all my teams, through Boston University, Providence College, the New York Knicks, and now at Kentucky: Establish the work ethic, verbalize the goals, create the plan of attack, follow the proven methods, and very soon your esteem will start to rise as fast as Michael Jordan exploding to the rim.

Once you've created a work ethic second to none, and you've learned to motivate yourself, you look in the mirror and you see someone different. And it has nothing to do with appearances.

You see someone of value, someone who is going to be more successful, someone who is going to win. Because you have worked for it. You now deserve it. And that's what self-esteem is all about.

So let's understand that the power of self-esteem is the most important determining factor in reaching our potential. Before we can upgrade our skills and fundamentals, before we truly can start to achieve, we must believe that our value is worth improving. We must believe that our actions will make this possible.


When I became the coach of Providence College in the spring of 1985, one of the players I inherited was Billy Donovan, a baby-faced kid who looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Billy already had spent two years at Providence without any basketball success. He was called too small, too slow, overmatched to play in a league as competitive as the Big East.

One of the first things he did was to come into my office and tell me that he wanted to transfer. He wanted to go to a school where he felt he could make more of an impact. He just didn't think he could play at this level. I told him I would help him switch schools if he felt that way, and I did try. But you know what? No one wanted him. So I told him that as long as he liked Providence, both academically and socially, why not give the team one more try?

But with an asterisk.

He had to lose thirty pounds. He had to get in the best shape of his life. In short, he had to start deserving victory.

He also had to understand the obstacles he had erected that stood in the way of his success. I asked him how persistent he was when it came to achieving his goals. He answered that he had a great love for the game and was willing to do whatever it took to make him a better player.

"If that's the case," I asked, "why are you thirty pounds more than you should be?"

Billy's excuse for being in such poor physical condition for a college athlete was that there were better guards ahead of him in the Providence program, and thus he didn't get much playing time.

Although Billy didn't realize it, he was transferring the blame for his failure to someone else, in this instance his former coach. Since Billy said he was out of shape because of a lack of playing time, and because coaches determine playing time, what he really was telling me was that it was the coach's fault. He had made his former coach the scapegoat, thus absolving himself from blame.

I had set the trap and Billy had fallen right into it. It was classic nonachiever behavior. Nonachievers create alibis for themselves. Nonachievers always blame someone else. It's never their fault that they're not achieving; it's always someone else's fault.

Billy considered himself to be a very self-motivated person, but he didn't know what that meant. I told Billy that truly self-motivated people are always knocking on the door to perform, and that the only way to seize the moment is to be ready when that moment arrives. I told him that I didn't want to hear any more reasons why he had failed. Then I sat down with him and laid out a list of ways for him to improve as a basketball player.

We had established the motive and turned his methods into action.

When he returned that fall, he was a different person. Lighter. Quicker. More confident as a player.

It was apparent that he had established a great work ethic. His being in great shape was a testimony to that.

It also was clear that he felt better about himself, that when he looked in the mirror now he was starting to see a Big East basketball player stare back, not someone who figured he was playing in an environment in which it was too competitive for him to succeed.

In fact, he looked so different I made him pose for the cover of our game program. I dressed him as a cowboy with full apparel--hat, boots, and two six-guns. He was mortified, but we made him do it anyway. From them on, Billy took on a new persona; we called him "Billy, the Kid," and he would soon become "the fastest gun in the East." He became the cornerstone of our new era at Providence.

Well, by the time he graduated two years later Billy Donovan had become an All-Big East player. He was the leading scorer on a team that went to the Final Four in 1987 and was a second round draft choice of the Utah Jazz. He was no longer the pudgy teenager he had been two years earlier. He was "Billy the Kid," one of the top point guards in the country.

Now when he looked into the mirror someone of value stared back. His self-esteem was sky high. He had learned to minimize his weaknesses and believe in his strengths. He had established the great work ethic, had devised a plan of attack, had begun to see the fruits of his labor, and had seen his self-esteem mushroom.

The result?

A totally different player than he'd been two years earlier.

What Billy Donovan learned transcends basketball and provides lessons we all can use in our daily lives.

He realized that he had more control over his life than he previously thought, that it wasn't just lucky breaks that made people achieve more than he did. Now, with his work ethic and elevated self-esteem, he could forge his own destiny. The "good fortune" he created was all directly tied to his work ethic.

That is one of the most important lessons we can learn.

It's easy to say that people who achieve more than we do are handed their victories on a silver platter. It's easy to dismiss their accomplishments and ignore their hard work. Underachiever mentality is about making excuses. Other people are lucky. Other people get the breaks, we don't. Other people get promotions because the boss likes them.

We can find many reasons to justify to ourselves why we are failing.

* I didn't go to the right school.

* The marketplace is too competitive.

* My job's too tough.

* There are no really good jobs anyway.

* I have too many responsibilities.

* It's all about contacts anyway, and I don't have any.

Ever hear any of these?

Ever use any yourself?

Odds are you have, because they are the perennials. At one time or another we all use them.

They are the built-in excuses, the reasons we use to make ourselves feel better. They are easy to conjure up and constitute the classic refrain of defeat.

This is the mentality of underachievers. The mentality that Billy Donovan had to rid himself of before he could start being more successful. The mentality that we all must break or else we'll look back and see our life as one big excuse.

The other major alibi for underachievement is blaming others for our failures, just as Billy Donovan indirectly blamed his former coach in his first meeting with me.

We do this all the time. The boss doesn't like me. My wife doesn't understand me. My co-workers don't understand the pressures on me. My teammates are jealous.

In other words, it's always someone else's fault. Someone else always shares part of the blame.

When Billy eventually realized his malaise was his fault--his and his alone--he had made a significant discovery. When he eventually understood that he controlled what happened to him, he began to feel empowered. That's a wonderful feeling. It tells us we don't have to depend on others. We don't have to be burdened by others' perceptions of us, whether right or wrong. It tells us our success or failure is up to us. We are the captains of our ship. We determine our own destiny.

For the truth is, we control our life. We control how lucky we are. We create our fortune with our effort.

We alone have the power.


When you're underachieving it's easy to think everyone else has the secret except you. You look around at successful people and think they have everything going for them; their lives are always as smooth and easy as a summer afternoon at the beach.

The reality is, though, we all have frustrations and failures. Even the people who, on the surface, appear as if they don't.

In the summer of 1987 I became the coach of the New York Knicks. I was thirty-four years old; and because I'd been born in New York City and always had been a great Knicks fan, becoming their coach was a dream come true.

But I quickly found out that it was all more complicated than that.

When I wanted to bring to the Knicks the same full-court trapping pressing style of play I had used in college, the media quickly jumped all over me. They said it would never work in the NBA, that the season was too long, there were too many games, and the players simply would not exert the kind of energy on a nightly basis that was essential if the style were to be successful. It seemed to me as if almost every day the New York papers said that our style of play would never work.

Even Al Bianchi, the Knicks' general manager and my boss, had his doubts, which certainly didn't make me feel real comfortable or secure in my job.

So here was a job that on the surface was supposed to be my dream but in actuality had quickly become very different.

Eventually, it started bothering me.

Not that I ever thought they were right. But what if they were half-right? What if 50 percent of what they said came true? For the first time I started to question myself. I always have been a very confident person, but all the daily sniping and questioning was taking its toll.

This went on throughout much of the season. Even when we started winning there were still doubters who said our style would eventually burn the players out. In fact, it wasn't until the last game of the regular season that I began to feel better. That was the night we qualified for the playoffs, the first time in years the Knicks had made it that far. The next day New York Newsday ran a headline that said "Vindicated."

But I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that you can't doubt yourself, that you have to maintain confidence that you are fulfilling the role you've staked out for yourself. My job wasn't to go to New York and do what everyone else had done. My role was to get in there and build a winner and not occupy my time with critics and second-guessers.

That's not to say you can't tinker with your plan or always try to make it better. You might very well find your plan to be faulty and have to adjust it, which we did my second year with the Knicks when we modified our style a bit, using our press in spots and not as a steady diet.

The point is, you have to be a risk-taker. You must be willing to take chances, to put yourself on the line, to throw yourself into the middle of activity. Even at the cost of people questioning you and doubting you.

Underachievers frequently don't understand their role in things.

They either don't know where they fit or they are unwilling to perform the role that's assigned to them.

Many people nowadays, in this age of instant gratification, don't have patience. They want everything to happen now. Instant this, instant that, instant success. They don't understand the value of patience, of waiting your turn, of being ready when the proper time comes.

When we set out to transform our lives, there should be no time limit. We are looking for change over the long haul, change that is going to be with us for the rest of our lives. In order to make this change, we must be aware of our strengths and weaknesses, because we all have them. The key is not only knowing which ones are which but also knowing how to manage them. I learned this by observing athletes, all of whom have to cope with their strengths and liabilities. But it's not just athletes; we all have to do this. Our job is to define a role for ourselves that maximizes our strengths and minimizes our weaknesses.

So many times in life we see people who don't understand this. It's the guy at the party who is always trying to be funny, but isn't. The person trying to be a salesman who has neither the personality nor the temperament to sell food to a starving man. Young people who wear ridiculous clothes simply because of peer pressure. These are people who don't understand what they should and shouldn't be doing.

It happens in sports all the time.

So many players refuse to believe they have any weaknesses at all. When you point them out, they respond, "You're wrong. I can do that." They often begin to focus all their efforts proving everyone wrong, and in so doing they move away from their strengths.

Two years ago, I coached a young man named Rodrick Rhodes, who had come to Kentucky as a celebrated prep All-American from St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Now, Rodrick is a wonderful person, but he became convinced that to become a pro he had to prove he could shoot the basketball with range. No matter that he was a great slasher and had a great post-up game. No matter that he could get to the foul line consistently or hit the fifteen-foot shot. That wasn't enough anymore. He began focusing on the people who told him he had to show the NBA scouts he could make perimeter shots. He tuned out common sense and wasted his time and energy trying to fulfill a role he never could play. As a result, his game suffered.

How many prize fighters have we seen who know that the only way they can win the fight is to elude their opponent, to dance and jab and stay away from them? Then what do they do? They end up going toe-to-toe trying to show everyone how tough they are. They try to show everyone they don't have any weaknesses.

That strategy is a losing one.

We have to be honest with ourselves about how we stack up against everyone else. Not everyone can be quarterback, not everyone can be the superstar of a team. The reality is that we're living and working in a world with a lot of people with different talents and skills. We have to position ourselves to be unique so that we can be the best in our area of expertise. If we try to be the best in an area we're only mediocre in, we're setting ourselves up for a self-esteem disaster.

We will start to believe we are good at nothing.

But if we leverage a skill we already have, we can corner the market in that area. However, we must identify our weaknesses and allow a certain amount of time in our daily routine to turn those weaknesses into future strengths.

Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls has been smart about this. Forget for a moment Rodman's flamboyance and eccentricities and attitude. As a basketball player, he realizes that rebounding the basketball is his strength, and everything he does on the court is geared to that. We too must create a role for ourselves that elicits our confidence. This is what makes us stand tall as we face dramatic change.


Age is no criterion when it comes to changing your life.

In fact, it might be just the opposite.

The older we get, the more we must change.

Change is what keeps us fresh and innovative. Change is what keeps us from getting stale and stuck in a rut. Change is what keeps us young.

This is especially true in today's business climate, where companies are streamlining and downsizing. You simply cannot use age as an excuse. You cannot say you're too old to change, too set in your ways, too accustomed to what you're doing. They're not excuses anymore. You either adapt, or you will be left behind.

This is not easy.

When we are young it's easy to change and experiment with different things. When I was a young coach at Boston University I didn't have any experience, but I also didn't have many doubts either. I didn't know a lot of things, and my job was a little like going into my own laboratory every day to experiment. With no history of what worked and what didn't work for me, I tried new strategies, new drills, new exercises--anything that might teach me a better way to approach coaching and motivating the players. The energy of youth was my luxury.

The older we get the more set in our ways we become. We've found out what our comfort level is, and we all want to stay in it. We don't want to be risk takers anymore, because risk frightens us, and simply not changing seems so easy.

We must fight through this. We must look fear straight in the eye and take it on. We must tell ourselves that we have too much talent, too much wisdom, too much value not to change. In today's economic climate we have no choice.

I believe that Jim O'Brien, who is on my staff at Kentucky, is one of the best assistant coaches in the country. But I almost didn't hire him three years ago because I thought that psychologically he was too "old," that he had lost the drive and passion that an assistant coach needs. He had worked for me with the New York Knicks and then had become the head coach at Dayton. He was an instant success until Dayton got into a too-difficult league, resulting in an unsuccessful team and things not working out for Jim.

Three years ago he was forty, and I thought he might have spent too many Saturday afternoons at the country club, that he wasn't going to get in the trenches anymore, like the younger assistant coaches do. That was my bias Jim had to overcome. But Jim told me that he couldn't wait to get down in the trenches again. So I hired him, and he's been an integral part of our success at Kentucky.

Yet he had to sell himself to me. He had to convince me he still had the same energy and desire that he'd had when he was younger.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2000

    A Handbood for Success / Looking Inward

    Pitino is a motivator. Read his book if you want clarification on where you're going and how your attitude determines whether you make it or not. I bought several copies to hand out at work, and the feedback has been excellent. This book is one that you won't want to put down, whether you follow sports or not. I've heard that his new book is even better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2000

    Pitino....the best motivator of all, with the exception of Hitler!

    This book is a great tool for motivation, wether you need motivation in business or maybe just personal motivation. If everyone lived by Pitinos 10 steps the world would be a better place.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

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    Posted September 24, 2009

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    Posted April 26, 2013

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    Posted February 17, 2010

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