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Was John Wooden Wrong?



Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability. --John Wooden


John Wooden has been a great hero of mine. I often quote him on leadership and I would never slam him without a good reason. But this quote crossed my screen today and it gave me pause...


Think about it...


Should have accomplished. Is this the of coulda, woulda, shoulda trap?


Measure yourself. Is that like judging yourself?


What have you accomplished? By whose standards? What does accomplishment even mean?


Accomplished with your ability. What are my abilities and what does it mean to have used them to accomplish something?


A very complicated sentence and easy to misinterpret...

If you don't know John Wooden, he was the legendary basketball coach at UCLA who won 88 consecutive games between 1971 and ’74, more than anyone in any sport until the Lady Huskies of the University of Connecticut hit 89 in 2010. But that's not the reason he's a legend. Wooden was also a true leader and taught and mentored many others about leadership.

Many years ago, I read a wonderful article quoting Wooden talking about his formula for winning. One of the key points was to encourage every player to play every game to the best of his ability. Nothing more, nothing less. The only time anyone ever saw him lose his cool on the sidelines as he followed his team's play was a night when he saw they were NOT playing to the best of their ability. As he often said, [If you] play to the best of your ability - then the results will be to your liking.

In the quote above, lifted out of the larger context of Wooden's philosophy, he's not suggesting judging yourself against some arbitrary standard or even judging yourself at all. Instead, as he said elsewhere, whether you played to the best of your ability is for you to know, not me, that you gave the best of which you were capable.

At those flexion points in your own life, you must first assess your own abilities and decide which ones you want to use, develop, grow, and nourish. That's the hard part. Once you know your own direction then you're asking a few simple questions:


Am I using my abilities in the best way as I define and understand them?

Am I using my abilities to move me closer or further from my mission and goals?

Am I happy with how I'm using my abilities?

No judgements...no beating yourself up...no voices of coulda, woulda, shoulda from the past or present. “Am I comfortable with myself?” Then act accordingly. That's the flexible power of following your path...as you have defined it. As for Wooden's quote, I'm sticking with him on this (just leaving out the should and going with his livelong intent.)

What's your take on Wooden's quote?


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