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Wake Up To The Power Of One

The Top 10 Lessons You Can Learn from Michael Jordan

Braden Smith Purdue Boilermakers

As the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery. No one knew that better—or was as quick to admit that—as basketball legend Michael Jordan. At DRYWORLD, we are firm believers that in order to become the best, you need to study and learn from the greats.

One of the ways we like to keep up with the greats is by listening to podcasts! This episode from Founders is a goldmine of lessons learned for anyone pursuing greatness not just in athletics, but in any realm of life. It outlines how and why Michael Jordan became THE Michael Jordan, diving into both the Netflix docu-series, The Last Dance, and the biography by Roland Lazenby—Michael Jordan: The Life.

There’s no denying it. The episode is LONG. So, we’ve compiled some of our key takeaways here for you.

“He wasn’t just a talent. It was his understanding of it all. The work ethic, the game itself, the strategy involved. He got it all. He understood it all.” — Steve Kerr

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Here are the top 10 lessons you can learn from Michael Jordan based on the Founders podcast episode.

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1. Completely and Utterly Dedicate Yourself to Practice

If you know anything about Michael Jordan, it’s that he was wholly dedicated to practices—not just games. He never relied on his raw talent and athleticism, and played each practice like it was the 7th game in the championship. He showed up early every day to work on his shot, and stayed late, asking his coaches for more. More than once, you’d hear Michael Jordan comment on how shocked he was to see how lazy other players were when it came to their practice. He thought they were “deceiving themselves about what the game required.”

Throughout his entire basketball career, Michael Jordan dedicated time to practicing the game. He stripped it back to the very fundamentals and ensured each movement was perfected to the best of his ability. He would watch footage of his games in silence and study what he needed to do better. The man was dedicated to his goals with an unshakeable, undistracted tenacity.
  

“I have always been a practice player. I believe in it.”
— Michael Jordan

2. Use Pain as Fuel 

The second thing people need to know about Michael Jordan is that he took many things personally, but you would never know it. He uses every single perceived slight as motivation to be better.

 Using pain—physical and emotional—as fuel is a common theme amongst some of the most successful people in the world. Isadore Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons hotels, probably put it best:

“Excellence is often just the capacity for taking pain. The ability to experience it, go through it, and keep going.”


From Michael Jordan’s dad telling him to “go inside with the women,” to seeing the varsity team list up in the locker room without his name on it, to the feeling of losing championship after championship, he never forgot the hard times. Instead, he used them to push harder.

3.Listen, Listen, Listen 

One of Michael Jordan’s absolute best assets as a player was his ability to listen. He wanted to be coached. If someone told him what he needed to do, he’d listen to it and then do it. Michael Jordan understood that to get better, you had to be open to lessons. When he got cut from his high school varsity team, yes, he cried. But he also asked the coach, “What do I need to do to become a better player?” Time after time, it was obvious that listening and being coachable were some of Jordan’s best qualities.

“Average players want to be left alone, good players want to be coached, great players want the coach to tell you the truth every day on every play because they want to be perfect.” —Doc Rivers

4. Even Legends Need to be Coached  

Even absolute legends still need to be coached. Raw talent is just raw talent. Jordan could have easily skated by on skill, but his goal was to become the best. In one practice, he had a coach ask why he wasn’t working as hard as he could, and Michael replied he was working as hard as everyone else. His coach reminded him that if he wanted to achieve great things, he had to work harder than anyone else. Nobody ever outworked Jordan again. Because of his exceptional skill and devotion to excellence, Jordan also had a hard time conforming to basketball as a team sport—that classic, “there’s no ‘I’ in team” schtick. Even a legend like Michael Jordan needed to be told to “pass the fucking ball” every now and then.
 

Skill is skill, but as the saying goes: Hard work beats talent every time.

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5. Demand Excellence  

If Jordan had qualms with his teammates, it’s usually because they weren’t working up to his standard. In everything, Michael Jordan demanded excellence—especially from himself. More often than not, he was seeking to test his own limits. One coach even said that the more pressure Jordan heaped on himself, the greater his ability became to rise to the occasion. If he wasn’t good at something in his game, he was immediately motivated to become the best at it.

There were two things the Founders podcast said stayed with Michael Jordan throughout his entire career:
1) He hates losing.
2) He demanded excellence from his teammates and himself.

“You should be a yardstick for quality. Some people are not used to an environment where excellence is expected.” —Steve Jobs

6. Use Both Mind and Body 

Are you surprised this made the DRYWORLD list of lessons? We wholeheartedly believe in a well-rounded athlete and the powers of honing both your mind and your body to reach peak performance. So did Michael Jordan.

While the meditation and mindfulness aspect of basketball came later in his career when the team brought in Phil Jackson, Jordan said he believes his final year was his best because of his capacity to use both his body and his mind in the game. He called it craftsmanship.

It was the ability to be in the moment that unlocked an entirely new level of playing. The last episode of The Last Dance dropped this tidbit:
 

"[Michael’s] gift was that he was completely present. The big downfall of otherwise gifted players is thinking about failure. He would say, ‘why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken yet?’”


The same worked for Scottie Pippin and Kobe Bryant. The players who played emotionally were beaten. Those who stayed in the moment succeeded.

7. Learn From Those Who Came Before You

Speaking of Kobe Bryant, Jordan used to laugh at the media kerfuffle saying Bryant copied how he played. Of course he did. Everyone learns about the game from those who pursued excellence before them. Just like Steve Jobs, Jordan wanted a legacy. You want to learn from, compete with, and surpass the legends you look up to as you grow. 
 

“I couldn’t have played the way I played if I didn’t watch the guys prior to me.” — Michael Jordan

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8. Belief Comes Before Ability  

Before Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, he was Mike Jordan, an unknown kid from a small town. Even when he was coming up, Michael Jordan walked the walk and talked the talk. Teammates said you would hear him before you could see him—always talking smack like he was already the greatest. In the prologue to the book, the author writes, “His competence was exceeded only by his confidence.”

Michael Jordan believed he could be the best and that he was capable of becoming a professional athlete. So he did. At first, his confidence far surpassed his ability, but as he worked at the game, that gap narrowed. To hone in on this idea, Founders host David Senra quotes Kanye West:

“I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem, or I could use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams.”


Persistence in the face of difficulty. Belief in the face of rejection. Michael Jordan’s confidence—false or real—kept him moving towards the top.
 

“I believe in me.” —Michael Jordan

9. Say Your Goals Out Loud

A big part of successfully achieving your goals is owning them. Michael Jordan’s dad always thought he was lazy because Michael wouldn’t take a job just to make money. What he would do is play sports endlessly. Even as a kid, Michael Jordan figured he could become a professional athlete to make money. He’d constantly say his goal out loud. Then, he’d pursue that singular goal relentlessly. In university when other players were distracted by partying, Michael recognized pitfalls for what they were and stayed focused on what it took to become the best. He knew exactly what he wanted and nothing was going to stop him.

10. You Want Your Weaknesses Exposed

Much like the coaching quote from Doc Smith, one of the most important lessons from Michael Jordan is that you want your weaknesses to be exposed. Only once they’re exposed can you improve upon them. While Jordan was learning the importance of becoming a team player, his team lost a lot. So much so, that there was a point when people started to believe he would never be on a team that won a championship. 

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Having your weaknesses exposed sucks. It’s humbling, and fixing them often requires going backwards. While the team was learning new things to defeat their weaknesses, like building discipline, learning meditation, and developing a strategy overhaul, it cost them a few championships. However, they were building the stepping stones necessary to come back and take win after win. Without having those weaknesses exposed, Michael never would have been able to come back even stronger than he was. We’ll end on one more cliche from the podcast: Everything really is the darkest before the dawn.

“All good things come from compounding.” — David Senra, Founders

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