Lessons from Toughness by Jay Bilas

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I’m working my way through Toughness by Jay Bilas. It was recommended to me by one of our designers at Barrel. It’s an excellent read so far, and I decided to look up the article that inspired the book. Jay Bilas is an ESPN basketball analyst, and he wrote about toughness back in 2009 that became a very popular piece. The article is hidden behind the paywall, but you can check out a saved PDF here.

Having grown up playing and watching sports, especially football and basketball, I’m a huge fan of any life lessons that can be drawn from the struggles and challenges faced by coaches, athletes, and teams. Bilas’s 31 examples of toughness observed in basketball serve as great lessons in selflessness, responsibility, hustling, being proactive, self-awareness, and resilience.

I want to quote the last four especially as they made me reflect on my day-to-day:

Move on to the next play: Tough players don’t waste time celebrating a good play or lamenting a bad one. They understand that basketball is too fast a game to waste time and opportunities with celebratory gestures or angry reactions. Tough players move on to the next play. They know that the most important play in any game is the next one.

I find this to be so true during the work week. On a given day, there are all kinds of highs and lows. The lows–losing out on a potential new business deal, dissatisfaction with an employee’s performance, problems with delivering a solution to a client, etc.–can cause anxiety, anger, or even disengagement if I let them overtake my mind and fester for too long. The highs are dangerous as well–placing too much importance on a new business win or a successful project launch can lead to complacency and a less motivated effort. Being disciplined about moving on to what’s next is important. The celebrating and relaxing and can happen on the weekend.

Be hard to play against, and easy to play with: Tough players make their teammates’ jobs easier, and their opponents’ jobs tougher.

I’m reminded of another book, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. It doesn’t pay to make a big fuss to make sure others pay attention to you and feel your presence, especially if it means being stubborn about having your way or being loud about your contributions. Setting aside your ego and focusing on being a great teammate while tackling challenges together is a much more rewarding way to work and live. I’ve had my own personal battles with ego and continue to come across it every now and then. This lesson is a great reminder that others are impacted negatively when I don’t embrace the role of being a great teammate.

Make every game important: Tough players don’t categorize opponents and games. They know that if they are playing, it is important. Tough players understand that if they want to play in championship games, they must treat every game as a championship game.

My toughness is tested on this front every day. With numerous clients as well as internal projects and various management responsibilities, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and mail it in where possible. I know that in order to be effective and to achieve my vision of success, I’ll need to bring focus and sincere efforts to all of my responsibilities.

Make getting better every day your goal: Tough players come to work every day to get better, and keep their horizons short. They meet victory and defeat the same way: They get up the next day and go to work to be better than they were the day before. Tough players hate losing but are not shaken or deterred by a loss. Tough players enjoy winning but are never satisfied. For tough players, a championship or a trophy is not a goal; it is a destination. The goal is to get better every day.

Yes. This is why I look forward to each new day. What I fail to accomplish or achieve today, I know I can work towards doing better and making progress tomorrow as long as I show up, ready to put in the work.

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