Why Do Top Performers Progress Faster? The NBA's James Harden Knows.

…death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new … Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
— Steve Jobs
Why Top Performers Progress Faster

Why Do Top Performers Progress Faster? The NBA's James Harden Knows.

All top performers suffer credibility attacks; learning to embrace them is part of surviving as a top performer. It's okay to have high standards and reach for the stars. Make a commitment to do your best, not be perfect.

In an interview with GQ, NBA phenomenon James Harden opened up about his rise to stardom with a hard-to-swallow reality many top performers struggle with: "It's not going to happen overnight.” Harden went on to explain, “The more you work, the more you figure out how to be great. Just keep adjusting. Keep adapting."

The Japanese have a process called Kaizen: actions that continuously improve all functions of a process. Think of it as a way to adapt Harden's philosophy into your daily life. It’s about improving your process, be it a basketball player, entrepreneur, or someone in search of a fulfilling life. The aim is to eliminate waste – anything that doesn't serve you.

Harden is living proof of what happens when you adopt a daily habit of adjusting and adapting. You unlock one of life’s most sought-after quests to a meaningful life. "The key is knowing who you are — believing not only that you can find the giant’s weakness, but also that you are the giant. Our goal is to be the best. Not the best who's out right now, but the best. You know, longevity."

Careers and businesses are worthy of the same advice. If we hope to step into the shoes of giants, incremental improvements need to happen every day. Start by exploring these questions. Do you know who you are? Why are you here? Do you dare greatly, challenging the giant, holding a mirror up to your weaknesses?

Get comparison out of your head, your value lies in your ability to be the best version of yourself. Not an imitation of someone or a business we already have.

The author in the Harden interview points out that Harden isn't that tall, he doesn't jump very high, and he isn't crazy fast. But there is one particular newly-quantifiable skillset at which he is the best in the NBA: deceleration. Know the unmistakable advantage that separates you from the pack.

It's not so much about zigging when everyone else is zagging, it's about blowing up expectations and creating a values and beliefs system that serves you. Be ahead of the rules with your innovation. Any time they try to change the rules or put new rules in, you've missed the opportunity to be an innovator, aka the rule maker.

As a kid, I'd tuck in the shadow of my Dad for bike rides. I'd coast his draft, using his energy to propel me forward. I wasn't a strong enough rider to lead the pack. I had to wait and improve my riding ability. Last year we went out for the first time in years. The panniers were loaded on my bike, and on the long stretches of road that lay ahead of us, I took the lead. I probably could have years ago, but it wasn't the right time. That day felt different. I knew who the hell I was for the first time in my life.

Kaizen had shown me not to fear the giant, for I am the giant. The emotional cocktail of being human will at times wear you down, leaving little energy to pursue the life you want. But by developing a daily habit of improvement and self-care like other top performers, you will step out of the shadow, giving others hope and inspiration. Your single most important job is to believe in others, for you know what it took to get where you are today. You know how much easier it is at first to pretend to be like everyone else – until you realize the ease of simply being yourself, flaws and all.

I'll leave you with a piece of advice Seneca shared with his friend Lucilius:

"Make haste to live, my dear Lucilius and think of each single day as a single life. The man who has equipped himself like this, who has had a whole life each day, is free of care..."

Actor Taylor Kitsch talks to Sam Jones about the high bar he sets for himself with everything that he approaches.