Michael Jordan Failed His First Interview

In my book, Hello, Old Friend, I introduce a framework, Career Planning Model, as depicted below.


The starting point to this framework is a step I title, Reflection. Oftentimes when individuals lose a job or seek a new job (perhaps out of frustration), they jump immediately to Execution. They don’t take the requisite time to reflect… that is reflect on job alignment to their values and the things most important to them at this particular time in their life. Reflection is the most important element in any decision process. Let’s take a look at Michael Jordan’s storied career to better understand this point.

Let me begin simply, by setting our eyes on Michael’s execution. For those of us who were fortunate to watch Michael play live on the court, we were treated to some amazing athleticism. Many of us, yes, me included, dribbled in the gym trying to emulate just one of his moves – never successfully, I should add.

What we did not see was the reflection process Michael applied throughout his career. When he reached the entrance of the NBA for the first time he had to consider (reflect) what he wanted to achieve and how hard he was willing to work for that. Furthermore, we were never party to the intense preparation he put himself through to become the very best in his sport. We simply watched him execute his game plan. Execution, like interviewing, is the culmination of much reflection and preparation. Properly managed, execution is the crescendo, our intensity at its peak.

Let’s take a look back over Michael’s career and dissect his many points of reflection…

In 1979, Michael Jordan failed to make the varsity basketball team for Elmsley A. Laney High School. In his period of reflection he could have chosen to pursue another sport, as he was a tri-sport athlete competing in baseball, football and basketball. Instead he opted to prove the critics wrong. He returned the following year after intense preparation and made the team. In his senior year he averaged a triple double (more than ten points, ten rebounds and ten assists per game) and made the McDonald’s All-America Team, garnering multiple college scholarships. After his junior year at North Carolina, having won the 1982 NCAA Championship as a freshman, he reflected again on whether to return for his senior year or opt to play professional basketball in the NBA. In 1984, Michael entered the NBA draft and was selected by the Chicago Bulls. Michael’s reflection and intense preparation primed him for sterling execution spanning a long and successful career. In 1992, Michael began his reflection toward retirement from professional basketball. The following year, in October 1993, Michael announced his retirement.

In 1994, upon further reflection, Michael chose to pursue professional baseball. While that decision did not culminate with the level of achievement he had attained in basketball, he as able to honor his late father whose wish was for his son to play major league baseball.

In the spring of 1995, Michael came out of retirement and returned to the NBA. His return was marked by an impressive display of competitive spirit and relentless preparation, highlighted by three consecutive NBA Championships. In 1999, after great reflection, Michael retired for yet a second time.

In 2000, Michael returned to the NBA as a part owner of an NBA team and its president of basketball operations.

In 2001, and until 2003, Michael returned to professional basketball and played for the Washington Wizards. Many pundits believe he held on too long and found it hard to let go of the many trappings and ornaments of success.

My head is spinning as I write this story. Michael’s many points of reflection typify his competitive personality, relentless quest for perfection and to achieve what no other professional athlete had accomplished over their career.

What should be clear through Michael’s storied journey is the power and value of reflection. We can, and probably should, debate the wisdom and accuracy of some of his decisions, but for sake of this writing let’s underscore the place and priority of reflection.

Some might even attempt to argue that Michael did not reflect but ran straight on to execution with some of the seemingly poorer decisions he made. Regardless, I offer you the reader the opportunity to overlay your own career journey to this framework and see how your decisions were made.

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