Go back to when you were 17.
Now imagine being on the cover of your favorite magazine. What would that feel like? Amazing, right?
Now add this to the mental image: The words “The Chosen One” splashed across the cover, next to a close-up of your exuberant, unweathered face.
Do you feel the weight of expectation? Because the implication is unmistakable: You, in whatever your favorite field of play or study may be, are chosen. You are destined for greatness. You are capable of … anything.
You represent that most intoxicating of possibilities: the purity of potential.
But that purity doesn’t last forever. Day by day you’re defined more by what you’ve done and are doing than the ever-fleeting promise of what you might do … someday.
Potential morphs into reality.
You become who you are.
Most people struggle to live up to their own expectations. I do. You probably do too. Surely no one could live up to the expectations of being on that magazine … the expectation of an entire world that you be better and different than anyone who came before you.
But someone did.
This someone achieved — and is still achieving, in fact — exactly what those gargantuan expectations suggested he was capable of.
This person has become what he was capable of, and you can become whatever it is you’re capable of, using the exact same simple formula he did.
Allow me to explain …
LeBron James: A profile in Primility
The sports fans among you probably knew who I was referring to as soon as I said “The Chosen One.” Some of you might have even guessed it when I mentioned being 17 and on a magazine cover.
Such is the iconic nature of this Sports Illustrated cover from February of 2002:
And while reasonable debate still exists about whether LeBron James is the best basketball player of all-time, there is no doubt that he is already in the conversation. At age 29. And with at least five or six (if not more) seasons of top-level play remaining.
For the record, Michael Jordan was already 30 when he won his third NBA title, and still had time to “retire,” play baseball, and return for another three-peat. LeBron has a chance to get his third title over the next fortnight. And then … ?
There it is.
Did you catch it?
It’s all right there in the dot-dot-dot: the burden of LeBron’s potential, of what he’s “capable of.”
As soon as I mentioned a rare and remarkable feat of LeBron’s — winning back-to-back titles and being in a position to win a third — I just had to follow it up with a reminder that we, the collective sports fan, expects more. (And, of course, he does too.)
In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a male athlete have a greater weight of expectation placed upon him than LeBron, save for maybe Tiger Woods.
Imagine Chris Berman sitting on a seedless grape. That’s the gravity of expectation LeBron has had since the moment his face graced SI’s glossy cover.
And he’s lived up to it.
LeBron James consistently balances his immense pride with necessary doses of humility.
And this balance of pride and humility — Primility — is the formula for achieving anything you’re capable of.
It just so happens LeBron James was capable of becoming the greatest basketball player in the world, maybe ever. He’s become that.
What are you capable of?
Because Primility will prove to be the way.
But isn’t LeBron a conceited jerk?
Some people think so. And, quite frankly, he’s acted like one at times.
I’ve tended to give him a pass when others would not, mainly because I acted like a conceited jerk myself at times during my 20s … and that was without all of the accolades, and pressures, and other mind-boggling, otherworldly, some-good-some-not realities that are uniquely LeBron’s to experience and navigate.
If we’re going to anoint him as “The Chosen One” when he’s 17 — and if we’re going to be okay with him anointing himself “The King” — then the least we can do is give him a little bit of time to mature into the roles.
Which he more or less has, it seems.
But this is all beside the point.
What matters right here, right now, for the purpose of this post and this discussion, is not anyone’s personal feelings about LeBron the man, but our objective knowledge of LeBron the basketball player. This is where the Primility of LeBron shines like the sun on South Beach in summer.
The pride to choose himself
All the God-given athletic ability in the world doesn’t mean squat at the highest levels of a sport if you aren’t willing to choose yourself to be the best and then, more importantly, put in the requisite work.
LeBron has been willing to do both, and you can see it with just a quick glance at his year-by-year stats. He has improved individually almost every season in almost every conceivable way.
See for yourself. Go to his Basketball Reference page and start scanning the numbers.
Sure, LeBron racked up tons of counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, etc) in his early days with Cleveland when he was playing absurd amounts of minutes and asked to do everything, but look at his most recent seasons. His counting stats are still remarkable, but the efficiency is what matters because he’s now playing with better players.
(And, as a quick side note, he hasn’t used the fact that he has better players around him, including two future Hall of Famers, to rest on his laurels. LeBron could coast and still be an All-NBA player — see: Carmelo Anthony. But he keeps pushing himself to be an MVP-level player each year and lead his team to titles. That’s pride.)
Present-day LeBron is doing about the same or better as younger LeBron in fewer minutes per game, while making a far higher percentage of his field goal attempts. This season, his 11th, LeBron’s field goal percentage was 56.7 percent. That’s an amazing number for a guy who shoots as often as LeBron does. And he has improved this all-important statistic (which requires mental improvement as much as physical) from year to year in every season but one. Wow.
You simply do not do that — no matter how physically gifted you are — without taking immense personal pride in being your absolute best and believing you are worthy of the work and sacrifice it will take to get there. (You also don’t do that without the humility to understand that you have to keep improving, but we’ll get to that in a second.)
LeBron talks often about how hard he works, and it becomes clear at times that he feels his work ethic isn’t respected enough; but even if he never said it out loud, the numbers and the eye test say it all.
Some may equal him — Jordan and Kobe certainly come to mind, among a few others — but no one has ever taken more pride in being an excellent basketball player at both ends of the floor than LeBron James. Combine that with his natural gifts, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind basketball icon.
But the pride isn’t what separates LeBron.
The humility does.
The humility to become a champion
Humility probably isn’t the first, second, or one-thousandth word that comes to mind when you think about LeBron James. But it should be, at least if you define the impact of humility like I do.
I like the way Wikipedia defines it: “the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.”
But stay with me here, because this is where the entire notion of Primility can get tricky.
No one would ever say that LeBron James “lowers himself in relation to others.” Quite the contrary. Heck, I just got done telling you that he chose himself to be the greatest basketball player of all-time. And he has long believed he would indeed one day be worthy of that distinction.
The key phrase there is “one day.”
Because what it takes to get to that lofty rare air to which LeBron aspires is year after year, month after month, day after day of private workouts, practices, games, playoffs, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, on and on and on. There are no shortcuts.
And it requires a certain amount of humility to understand that, to embrace that, and to view that grind as the obstacle that becomes the way.
Were LeBron too humble, he’d secretly harbor doubts that he’s overrated and incapable of achieving what everyone else says, and he’d have buckled beneath the pressure by now.
But were he not humble enough, he would try to skate by on natural talent alone while being more concerned with individual accomplishment than team accomplishment. Not even LeBron’s harshest critics would accuse him of that. In any discussion of the greatest teammates in NBA history, you’ll find LeBron’s name.
And therein lies the lesson, and the crux of Primility as a simple framework for guiding you toward achieving anything you’re capable of.
Primility is why LeBron James is who we thought he’d be …
You can’t assess LeBron’s pride without analyzing how it has been kept in check by his humility.
Think about how easy it would be for pride to run amok and ultimately turn into conceit and hubris within a guy dubbed “The Chosen One” at 17. It hasn’t, at least not to the detriment of his professional achievement.
On the flip side, you can’t assess LeBron’s humility without analyzing how his pride has kept him from ever becoming too humble and doubting his worthiness.
LeBron has missed a lot of big shots. He’s lost in The Finals twice. He’s been hated, ridiculed, and mocked. But the inner fire never went out. It appears to have grown stronger, in fact.
Pride is the fuel that keeps that fire burning. Humility is the pit that keeps it contained within a safe space.
And hopefully we all have close friends and family members — or, in LeBron’s case, coaches and teammates — who can serve as the extinguishers should the pit ever fail and the fire rage, which it probably will at some point. Because none of us are perfect. And unchecked pride can be a voracious inferno.
But what does all of this mean to you?
Primility is how you can be whatever you’re capable of being
More than likely, you are not going to become one of the greatest basketball players ever.
When our parents told us we could be “anything we want to be,” they were lying. It was a well-intentioned white lie with little downside at the time, so we typically don’t blame them for this … but it’s a lie nonetheless. And it can be detrimental if we believe it too literally when we’re older.
The more honest statement would be: “You can be anything you want to be that you’re capable of being.”
And we’re all capable of being a lot. Most of us are capable of being far more than we think. So even with the qualifier, that statement still isn’t limiting. It contains an entire world of possibility.
Take me for example.
I’m 6’1ish, and I have a decent outside shot, and I love basketball … but I was never capable of being an NBA player. Sorry. There are just certain physical traits it takes to play at that level, and I don’t have them. So all the Primility in the world wouldn’t have made me an NBA player.
But I do believe I’m capable of being someone who makes people feel good about themselves while inspiring them to lead more fulfilling lives. Hence why I’ve chosen myself to lead this project. And if I stay true to the ideals of Primility that I’m developing here, I can achieve this. (That’s a very meta paragraph, I know.)
So I ask you: what are you capable of?
When you figure out what it is, Primility will prove to be a personal vehicle for getting you there.
Want the quick tl;dr takeaway?
Here it is:
Go find the intersection of what you’re capable of doing and what you’re passionate about. For LeBron James, it’s basketball. For you, it’s something else. Find it.
Then have the pride to choose yourself to do it and the humility to follow through and achieve it.
That’s how you achieve anything you’re capable of.
Fulfillment will follow.
Flickr Creative Commons Image of Balanced Rock at Arches National Park via American Sherpa.