The Right Way to Go “All In”

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Jaylen Brown was recently awarded the NBA finals’ most valuable player. The twenty-seven-year-old averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and nearly 2 steals per game.

In 2016, when he was in school at California Berkeley, Brown went to an NBA finals game and ​said​:

“I’m Jaylen Brown, California, Berkeley right up the street. I can’t wait to see the Finals. One day I want to be in the same situation as these guys. I’m watching Steph Curry warm up, watching Andre Iguodala warm up, right now I’m feeling excited… I want to get here so bad. I will be here.”

Needless to say, his prediction came true.

Brown has great genetics. He’s six feet, six inches and an insanely good athlete. But he’s got killer work-ethic and drive, too.

“All the things that I thought were setting me back or adversity ended up being the biggest blessings. Getting moved to the bench, even trade talks, getting booed, whatever the fans were saying, overpaid, overrated. All of that stuff made me who I am today. It drove my work ethic,” ​says​ Brown. “I always have a chip on my shoulder because I feel like how I think of myself, others don’t think of me. It makes you want to go work and go out and prove everything.”

A few things many people may not know about Brown: he’s also an ​avid chess player​, fluent in ​Spanish​, a ​presenter​ at NASA, and a ​fellow​ at MIT.

Brown is a great example of someone who has a high degree of what researchers call “self-complexity,” or what I think about as having ​multiple rooms in your identity house​. The biggest room in Brown’s identity house may very well be basketball. He certainly spends most of his time in that room. Yet he’s still got other rooms where he can go to rest, recover, and defuse.

Some people claim that in order to be great, you need to be completely obsessed, sacrifice everything always, and downright bury yourself. Other people espouse “balance” and having a variety of hobbies.

Neither extreme is right and neither extreme is wrong. Striving for greatness in a sustainable way requires both. You’ve got to care deeply, be at least a little bit obsessed, and lean into your hunger and drive. But you also want to maintain enough of an identity outside of your main pursuit so that you can decompress and avoid always having your entire sense of self-worth on the line. Ideally, you integrate the different rooms of your identity house into a cohesive whole. It’s what being a complete, flourishing person is all about.

Even though he is one of the best basketball players on the planet, Brown is more than just a basketball player. His other interests and pursuits give him just enough of an outlet that his intense drive for greatness doesn’t backfire or blow up in his face.

What’s more is that rather than think of each facet of his identity as separate or disjointed, he integrates them. For example, in 2016, when he was on the Varsity chess team, Brown ​said​, “I kind of compare chess to the game of basketball, just making the right reads, making the right decisions.”

Brown may be an outlier, but many of us want to pursue our own versions of greatness and express our own unique talents and gifts to their fullest. In order to do this in a sustainable way, we’ve got to define what it means to give the things we care about our all, without losing all of what makes us who we are.

In other words, it’s okay to be all in, but just not all the time.

​Brad

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