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How to Defeat Fear Like Kobe Bryant

January 26th marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and 7 other individuals. I vividly remember this particular pre-covid Sunday morning. I was in the middle of entertaining my then 16-month-old son when my phone vibrated. I took a glance and noticed the preview of the text message, “Have you heard the Kobe news?” Not sure what to expect I gave my son to my wife, opened the text message, and replied, ”No, what’s going on?” Curiosity was now crawling on every inch of my body so I did not wait for a reply and quickly jumped on Google. My initial search result brought back a website I had never heard of reporting the helicopter crash. Being in the Trump era my mind automatically went to Fake News because I wanted it to be fake news. My phone started to blow up and slowly other less notable websites started reporting the helicopter crash. I was glued to my laptop with ESPN on the TV in the background when it finally happened. ESPN confirmed the news. Tears instantly flowed down my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. Like most of the basketball world, if not the whole world, I felt like I had to do something to honor him so I created my own tribute video, which I have shared below.

Being about the same age as Kobe, I grew up with him as much as he grew up in front of us. For most of his 20 years as a Laker, I did not miss a game, especially during the winning years. He singlehandedly brought my family together because when the Lakers played, we all came together to watch Kobe. If you are a sports fan you have probably heard the phrase “Box-Office” used to describe a few select athletes. Kobe Bryant was Box office. He wasn’t box-office because he made a 30 foot 3 pointer one minute into the game. He wasn’t box-office because he hit a shot as the clock expired in a game the Lakers were ether winning by 20 points or losing by 20 points. He hit the difficult game-winning shots when the stakes were high and the pressure of the moment would have caused many to crawl into their shell. He was Box Office because he gave his all to the game of basketball, playing through pain and even walking to hit a free throw after rupturing his Achilles.

According to DunkorThree, Kobe made 26 game-winning shots, ranking him number one in NBA history. At the same time, Kobe ranks at the top of the list for the most missed shots that would have given the Lakers the lead at the end of the game. How does someone that has failed so much in high-pressure clutch moments also have the ability to erase the failures from his memory and still call for the ball when it counted the most?

It all comes down to mental toughness and how to deal with fear. Being a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan and a student of leadership and personnel development, I have been somewhat obsessed with this topic so over the years I tried to study other more modern athletes like him. Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, and Lebron James to name a few. The common element across these athletes boiled down to the following and If you are able to adapt these mindsets you can perform like the Kobe Bryant of your team and deliver ideas, solutions, and results when it matters most.

Change How You Think About Failure

  • Think of Failure as a prerequisite to wisdom. Wisdom comes from real-life experiences, not reading books. Experiences become lessons and when you learn from these lessons, you become wiser. You can’t learn unless you take action. There is a good chance no one reading this post knows what it feels like playing in an NBA playoff game and having the ball with thirty seconds left in the game and being down by one point. It’s not just about executing the play. How would your body feel when all eyes are on you? What will be going through your head? These are things you can never prepare for until you are put in that situation. Once you experience this moment you learn and will be better prepared next time. Eventually, as the saying goes, you have ice in your veins because you have experienced that moment so many times that nothing will distract you from winning. The same is true in business.

  • Failure builds character. If you think of failure as a requirement to build character, you will welcome failure instead of scape from it. Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose”. Failure has a way of bringing you down to earth so when you do eventually succeed, it means a lot more and the person you become along the way is a better version of you.

  • Think of failure as Freedom. It’s a funny way to think about failure but after agonizing about not wanting to fail at whatever you were trying to do and having it not work out the way you wanted it, a huge weight is lifted off your shoulder. Sure, Kobe missed a bunch of shots that would have won the game but he was still standing when the game was over and he was going to have more chances to win. You will have more opportunities, even if it doesn’t seem like it at that very moment.

Become an Optimist

In Kobe’s situation, he was optimistic that he was going to make every shot he took. We know that is statistically not possible but he didn’t let statistics hold him back. If you have an optimistic mindset things find a way of working out because that optimism burst out in everything you do. Your conversations, brainstorming, problem-solving, and your smile. You attract people when you are optimistic and they can help you fail less or fail small and rebound quickly to try again.

Identify the True Worst-Case Scenario

Fear of failure paralyzes many from taking action because they invent an exaggerated worst-case scenario in their head which consumes their entire thought process. Have you ever felt a strange pain somewhere on your body and after a few Google searches you convince yourself it might be cancer? This is the opposite of what you should be doing. The reality is usually a lot less dire but your mind will go where ever you focus. What is the worst-case scenario if that project fails? Maybe get fired? What is the worst-case scenario if your startup fails? You lost yours and maybe investors’ money? Death is never the worst-case scenario in any legal business. In basketball, the worst-case scenario is that you lost the championship. This gives the athlete drive and motivation to come back with vengeance the next season and so should you. Whatever situation you are in, make sure you know the true worst-case scenario and remind yourself of it when you feel like fear is holding you back.

Outside of trying to emulate Kobe’s jump shot or one of his dunks, albeit on an eight and a half foot sized hoop, there is a lot of leadership skills I credit Kobe for teaching me. Both he and Phil Jackson contributed to my growth without ever knowing me personally. That is influence. Kobe influenced millions around the world and even after he retired that influence didn’t stop. He showed me how you can venture out of your comfort zone and win an Oscar, which was the catalyst for why I wrote my first book, releasing in April. And watching him be a dad to his daughters made me want to be a “Girl dad” and I was lucky to become a “Girl Dad” on August 1st, 2020. We lost an icon but his legacy will always be with us. Something that will be with me personally forever is not letting fear hold me back and all I have to do is think of Kobe when my mind tries to drift in the wrong direction. Because of this, I’m ready to take that game-winning shot no matter what the situation is. You should be ready as well because in business, the game never ends and you will be presented with opportunities, as long as you are mentally ready for the moment.

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