If you know anything about college basketball, you may have come across the name John Wooden. The former coach of the UCLA basketball teams holds scores of unbroken records and numerous accolades and awards for his achievements as a player and a coach. Most significantly, Wooden led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 NCAA championships, seven of them consecutively.
Aside from his winning program, Wooden gained notoriety for his peculiar rules like, “Never be late. Not one word of profanity. And never criticize a teammate.” Today, one of the greatest achievements for any collegiate basketball player is winning the John R. Wooden award. Multiple basketball courts, leadership programs, schools and even a post office have been named after the “Wizard of Westwood.” Finally, although the coach retired in 1975, UCLA players still wear a patch with the initials “JRW” inside a black pyramid as a reminder of the coach’s legacy of success.
We live in a culture of grand gestures. At first glance, these great achievements and grand monuments seem to be the pinnacle of success. But success is not achieved in the winning of a title, in a job promotion, or the name of a building. It is not a bestselling book or a viral YouTube video. You see, success is not a one-time event.
Coach Wooden understood this. In a TED talk given in 2008, he defined success as, “the peace of mind attained through the satisfaction of doing your best in a given situation.”
While many are familiar with his coaching career, what you may not know about John Wooden is that on the 21st of every month, he wrote a love letter to Nellie, his wife of 53 years. What’s more, even after Nellie’s death, Wooden continued to write her letters, adding them to a stack of unopened letters on her pillow. This stack would grow month by month for 25 years.
Wooden only stopped writing the letters when his own eyesight began failing in the final months of his life. The coach’s relentless dominance on the basketball court was merely an echo of his quiet, relentless pursuit of excellence as a husband and a man of character. Or, to say it another way, Wooden simply made up his mind every day to do the best he could as a teacher, a coach, a husband and a man of faith.
Wooden’s attitude towards success is that it is a process, a monument built and established over time, rather than the outcome of one championship game at the end of a season. Success is working hard at practice, doing the things you need to do every day on the job, and treating people well even if they don’t acknowledge or appreciate it. Every action, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, adds a brick to success.
It is the discipline of getting up early to write another chapter of the book. It is the four chapters of the Bible you read with your morning coffee instead of watching the news. It is doing the dishes for your spouse, even though you’ve worked all day too. Wooden himself said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Success is the by-product of patiently and consistently doing the right things.
Success is 300 unread love letters.