Achieving process before profits
Why basketball legend Kobe Bryant advised honing your craft before winning titles
By Aditi Raman Shridhar
The dream is in living the journey, not in reaching the destination. Waking up early and working hard, staying up late and working hard, practicing when you don’t feel like it but doing it anyway is the real dream,” are the famous words spoken by basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. The news of his sudden demise along with that of his 13-year-old daughter Giana, who was a rising basketball star herself, sent shockwaves across the sports world and people around the globe.
Today’s column is a tribute to this great American basketball player, whose untimely death jolted humanity out of their monotony only to remind how fragile life is; just a space of one heartbeat. The 41-year-old basketball champion, who was often compared to another living legend Michael Jordan, was widely known for his grueling practice routines and superb work ethics. Jordan himself commented, “Kobe was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”
A father to four daughters, Bryant had spent all his 20 years of NBA career with the Lakers and was expected to be a first-ballot inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. Besides basketball, in which he became a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Bryant was also a fluent speaker in multiple languages, a self-nicknamed Black Mamba (Mamba is a highly venomous African snake), and he was a coach and trainer to many aspiring players at Mamba facility which he opened to give kids free access to the game.
A lot of Bryant’s fans come from the world of YouTube who have seen his interviews and heard him talk about devoting one’s life to mastering the craft before chasing titles. “The process of it [drives me to come back]. I want to see if I can. I don’t know if I can. I want to find out. I want to see. I’m going to do what I always do: I’m going to break it down to its smallest form, smallest detail, and go after it. Day by day, one day at a time,” he said.
The beauty of devoting oneself to the process is shared by nearly all the legends in different fields. Famous Japanese Sushi chef and three-Michelen-star winner Sukiyabashi Jiro displays the same compulsive devotion to his craft. So renowned and spectacular are the sushi of this 94-year-old chef, that the tiny 10-seater restaurant in Tokyo is not even open to the general public. Exclusive only to the wealthiest bracket of people in the world, comprising Barack Obama, Hollywood celebs and such people in the spotlight, the dining place is reserved for nearly one year at a time and it costs 40,000 yen or about $366 (without tax) just to eat there.
In the famous documentary Jiro dreams of Sushi, Sukiyabashi says that he has been making sushi since his teenage days. His two sons were also absorbed early in the business and have undergone intense training in sushi-making. The documentary follows Jiro through his daily routine of waking up early, taking the same sub-urban train to his restaurant for decades, prepping the fish and rice for cooking before the restaurant opens and then going through the meals on offer for the day.
The documentary highlights how Jiro and his aides select the fish in the fish market, the time they spend in checking every fish, gazing at their scales, feeling the temperature, the subtle signs in the flesh that prove they are the best of the lot. The chefs have chosen the best fishermen who they know share the same obsessiveness with perfection and only pick and sell the best. The documentary also focusses on the rice merchant who supplies rice to Jiro. “All of Jiro’s rivals ask me to sell them the rice that I sell to Jiro. But I laugh at them and say that even if I gave you the rice you wouldn’t be able to cook it the way Jiro does,” he says in the documentary.
Such is the precision of Jiro in prepping and cooking the rice, the various processes he has experimented and perfected over the decades, that nobody else can make rice taste his way.
“You must pick one profession and spend your whole life in perfecting that profession, in becoming the master of all your skills. I am still nowhere near perfection. There is still so much more perfection to achieve,” he says in the end.
Taking cues from the Greats, I have pondered many a times on what niche should I work and devote my life to perfecting it. Like many people who are unable to pick a niche and devote themselves to one craft, I too am fickle-minded. For people like me who have too many interests and hobbies, and are constantly confused about the one genre of writing topic, choosing a niche is going to be difficult. The perfection and obsessiveness to one craft, therefore, cannot be a reality. The single biggest decision required to choose a nice and experience the passion and devotion that Jiro and Kobe have experienced, is to let go of all distractions and frills of your core interest and single-pointedly focus on that one thing to perfect. For Kobe it was basketball and for Jiro, Sushi.
What is your core interest and niche? If you are a fashion designer and like designing bags, shoes, jewellery and makeup, you won’t be able to experience the flow and process. You need to pick on thing – either shoe designing or bags. If you are a chef, don’t pick all cuisines and dishes. But that one dish that you love most, may be sweets or just meat. We all know that Colonel Sanders sold fried chicken in Kentucky and established KFC. Did he cook burgers and cakes and fried chicken and popcorn? No. Just fried chicken. And we all know how huge the business is. Similarly with Pizza Hut. It started only with pizzas. They don’t need to pick more than that to establish their niche. Let’s take Reebok. They only started with sports shoes, not heels and stilettoes and slippers.
You need to pick the One Thing that you want to spend your whole life perfecting and attaining excellence in. And that one thing will in return give you the exhilarating experience of flow, devotion, obsessiveness and a single-pointed goal in life. The journey, as Kobe rightly said, is the dream; not the destination.
HOW TO PICK YOUR ‘NICHE’
The single most effective way to pick your niche is by asking yourself and observing: what is the one activity or work that you can spend doing all your 24 hours in a day, even if you were failing at it and did not make any money? Now ask yourself – what do I want to do and become?
Hope Kobe’s legacy inspires each one of us and we become driven to unleash our core potential and dive deep into perfecting our craft and enjoying the same level of grinding at the process as the Greats. All the best.
Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian writer, health and wellness expert.