“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”- Viktor Frankl
When I was in my 10th year of playing professional basketball in Charleroi, Belgium, I read Viktor Frankl’s book: Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor was a prominent psychiatrist and survivor of the Holocaust and lived through a despicable concentration camp experience. He wrote a book about that experience and while I was living in the gray, dilapidated concrete apartments of Charleroi, Viktor’s words echoed something I found helpful as an athlete and human being.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” VF
Even when humans are prisoners of war or inside chaos, pain, suffering, death, and atrocious human indignity, the last freedom we have is the opportunity to choose our response to that situation we are faced with.
It’s a powerful epiphany to have and I didn’t always realize what sports or living abroad or playing professional basketball offers us in lieu of stimuli and choice.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
I can’t say I always chose the best attitude at every 6:00 a.m. morning skill development workout.
Or every grueling weight room session.
Or every season-ending team meeting.
Or every speed and conditioning track workout.
Or every loss that seems to be the end of the world.
But as I got older (and wiser), I realized I could choose a better attitude in any situation, that I could open myself to be a more engaging teammate, to care a bit more for the game plan of the coach, to sign autographs and give back to the fans and treat them with dignity and respect.
With sports, those adverse situations, and losses, and failures, well they can stack up against you. They can be pervasive to your core because they are so important to you, and because they feel so much bigger than they actually are.
Looking back, I failed a lot during my professional and amateur basketball career. I’ve been benched for poor play. I shot 4-22 against Xavier on ESPN and I played like crap in our Kent State 2002 Elite Eight loss. Or the many times in Europe I’ve been fined for losing, or failed to live up to management’s expectations or I’ve been given fake checks for not playing well (thanks Poland!) I’ve been fired for not scoring more than 15 points in Venezuela, and I’ve been cut because I was told I was too slow, too fat, too bulky, too this or that.
Yeah, I failed to respond admirably or positively in many of those situations (especially the early morning ones), but I didn’t choose that mindset for very long. I wasn’t always so self-malicious, so this-is-the-end-the-world, or so negative that I couldn’t find a silver lining for growth and positivity in my life.
Sure, there were days that little-kid-Trevor didn’t get his way and he wanted to rage against the world’s injustices towards him, but I knew deep down, the only way to achieve success was to choose better.
Choose a better response for myself, regardless of what was happening around me– that was the only way I knew how to get myself off the ground and start working towards my dreams again.
But sometimes in life, like losing love for the first time, or transitioning to a new career, or starting over financially, your heart and soul just don’t know how to choose any response, nonetheless, a positive one. Anguish, sadness, and depression can set in because that’s what happens when you fail, or lose, start over or have meaning taken away from you.
Stimuli. Space and time, then reaction or choice.
That what I love about sports. Sports offers you daily stimuli and you react or choose your mindset in relation to that stimuli. And then the next time stimuli comes along, you start to react consciously. You can choose your attitude, day after day, challenge after challenge, tragedy or comedy.
That book helped me realize that inside a sports season, especially as I got older, my greatest freedom is choosing my attitude inside my next step or action.
It’s how overweight soldiers become green berets. It’s how single moms (and dads) raise amazing kids. It’s how you energize yourself to bounce back.
When I played poorly, I could either choose to get in the gym before everyone the next morning or find the custodian and shoot till 3:00 a.m. while everyone slept.
No one could stop me from choosing my attitude or mindset. By choosing to be positive, by choosing action– to get back in the gym, to stick with my goals, to fight through my benchings and poor play, to not allow society or coaches or media define who I was as a basketball player or person, I found success and happiness during the moments of my journey.
I am learning that I can do that in life outside basketball now that my professional basketball career is over (but man, does the stimuli feel so different!)
This is the education that sports presents us: practicing athletes learn something about choosing a mindset that they can use as a tool for the rest of their lives. And no amount of failure, loss, tragedy, or condition matter as much as your ability to treat others and yourself, with positivity, love, and respect. Choosing your response day after day is just as important as your vision of who you want to become. We are all painting our own portrait every day. With every stroke, with every dab of paint, with every practice and choice, we start to paint the vision we see of ourselves.
Whether we know it or not, in our worst moments or the best moments, everyone is essentially choosing their own attitude and path, and to the extent that our attitude is positive and internally uplifting, we will find ourselves where our minds take us.
Stay inspired. — Trevor Huffman