When Coach John Wooden arrived at UCLA in 1948, the athletic department promised him they would eventually get him a nice gym. But until then, he had to share a poorly lit, unventilated facility with the wrestling team, the cheerleaders, and the gymnastics team, often with everyone practicing at the same exact time. This existence was Wooden’s reality for 16 years.
I’m sure during those first years at UCLA, the administration continued to promise that construction on the new facility was right around the corner. Wooden could have been tempted to hold off on pushing his basketball program until the perfect gym was completed. Yet, it was in that ragged facility he shared with the other teams that he built the winning team for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 1964 and 1965. Reflecting on his team’s success he wrote, “You could have written a long list of excuses why UCLA shouldn’t have been able to develop a good basketball team….you must take what is available and make the very most of it.”
Coach Wooden’s lesson is the one we need for 2021. How many of us put life on hold in 2020 when the Coronavirus changed our reality to wait for that time when things were back to “normal?” We put off activities like getting in shape or connecting with friends and family because we were waiting for the return of the familiar. Those of us who fell into this hopeful state wasted the time and resources we had available to just maintain the status quo. It’s almost been a year since the world changed. What do you have to show for your new normal?
In 2021, let’s heed the coach’s wisdom and make the most of the resources at our fingertips. Start that project you’ve been putting off. Begin that hobby you bought all the parts and pieces for back in March but never started. Do body weight exercises while you wait for your gym to re-open. Call that family member you weren’t able to visit over the holidays or focus on that relationship that took a hit while you were both stuck at home all the time. Whatever it is, don’t make any more excuses. Focus on action. Remove from your vocabulary the phrase, “When things return to normal, I’m going to…”
Finally, I would like to leave you with a passage that was written down 2000 years before Coach Wooden set foot in that run-down gym at UCLA. It was written by the Roman philosopher Seneca in a treatise titled, On the Shortness of Life. He said, “Life is divided into three periods, past, present, and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, and the past is certain.” In other words, the only thing we can affect is the present so don’t let another year go by without taking action on whatever it is in your life that you’re putting off for a post-COVID world.
In 12 months we are going to do what we inevitably do before a new year. We’re going to reflect. Let’s look back on 2021 and know that we made the most of it; that we didn’t wait for a new gym. Instead, we found opportunities within our individual realities and we seized them. Let this be our new normal.