Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr
LeBron James, the NBA player who began his professional career at 18 years old playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has grown to be one of the most influential athletes of all time. James’ victories have been cited in leadership lessons about perseverance. He has won three NBA championships, including a 2016 championship where he carried his team past a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit against the Golden State Warriors.
But even if you’re not a professional athlete, James’ career has lessons about work-life balance that you can apply off the court.
How LeBron James puts losses in perspective
Before a recent finals rematch with the Warriors, James was interviewed by reporters wanting to know his game mindset. Did last year’s championship-ending loss against the Warriors still stick with him? It didn’t. “I don’t lose sleep anymore,” James said.
“Listen, I’ve lost five finals,” James told reporters with a shrug. “What’s going to stick with me is seeing my daughter smile, seeing my kids graduate high school and college, hopefully, my daughter go off and meet the man of her dreams, and that’s what going to stick with me.”
By prioritizing his family’s achievements over his professional accomplishments, James is pushing back against the narrative that your job needs to be your everything. You don’t need to obsess about a work failure months after it happened to learn from it. It’s healthy to move on. By reminding us about the personal family milestones he is looking forward to experiencing, he is putting his professional losses in perspective.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James show us how you can be friends with your competitor
An ESPN profile into the close friendship and professional rivalry between NBA player Dwyane Wade and LeBron James indicates that this is a perspective James has held for a long time.
“We always say, ‘One day, we’re gonna stop dribbling this basketball,'” Wade said about their years of friendship. “And yeah, while we’re playing against each other, we’re going to compete and we’re going to have fun. But life goes on way beyond this.”
Not everyone in high-pressure workplace environments feels like this.
On the opposite spectrum of advocates of friendly opponents are proponents of workplace antagonism who believe being friends with your work rival is akin to fraternizing with the enemy. ESPN also interviewed athletes like retired Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell who believed that athletes lose a “psychological edge whenever they deign to socialize with an opponent.” For athletes like these, the game is more than a game. But that can come at a cost.
When Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, was interviewed about NBA friendships like her husband’s, she explained what you lose when your career is more important than your private life: “When it’s all said and done, all you have is your relationships. A lot of retired guys have nobody. That’s a terrible, terrible feeling.”
Union outlines a cautionary tale for every employee: If you live for your work, you may find that there’s not much there for you after a job ends.
To prevent this, you need to cultivate relationships and interests outside of your professional life. That way, when failures and setbacks inevitably occur in your career, they won’t stop you.