“What do you do?”
It’s one of the first questions we ask after meeting someone new.
The typical response is, “I am a _______________________ (teacher, doctor, coach, entrepreneur, athlete, salesman, etc.).”
Or how about the question we all ask children — “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Wrapping my identity in basketball started at a young age. I loved the game and experienced success within it. While it began as a passion, basketball became who I was. I gained respect through it and mistakenly believed that validated me. My worth depended on my performance. My joy was determined by my play. And believe me, that’s not a fun way to live. Additionally, it put unneeded pressure on me which hindered me from playing free and to my potential.
Associating what we do with who we are is especially easy for athletes (or anyone in higher profile positions). We may only be on the court or field for a few hours a day, but our life habits (nutrition, training, rest, etc.) make it a 24-7-365 thing. Furthermore, it’s not only the lens we view ourselves through, but it’s the lens in which most everyone else sees us as well.
For many elite athletes, the anthem sounds like this — “He’s the best prospect in the state.” “She’ll be an Olympian.” “He’s our ticket to the next level.” Those tags are put on athletes at increasingly younger ages. It’s easy to eat up the labels and praise. I did…and still can.
An injury took me out my entire sophomore year of HS ball. It made me face my vulnerability at a young age. Although it felt devastating at the time, in retrospect I see it as a blessing. It forced me into a deeper search for identity. I wish I could say from then on I never got caught up in the noise around athletics, but that wouldn’t be true. I’d be lying to say in recent years it didn’t feel good to respond to that first question with, “I’m a professional basketball player.” But for the first time since I was 16, basketball is no longer what I do. Hoops will always be part of me, but as I move on to new endeavors, I know the importance of not placing my worth on my position or productivity. I imagine it’s also an ego-boost to say, “I am…the CEO…the founder of…a doctor…the president of…” But the one thing veteran and retired athletes understand that other high-achievers in other fields may not is the fragility of our titles. Athletic careers are short-lived, and being an athlete makes you face your human-ness early in life.
The goal is to go from, “I’m a _____________________.” →
To, “_____________________ is something I do. “
This doesn’t mean we don’t pursue those callings with passion and purpose or strive to become our very best. It just means that our achievements or occupations don’t define who we are.
Every morning my family recites a “breakfast blessing” together. It’s a powerful way to begin the day, not to mention fun watching my three year-olds say it by heart. Embracing the words are every bit as important for me as it is for them. Here’s how it begins:
I’m not what I do.
I’m not what I have.
I’m not what people say about me.
I’m the beloved of God.
It’s who I am…
Lebron James is arguably the G.O.A.T. on the basketball court, but his impact extends far beyond. A 2008 documentary chronicling him and four of his childhood teammates and friends was rightly titled “More Than A Game.”
In 2018, after being criticized by a news host, Lebron responded with the slogan, “I am more than an athlete.” Leaving politics aside, Lebron’s I Promise school (along with many other projects) is proof he’s far more than just a basketball player…and changing lives in the process.