There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but if your social circle is made up of the same people for going on ten, twenty years, it could be contributing to your stagnation. It’s vital that your inner circle is just as committed to consistent growth and development as you are. If you keep pushing to move forward in all aspects of your life and your friends don’t, that relationship may be holding you back in ways you don’t even notice.

The comfort zone of our social circles can be confining. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with our friends or that we need to cut them all out. But social connections are an area for growth that gets neglected. “The modern world gives us more opportunities than ever to forge relationships with people who do not look, act, or think the same way that we do.” Yet what do we do? “We keep our social networks nice and tidy by seeking out people just like us.”[1] Think about the way the way the online world sorts itself into like-minded groups and belief systems. Access to new people and ideas doesn’t automatically do its work on us, especially when all we look for is mirrors. This is why diversity—of ethnicity, race, age, gender, thoughts, and perspectives—is so essential.

When we spend time in the same groups, we also fall prey to dangerous habits like groupthink. This is a state where individuals stop thinking for themselves and care more about being agreeable than useful. In these groups, all the differences collapse and flatten so “group members unknowingly end up talking about information they share rather than information that is unique to each of them.”

It’s not the same as being on a team, where members decide to commit to serving the larger goal. Groupthink happens when the individuals are too intimidated to be themselves or express dissent. When I first started coaching, I remember hearing the maxim “If everyone on this team is thinking the same, then some of them aren’t actually thinking.” That’s groupthink.

Another thing we have to avoid is getting trapped in our own “filter bubble.” A filter bubble once referred to the information and news we consumed online but it can now mean all of our interactions and exposure. We only meet other like us, read what we agree with, and hear opinions that match our own. The longer we stay in our respective filter bubbles, the harder it is to break out of them and the more likely we’re going to stagnate. We should make room for novelty into our lives, even if that appears in the guise of something uncomfortable. Remember that it’s the stretching that helps us grow.

I’ve delivered keynotes, workshops, and team trainings in health, medicine, business, hospitality, academic, tech, sports—and have gained from each of those disciplines. The more we drop ourselves into new worlds, expand where we’re willing to learn from, the less likely we’ll get stuck. In order to polish my speaking game, I study both stand-up comedy and hip-hop music to improve my timing, tempo, and stage presence. If I only studied other motivational speakers, I’d just be bouncing around my own filter bubble.

The best coaches and players don’t just study their own sport. Eric Musselman, who has held nearly 20 different basketball coaching jobs, told me he uses videos of shortstops to teach his players reaction time, of tennis players to teach lateral footwork, of wide receivers to teach precision cutting. His openness to take from anywhere is what makes him such an asset. He told me that back when he was an assistant, he would talk to his mother a good deal about his work and whether he was satisfied where he was. When he felt like it might be time to make a change, she’d ask him “Have you learned from this system?” If he answered, “yes,” she’d say, “Move on. Go learn from someone else.”

If you want to get better at anything find a coach or mentor. He can see things you can’t see yet, hold you accountable, know the things you don’t know, and the things that you don’t even know you don’t know. The moment I became a speaker, I found a speaking coach. The moment I signed a book deal, I found a writing coach. The moment I started making enough money to save, I hired a financial coach. Mentors are all around us; we just have to be willing to find them and open to listening.

In the fall of 1999, after graduating college, I moved back home to the DC area to pursue a career as a basketball performance coach, (then known as a strength and conditioning coach.) There was a locally renowned trainer named Kevin Maselka who worked with numerous NBA players such as Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, and Carmelo Anthony. At the time, that was my #1 goal, to train the best of the best. Since I was just starting, and lacked the experience and expertise to train NBA players, I figured the ideal path was to work for someone who did. So I convinced Kevin to let me work for him.

And I use the term ‘work’ very loosely. I was basically an unpaid intern, though I thought of myself more as an “apprentice.” I told Kevin I was willing to do anything he needed – from sweeping the floor to wiping down the equipment – in order to learn from him and to observe his training sessions. My goal was to add value to him (as well as to the players he was training) in exchange for knowledge. And it paid off brilliantly. In a span of a year I went from cleaning up to spotting exercises to leading warm-ups to training players myself. I took a role that had a lot of sacrifice up front (mostly manual labor for no pay) in the hopes of opportunity later. Now, things don’t always work so perfectly, but if you don’t at least put yourself out there, I guarantee there’s zero chance of it happening.

Shortly after that experience, with a few years under my belt as a private performance coach, working one on one with players, I craved being a part of a team. I thought back on my years playing in high and college, and the camaraderie was part of what made those experiences so positive. While I enjoyed the relationships I was making with individual players, I needed the satisfaction and fulfillment from knowing I was making meaningful contribution to something bigger than myself.

I decided to aim high and target the preeminent program in my area: Montrose Christian. It had a stellar reputation, a Hall-of-Fame coach, and was a practically a factory that produced Division I players. But getting in at Montrose was no easy task.

Every month from 2000 to 2003 I sent letters and left voice messages for Coach Stu Vetter; all of which went unreturned and unanswered. Then finally in the spring of 2003 I caught a break. I made my routine monthly call to the Montrose basketball office, and to my surprise, someone finally answered! This was the first time I actually spoke with a human being. Coach Vetter’s lead assistant, David Adkins, answered with a gruff, “Hello?!”

I was so shocked someone answered that it took me a moment to collect myself. After what felt like an enormous pause, I introduced myself and told Coach Adkins him how badly I wanted to contribute to his program. Not that I wanted a job or opportunity: I wanted to contribute. Coach Adkins must have felt my passion through the phone as he immediately invited me over to his office to talk shop.

As they say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. To my good fortune, a couple of days earlier, Coach Vetter tasked Coach Adkins with leading the Montrose off-season conditioning program. He admittedly knew very little about strength and conditioning, so he was curious to hear how I might be of service. After we chatted and got better acquainted, he told me he would bring Linas Kleiza (future NBA and Lithuanian Olympic player) over for a private workout. “If Linas likes your workout,” he said, “you’re in. If he doesn’t, I never knew you.” No pressure.

It was an audition to become a part of the Montrose program. The following afternoon, I took Linas through an hour-long workout and blasted him pretty hard. I felt like it went well, though I got very little verbal feedback from him during the workout. This certainly wasn’t abnormal, as it’s been my experience that most teenagers take a while to warm-up to an adult they don’t know. So I had to rely on reading Linas’s body language and facial expressions, which didn’t reveal much, as he was pretty stoic.

After about an hour, Coach Adkins picked Linas up. He told me the two would talk and he’d let me know. Twenty minutes later Coach called me. “You’re hired!” Coach Adkins said when Linas got in the car, he said, “That was the best workout I have ever had. When can I do it again?”

That audition resulted in a 7-year stint as the performance coach at Montrose and an opportunity to contribute to a nationally ranked program and work with players like Kevin Durant, Terrance Ross (Orlando Magic), and Justin Anderson (Philadelphia 76ers). That workout was the launching off point for so many opportunities in my life and it began with a desire to contribute and to expand my circle and my world.

Sustain Your Game teaches you how to bring your A game to every area of your life. With advice from top CEOs, journalists, social scientists, and more, you’ll learn the framework for how to beat stress, stagnation, and burnout. Sustain Your Game will help you be the best in your arena, wherever that may be.

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