When greatness emerges in front of your eyes, pay attention.
I realize that positioning sports stars as role models can be dangerous — they let us down too often. Still, I ask you to consider the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry worthy of your attention. Look to Curry as an inspiration, exemplar and maybe even a hero.
Since his days as a college basketball phenom, Curry has captured the imagination of enthusiasts. But by winning his fourth NBA Finals and being named the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP), the 34-year-old guard catapulted into conversations about the top ten of all-time and calls to expand the Mt. Rushmore of basketball.
All that said, I’m not recommending you look to Steph Curry because of his athletic prowess or his numbers, records, or awards, but for how he earned them.
Look to Curry as an inspiration
In 2016, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about why Curry inspires me. A tweet by Curry’s wife, Ayesha, was the trigger. She shared:
I wrote: Here’s the thing — I work my butt off day in and day out, too. Everyone knows it. Everyone knows it because they hear me complaining about long airplane flights that leave me tired and achy. I pepper my belated gifts, delayed correspondences, and overdue phone calls with mea culpas about my heavy workload. I make sure people know that I worked all weekend.
Inspired by the Currys, I stopped complaining (mostly) and focused on expressing gratitude for the opportunity to do meaningful work that I enjoy.
Her husband’s work ethic still inspires. But beyond that, he’s a role model who reflects a deeper understanding of human nature
Look to Curry as an exemplar of optimal motivation
Groundbreaking motivation science validates how humans thrive through three psychological needs. Curry’s personal and professional life provide prime examples of generating optimal motivation by creating choice, connection and competence.
Entering the NBA, Curry’s motives were clear. He was choosing how he wanted his career to play out: to be a dependable player and leave the game better than he found it.
He aligned every choice he made to his goals. Look on any basketball court today to see how Curry revolutionized the game — from the three-point shot and crazy-good ball-handling skills to his movement without the ball. Always in motion, experts agree that Curry is the most well-conditioned player in basketball. When criticized for his defense, Curry chose to improve that part of his game through strength training — bench pressing with 100-pound weights.
Curry’s example begs the question: What goals have you chosen, consciously or unconsciously, that guide your actions and reactions?
I hope you’ll take the time to watch a terrific post-Finals-game interview by Malika Andrews of ESPN. You get a profound insight into Curry’s motivation when she asks if the MVP award was something he’d wanted. Of course,” he replied, revealing his true motivation in his next breath: “Jerry West is the only player to win the MVP without his team winning the finals, so me winning the MVP would mean that we won the whole thing.”
To Curry, winning the Finals MVP was symbolic of something more meaningful to him — the team’s win. Watch his reaction as he’s awarded the MVP trophy, and you understand why his teammates describe him as selfless, the ultimate team player and a humble superstar. I believe his optimal motivation is fueled by how he cherishes his team, fans and community over his ego and need for status.
Curry’s example begs the question: Are you experiencing the joy and vitality from making choices aligned with meaningful values, a sense of purpose and the desire to contribute to something greater than yourself?
A hallmark of athletes, artists, scientists or anyone who exemplifies greatness in their endeavors is a dedication to continued improvement, ongoing growth and an openness to learning. Motivation science reminds us that, as children, we are constantly asking “Why?” because of our natural curiosity and need to grow and learn.
Curry’s continuous improvement on the court is demonstrable — and documented by thousands of videos online. But in case you need another example of his dedication to building competence, check out this post by the Warriors:
“13 years after entering the NBA, Stephen Curry is a college grad. Stephen completed his final semester of coursework this spring and will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Sociology from Davidson College.”
Curry’s example begs the question: Are you refining your legacy by continuing to learn, grow and improve your game?
Look to Curry as a hero
You might wonder why we can’t just stick with labels such as inspiration, exemplar, GOAT or, as his coach Steve Kerr understatedly explained when asked about Curry’s hot streak during a playoff game: “He’s really good at basketball.”
Why the need to label Steph Curry a hero? Consider psychology professor Scott Allison’s characterization of heroes:
“Heroes give us far more than inspiration — they are our greatest teachers. Heroes show us the secrets to unlocking our fullest potential as human beings. They do so by role-modeling virtue, by clarifying complex and paradoxical life truths, by equipping us with emotional intelligence, and by revealing how their journey can be our journey, too.”
Curry embodies Allison’s description of a hero. He is a role model of virtue who never succumbed to the external (and extreme) pressures to win for rewards, power or status. Curry grasps the complex and paradoxical truth that your generosity of spirit will reward you tenfold. By shining a light on Curry, I hope that Curry’s hero journey becomes our journey, too.
Susan Fowler, CEO of Mojo Moments, is the bestselling author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. In her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals, she talks about motivation as a skill, showing how to achieve your goals and flourish as you succeed. For more information and the free What’s Your MO? survey for exploring your motivational outlook, visit SusanFowler.com or MojoMoments.com.
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