I grew up playing pickup basketball in the city where I learned about life through the school of hard knocks. When playing outdoors, there are no referees, coaches, scoreboards, or time clocks. The players keep score, call fouls and interpret the rules of the game. Sometimes foul language or even fistfights resolve differences of opinion. At age 25, I brought that combative attitude into a suburban YMCA. It was early in my career when I was working a 70-hour week and trying to make a name for myself in the insurance business. Playing pickup basketball was a great way to blow off steam.
One Friday evening, my counterpart on the opposing team was easily 20 years my senior and clearly had been talented at one point in his life. I quickly realized that my foot speed was superior and I could easily out jump him. He made up for his lack of athleticism with veteran savvy and court sense. He also played a physical brand of basketball in which he bumped and banged me, slapped, pushed, and held me. My patience started wearing thin. After a particularly hard foul, I reverted to my street attitude. A string of insults and threats informed him of my intention and ability to cause him grave physical injury. He laughed and walked off the court saying something about “having better things to do.”
Bright and early the next Monday morning, I showed up for an introductory sales call set up by my company’s marketing department. Guess who greeted me? My friend from Southdale Y! He surprised me by keeping the meeting and telling me that he respected the fact that I stood up for myself. He admitted bumping and pushing a little too much. I ultimately won the account. To this day, that veteran basketball warrior is a mentor and a great friend.
The lesson? There are many; most importantly, the rules of any game start with treating everyone you meet with dignity and respect. It’s the right thing to do for others, as well as for your personal and company’s reputation. If you treat everyone with dignity and respect, you will never be in a position like the one I found myself in that Monday morning.