Friday, February 17, 2012

Riding the Mo-mentum of Linsanity

The recent media coverage of pro athlete Jeremy Lin has been colossal and wide-reaching. Sprawling beyond the traditional sports and New York media coverage, the proliferation of "Linsanity" has brought many Asian writers and bloggers out of the bamboo woodwork. I'm no exception as the recent efforts of the Asian-American basketball player have captured the imagination of people all over the United States and the world.

There are many reasons why people have strong rooting interest in Lin's success. People resonate with his defying the stereotypes of Asians who aren't expected to excel in a profession with historical ethnic under-representation, the humility and grace with which Lin has handled recent media attention, the real-life example of strong work ethic trumping doubters and so-called experts, the story of devout and faithful Christian with a strong desire to help the less fortunate after his basketball career is over, and the success of the "team-first" approach which Lin has brought to his New York Knicks (as evidenced by a seven-game winning streak which coincided with when he started playing more minutes for the team). There are many other subplots and angles to Linsanity which have been floated around and pontificated on the web, and people identify with shared values and beliefs that Lin has brought attention to in the mainstream media.  

Aside from the obvious "appreciation of a successful Asian-American role model" angle, the story of Lin sparked my curiosity for other reasons. The story about overcoming naysayers and doubters, and making awesome things happen is inspiring. I want to apply this success story at work--I'd love to succeed in spite of the stereotypes that some people at work hold about my technical ability and limitations (many of which have been perpetuated due to having spent six years working in less "technical" area of the company prior to working in my current department). And the way for me to do that is to do what Lin would do: by making hard and smart work a habit, constantly seeking areas for improvement, and indulging in lifelong learning to hone my repertoire.

In the last Knicks game, Lin focused on his teammates involved in scoring, and finished with just 10 points--after having scored at least 20 in previous six games. But he also had 13 assists in that last game, getting the ball in hands of his teammates for easy scores. I can learn from this and apply Linsanity at work, even when what I'm doing is less glamorous and visible than others' high-profile assignments. I can take pride in getting little things done that would make the jobs of my colleagues easier. We have a monotonous "electronic paperwork" task which almost everyone dreads working on, but I've recently started a habit of producing 4-5 times as much output than what was requested. I've even started volunteering to do them even when I wasn't asked to do so. I also take pride in paying attention to detail, finding ways to make the "electronic paperwork" easier for others to digest. It's grunt work but I want to excel--I want to own it! Those are my "assists" which don't show up on the organizational monthly scorecard but help keep the team's workload manageable.  

Even as recent as two weeks ago, Lin was just a bench player for the Knicks who was one bad game away from getting cut. His only opportunity to play came due to injuries and ineffectiveness of other players on the team. But Lin saw a chance, made the most of it, and captured the imagination of many basketball followers and the general public. Luck may have played a role in this feel-good story, but without years of hard work on his part, the Linsanity would not have happened. Lin believed in himself and his abilities, and worked his tail off endlessly, waiting for a chance. He could have easily given up after two other teams had cut him in the last four months, or after spending years of being ignored by college and professional scouts. But he didn't surrender, and he put himself in a position to earn an opportunity--even if it was a one-shot (no puns intended) deliver-or-perish deal. As Seth Godin puts it, Lin leaned into the dip, kept improving his craft, and delivered. The take-away for me is to persevere when I'm experiencing brutal stretches at work and to strive for learning new technical skills in my spare time. There may not be advancement opportunities in my current job, but studying and working hard might open up possibilities in the future. Nothing was ever handed to Lin--he earned his opportunity. I don't expect anything to be handed to me either: all I know is that giving up--through apathy, inertia, and inaction--is a path to never receiving an opportunity in the future.    

The Linsanity phenomenon is a revelation which allowed me a chance to reflect on the importance of believing in myself, taking pride in doing meaningful work no matter how monotonous, and keep working hard even when current opportunities seem limited or nonexistent. These are values that are shared by driven and motivated people regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. Elements of Lin's success are what I have been inspired by during the recent media mania.

1 comment:

  1. I like the Jeremy Lin story too. Although I reserve judgment on whether he really is *that* good a basketball player, I do so because there are a lot of stories about people who burst onto the scene only to fade into fast obscurity.

    That said however, he seems like an awesome guy who is finally getting to see the fruits of his labor. I'm thinking it's a safe bet he wasn't taken seriously in basketball because he was both Asian and from Harvard. But the important thing is, he didn't give up. And even if he turns out in the end to not have much of an NBA career, he will always have this moment, and the opportunities that will come from it.