With a pandemic as backdrop, I am watching The Last Dance, the ESPN series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
At one point, Jordan tells the story of Seattle Supersonics coach George Karl walking by him in a restaurant without acknowledging him. They knew each other socially, had played golf. It was right before the 1996 NBA Finals where the Bulls and Sonics would meet.
“ … That’s all I needed,” says Jordan to his dining companion, Ahmad Rashad.
The Bulls won the series four games to two that year thanks in part to Jordan’s stepped-up scoring and defense.
It was just one story in an ongoing pattern for Jordan, who consistently motivated himself using anger. Someone talks smack? Or a writer rips his performance? It becomes fuel.
Kind of textbook, but not just of the basketball sort.
As it happens, I am currently teaching the iconic and bestselling The Artist’s Way, a book by Julia Cameron designed to help us discover and/or recover our creative selves. In chapter three, called Recovering a Sense of Power, she begins with the concept of anger.
“Anger is a map,” Cameron writes. “Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way …”
Jordan knew how to read his anger and channel it into his performance. It’s a skill more of us could learn to cultivate.
So, getting back to this pandemic we’re in, how might we use this information? What would it look like to develop this into a useful skill instead of seething, taking it out on the wrong people, or medicating it? Is it enough to express anger without doing something, too? Sometimes that will release it, but isn’t it more appealing to funnel it into work or creative output where possible?
Let anger put you into action. Get motivated to do and not just be passive. If I could motivate 10 readers of this column to do something with their anger, what might they create? What might the collective accomplish if a bunch of people start finding their purpose or what meaningful living looks like because they’re angry?
Angry at this virus. Angry at being locked down because an inept President is in so far over his head. Angry at losing a job. Angry at having to wear a mask. Angry a trip to the grocery store is a big production now. Angry at having to go to work and risk infection every day. Angry at reckless and ignorant people who want to have their way regardless of who it might harm. Angry that this is out of control, the future a big unknown. Angry at the lack of a coordinated national plan to test citizens. Angry at graduations, proms, weddings lost. Angry because loved ones are dying.
What is it mapping? Are you going with anger as motivator? Or anger as excuse to do destructive things? Ultimately, which one will serve you and the world?
Don’t read this as me advocating that you let someone take their anger out on you on a regular basis. Or me saying it’s good if you have persistent anger you can’t shake. Those are not the aspects of anger we’re seeking to use here.
“Anger is meant to be acted upon,” Cameron writes. “It is not meant to be acted out.”
What is yours saying?
Mine is triggered when I see the President’s supporters shrieking “fake news” at news they don’t like because they learned at his knee. What I do with that anger is make a point of sharing stories about solid journalism on social media or providing commentary that has backing in facts.
Over my lifetime I have been prone to using anger to accomplish pretty much everything I’m proud of. Tell me I can’t do it and my desire to prove you wrong will help me get to a place I was already going, but maybe had a temporary lag. I use anger the way other people use the Theme from Rocky to get over the finish line.
Isn’t this a good time to examine your anger?
Jordan even used his when trying to push his teammates in practice. He wanted them to be next-level good, to be able to take hits and not back down. He made them angry sometimes because he drove them so hard. But they got better and they achieved great things together because of that sometimes over-the-top leadership.
Angry that you still haven’t written that screenplay? Angry that your sister thinks you’re wasting your time trying standup? Angry that you work countless hours and still aren’t appreciated? Angry your spouse thinks the band you love playing in is a stupid hobby? Angry that idea you had is now a series on Netflix because someone else actually carried it to fruition?
OK, good. Now that we’ve established what’s got you ticked, what are you going to do with it? If this pandemic hasn’t shown us life is passing by at warp speed, well, what will?
Maybe you’re angry that I’m suggesting you should be doing more right now when you feel maxed out and weary. Step back and examine that because I’m not saying that at all. Perhaps you’re putting pressure on yourself to do more, be more, accomplish more, at a time when you’re legitimately spent. That’s a meaningful insight. Pay heed to it.
Identify a desirable action and take it to the hole.