5 Intriguing Lessons from the Life and Career of Kobe Bryant

His tragic death is a reminder of some important life principles to follow

  1. He demanded excellence of himself. “I’ve always been comfortable as a kid growing up to think that when my career is over, I want them to think of me as an overachiever despite the talent that I have,” Kobe Bryant said when he retired. “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could.”

    Bryant added that he would not be happy unless people knew that he put 100% into his achievements in life.

    “Hopefully, they perceive me as a person who did whatever he had to do to win above all else. Above anything. Above stats…if they say that about me, I’ll be happy.”

    "He was committed... not to the money, not to the fame, not to the glory... to excellence," Fox Sports’ Jim Gray, who knew Bryant his entire life, said this weekend. "If you didn't know Kobe Bryant," he added, "you had to love the way this guy played basketball and his attitude. He did everything within his wherewithal to be able to win."

    Kobe Bryant focused on excellence, and let the wins and the money and the fame unfold naturally as a result of that focus. For anyone in the process of building their career, that’s a great lesson on how to approach it.

  2. He owned-up to mistakes he made. None of us are perfect, and neither was Kobe Bryant. Unlike most of us, his mistakes were magnified through his celebrity status for all to see. Unlike most celebrities, he owned his mistakes. I mention this early on because owning-up to mistakes isn’t usually a virtue we acknowledge…in fact, sometimes we reward and compliment the way someone avoids a public apology, or the way he or she isn’t penalized for a mistake they’ve made.

    Kobe Bryant wasn’t perfect, but he admitted his mistakes. That’s a character trait that would be good for most of us to emulate as we make our own mistakes, whether private or public.

  3. He knew how to make life transitions. After leaving basketball, he was warned that he would go through depression. That he would feel lost. “How could you retire?", he was asked over and over again. Kobe Bryant knew it was time for a change, and he quickly made peace with it.

    He quickly founded Granity Studios, a multimedia company that is producing an ESPN+ series, as well as an Oscar winning animated story about Kobe Bryant’s poem, “Dear Basketball”, an ode to his career and the game.

    One of the saddest things we’ve all seen in life is a friend, family member or co-worker who just can’t let go of a career. It’s usually a mix of fear and an uncertain future that causes denial and professional paralysis. Kobe Bryant took a honey badger approach to life: Attack it with 100% focus and passion, and be excellent at it…whatever the next “it” is.

  4. He demonstrated his love to his kids. That’s a simple statement, I know, but in the sports, business and professional world, it gets forgotten pretty easily. Any of us who have children will likely say, “I love my kids”. I do, and you do.

    But how are we demonstrating we love them? How are we doing that daily? How are we sacrificing our time for them, and more importantly, how is that time we’re spending with them building them into a better person? Kobe Bryant died in the process of coaching his daughter’s club basketball team. That doesn’t deify him, by any means, but it is a good lesson for us: In the middle of his careers, he carved time out for his family.

    Just take a minute to assess how you’re doing in that area of your life. It’s not meant to be a guilt trip unless it deserves to be, and I’m writing this to myself as much as I am to you.

  5. He reminded us how temporary life is. We’ve been taught to hold on to all things loosely, and whenever a tragic loss like this happens it is a fresh reminder of that proverb.

    Especially when someone so young is taken for us. That’s not supposed to happen…he had a family, a full life yet to live, and more excellence to pursue.

    But that didn’t happen. And what that should remind all of us of the hard fact that all of this is temporary. Your family members won’t always be around to hug. The job you have now is going to end. The health we might be enjoying at the moment could change in an instant.

    Love this life, but don’t fall in love with this life. In a few weeks, we won’t be thinking about Kobe Bryant. Some other topic will be grabbing our attention. This is all just vapor, and it will disappear quickly.

I had never met Kobe Bryant, don’t own one of his jerseys, and didn’t grow up rooting for the Lakers.

But what struck me about the outpouring of stories about Kobe’s passion for life, his easy-going approach to the end of his career, and his love of excellence has really impressed upon me how different he is from the average human. That approach is something to copy - that’s not a guarantee for Kobe-like greatness in whatever it is that you do, but it does guarantee a greater appreciation and love for the process (whatever the process is).

Whatever you’re building for yourself in this life, remembering these five lessons from Kobe Bryant’s life might be just the kind of course correction you have been waiting for.

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