Bathroom Basketball and Career Success

Some of my career success coach clients tell me that they can’t find any good opportunities.  I disagree.  I think opportunities are everywhere.  Although sometimes they come disguised as problems and obstacles.  Tweet 85 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Always be on the lookout for new ideas.  Find opportunities where others see obstacles.”

Henry Ford once said…

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

Good one, Henry.

I have a great story that illustrates this point.  It’s about a trash can and a hair dryer cord.

In our bathroom at home, the trash can sits under a shelf.  Cathy keeps her hair dryer on the shelf.  The cord loops down in front of the trash can.  Being the frustrated NBA player I am, and also being a normal guy who turns even the most mundane things into sport, I make a game of tossing my used tissues into the trash can.  For the longest time, I focused on the hair dryer cord as I tried to swish my tissue into the waste basket.  I hit the cord almost two-thirds of the time, missing my game-winning shot in the 7th game of the NBA Finals.

One day I saw Henry Ford’s quote on line.  The next day, I focused on the waste basket opening – which is a lot bigger than the hair dryer cord anyway – and I swished the shot; thereby winning the Denver Nugget’s first NBA championship.  I kept doing this in the days that followed, and I ended up with more NBA championships than Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Kobe Bryant, and Shaq combined.  I couldn’t miss – all because I kept focused on the goal (the trash can), not the obstacle (the hair dryer cord).

This may sound like a stupid story told by an overgrown adolescent.  It’s not.  It makes an important career success point.  When I tried to avoid the obstacle, I hit it very frequently.  When I tried to hit the goal and ignored the obstacle, I began making the shots – achieving my goal.  And that’s what you need to do to create your life and career success.

Keep focused on your goals.  Don’t take your eyes off of them because you’ll begin seeing all of the obstacles to overcoming your goals.

In September 1980, I enrolled in a PhD program at Harvard.  I had to overcome quite a few obstacles in the process.  First, I had to get accepted.  Once I was accepted, I had to figure out how to pay for the privilege of attending an elite university.  Then I had to make sure I graduated.

I spent the time necessary and wrote the very best application I could.  I got accepted — one obstacle down.  I sold my car when I moved to Cambridge.  This money, along with grants, student loans, work study jobs and a part-time teaching job at Northeastern University were enough to pay for my education.  By the way, I was in my late 40s when I paid off my last student loan.

Graduating became a little more challenging.  I left Harvard after I finished my course work, but before I had completed my dissertation.  I took a full-time job in New York.  Professors advised me against this.  They told me that it is very difficult to work full time and write a dissertation.  They were right.  It took me four and a half years, but I submitted a dissertation that my committee accepted.  I kept focused on the goal – the right to call myself “Dr. Bilanich.” – Interestingly enough, I never use the title except when I want to get a reservation at a crowded restaurant.

I have too many friends that are ABD – “all but dissertation.”  These folks wander the earth with a sense of profound incompletion.  I promised myself that this was never going to happen to me.  I kept my eyes on the goal – even though I had quite a few obstacles thrown at me along the way.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people achieve their goals because they stay focused on them.  They follow the advice in Tweet 85 in Success Tweets. “Always be on the lookout for new ideas.  Find opportunities where others see obstacles.”  Obstacles often are opportunities in disguise.  Successful people see opportunities where others see obstacles.  And, as Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal.”  My best career advice here is to keep focused on your goals – whether it’s bathroom basketball, or getting a PhD — and you’ll be able to turn obstacles into opportunities.

That’s my career advice, prompted by Henry Ford’s thoughts on obstacles.  What do you think?  How do you stay focused on your goals and not the obstacles that can derail them?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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