Success is hard to deal with at any age. Success as a teenager is fortunate but extremely difficult to handle. Following retirement from professional basketball, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant wrote a letter of advice to his 17-year-old self addressing those challenges, and what he would’ve done differently in hindsight.
Kobe can’t go back in time to change things, but the rest of us can use his advice to handle success in our own lives. While the media is bashing him, I love his thoughts including:
–Invest in your family and friends. Don’t spoil them with material items, but instead with opportunity.
–Getting everyone educated is a top priority.
–Instead of letting people live off the product of your goals, motivate and support them in achieving their own. Everyone needs to live their own lives.
The giving of our time and wisdom is in many ways our biggest gifts.
Rule #1 from my book The Fantastic Life: Know Your Stories
Success seems to bring even more challenges than failure. Knowing your story, where you’ve been and where you want to go, will help guide you to deal with success as it comes. If you know what you want your story to be, you will be better equipped to make the best decisions to handle your success and navigate those challenges.
Letter to My Younger Self
July 20, 2016
Dear 17-year-old self,
When your Laker dream comes true tomorrow, you need to figure out a way to invest in the future of your family and friends. This sounds simple, and you may think it’s a no-brainer, but take some time to think on it further.
I said INVEST.
I did not say GIVE.
Let me explain.
Purely giving material things to your siblings and friends may appear to be the right decision. You love them, and they were always there for you growing up, so it’s only right that they should share in your success and all that comes with it. So you buy them a car, a big house, pay all of their bills. You want them to live a beautiful, comfortable life, right?
But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back.
You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth.
Understand that you are about to be the leader of the family, and this involves making tough choices, even if your siblings and friends do not understand them at the time.
Invest in their future, don’t just give.
Use your success, wealth and influence to put them in the best position to realize their own dreams and find their true purpose. Put them through school, set them up with job interviews and help them become leaders in their own right. Hold them to the same level of hard work and dedication that it took for you to get to where you are now, and where you will eventually go.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
I’m writing you now so that you can begin this process immediately, and so that you don’t have to deal with the hurt and struggle of weaning them off of the addiction that you facilitated. That addiction only leads to anger, resentment and jealousy from everybody involved, including yourself.
As time goes on, you will see them grow independently and have their own ambitions and their own lives, and your relationship with all of them will be much better as a result.
There’s plenty more I could write to you, but at 17, I know you don’t have the attention span to sit through 2,000 words.
The next time I write to you, I may touch on the challenges of mixing blood with business. The most important advice I can give to you is to make sure your parents remain PARENTS and not managers.
Before you sign that first contract, figure out the right budget for your parents — one that will allow them to live beautifully while also growing your business and setting people up for long-term success. That way, your children’s kids and their kids will be able to invest in their own futures when the time comes.
Your life is about to change, and things are about to come at you very fast. But just let this sink in a bit when you lay down at night after another nine-hour training day.
Trust me, setting things up right from the beginning will avoid a ton of tears and heartache, some of which remains to this day.
KOBE BRYANT / LOS ANGELES LAKERS