“It’s an opportunity.” With Jay Williams & Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Well if you label anything as a high-pressure, high-stress situation, you are gearing yourself up to fail right out of the gate. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Say it again. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Change your mindset, and when you look at it differently, you will attack it differently. You won’t come […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Well if you label anything as a high-pressure, high-stress situation, you are gearing yourself up to fail right out of the gate. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Say it again. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Change your mindset, and when you look at it differently, you will attack it differently. You won’t come into that opportunity with any preconceived notion on how you should perform, because you will be very fixated with when to attack the opportunity.

As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes Jay Williams.

Jay Williams is a former Chicago Bulls standout point guard, roundly considered one of the most prolific college basketball players in history. He is now an accomplished entrepreneur, spokesperson and NBA analyst on ESPN.

Williams won the 2001 NCAA Championship with Duke, and was named NABC Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He was drafted second overall in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Bulls. His playing career was effectively ended by a motorcycle accident in 2003.

Williams became an ESPN full-time game and studio analyst in 2008, after working for the network as a commentator in 2003. Before joining ESPN, he was an analyst in 2007 for CBS College Sports Network, primarily working the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Prior to this, he was a contributor to Fox Sports Radio 99.9 The Fan.

Williams has also enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, pursuing various ventures including a brand consulting agency and multiple restaurants. Staying close to his roots in basketball, Williams gives back to the community as the CEO and National Director of Special Events for Rising Stars Youth Foundation, using basketball as the vehicle to promote education and provide academic and financial assistance to students.

He is a member of the NBA Retired Players Association, a voting member of the John Wooden Awards Committee, sits on the board of USA Basketball, and has been the spokesperson for Athletic Advantage, a sports physical therapy and performance development center.

In 2002, Williams graduated from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and business, becoming the first athlete at the university to earn a degree in just three years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in an educationally based family. Both my mom and dad met at Ohio State University. My father worked at American Express and my mother worked as a guidance counselor at our local high school, while simultaneously going back to school to receive multiple degrees, to finally become a principal down the line. I grew up in a predominately African American town, but the school I went to was predominantly Caucasian, so you can imagine the divergences between those two worlds. And for the most part, sports, education and business have always been the fabric of the DNA of my life.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?

I think from an inspiration perspective, a person that really condensed the horse blinders for me, squeezed them where it became very narrowly focused, was Coach K. I happened to be good at basketball, I always had the drive and determination to be great, but honestly, once I got to college, that’s when I recognized what it actually took to be great. That was the first time I truly committed to the process of learning how to enjoy hard work, and Coach K was the first to make me actually start to understand how you go about doing that.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Coach K. During my freshman year in college, I never played the point guard position, so you can only imagine the stress I had to top that off with playing for a Hall of Fame coach. I remember once I was having a really bad game, as I had turned the ball over five or six times. Coach K brought us into the huddle, I had my head down. He looked at me and said, “You’re being selfish.” And my reaction was, “What are you talking about? I just turned the ball over.” He said “You’re being selfish with your emotions. You are only focused on what you have done wrong. You’re not focused on what we need to do as a team.”

“You need to start thinking about ‘the next play.’ Throw yourself in what the next play is going to be, because that play matters the most for your team, and you need to be present and in that moment with your teammates. Do not let what happened in the past dictate what is going to happen in the present or future.”

This advice has since helped me navigate through life — it’s helped me recover through basketball, it’s helped me recover through my accident, it’s helped me recover from mistakes I’ve made in my life. What are you taking? What are you learning? How are you moving forward? And how are you learning from what you’ve done in your past, to not make that same mistake, and not let that last play define you in your life?

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

It was during my freshman year at Duke University, when we were playing my first game. I’m from New Jersey, born and raised, spent my whole life growing up in the tri-state area playing basketball, We had just lost four players who were drafted in the first round the year prior, and we were playing against Stanford at Madison Square Garden. As a 17-year-old going from playing in my own backyard to now having my first college game in the national scene, I was definitely nervous albeit excited. We came out to warm up, and I was so pumped up and ready to go. As they did the introductions, I heard my name called over the intercom at Madison Square Garden, which is a really cool experience. I was breaking out in cold sweat from being anxious and I came out to shake everyone’s hands. Coach K gave a great speech. And I ripped off my warmup pants, ready to get on the court, and my team stares at me. Someone points down towards my pants, I had forgotten to put my shorts on, and only had spandex! They had to run and get my shorts and the lesson I learned is that as much as you get ready for those big moments, create a tangible checklist.

So now what I do before I call NBA Finals games, or Eastern Conference Finals, or when I do my show, is literally go through a checklist to make sure I have all my stuff aligned so I am as prepared as possible and don’t forget anything. A checklist is very important for me to this day and it helps to keep me on track.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Well if you label anything as a high-pressure, high-stress situation, you are gearing yourself up to fail right out of the gate. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Say it again. It’s never pressure, it’s an opportunity. Change your mindset, and when you look at it differently, you will attack it differently. You won’t come into that opportunity with any preconceived notion on how you should perform, because you will be very fixated with when to attack the opportunity.

Secondly, if pressure is a word that can’t get out of your own way, then think about this. Pressure creates diamonds. Pressure creates diamonds. Pressure creates diamonds. Diamonds are some of the most valuable jewels on the planet. So if you can change your thought process from ‘what am I going to do?’ to ‘I am going to do this!’, you are affirming your position. It’s like going into a test saying, “I am going to score a 90.” Manifestation is important, talking it into existence.

Finally and most importantly, give yourself two or three things that you’ve written down that you constantly say to yourself over and over again whenever you have a negative thought that comes into your mind — positive affirmations. Let that thought come and go, and reaffirm it with a positive thought. If you give yourself a mantra that you enter any kind of game or opportunity with, then you will constantly be reminding yourself that you will be what you perceive yourself to be. You will be what you manifest yourself to be. The more relentless you are with that, the less likely you are to get trapped in your negative thoughts.

Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful businessperson?

Frankly, it was the same lessons I learned as an athlete that were applicable to business and to life. A lot of people in my athletic world told me that I couldn’t or told me no. That only drove me to be more creative with how I trained, and it’s the same way in business. “We don’t think you can do this” or “Hey, this business proposal is good but it’s not great.” Great — let me go back to the drawing board. Let me re-tool it and reposition it, let me repurpose a couple of different thoughts and I am coming back to you. So I think that relentless pressure of — it’s like playing in a game and losing that game. Just because I lost that game doesn’t mean I lost the entire series. This game is one part of a series of games, and at the end of the day, I want my record to say 35–5. I know that I am going to have to accumulate some losses throughout the entirety of the process, but losses are lessons, they are part of it. I am not going to let one play dictate what I do in the next. I think that mentality is very important.

I also think details are very important. When you learn how to train, you are not going to run the suicide and not touch the lines, right? You’re not cheating the game, you’re cheating yourself. And what you’re stealing is the accomplishment of the game if you’re cheating yourself and not touching the lines. It’s the same concept for business. Are your business plans thorough? Do you have the ability to pivot? Can you own your own narrative? It’s like watching tape — I came into the game thinking I was going to play a certain way but after watching the tape, I played crappy, I realized didn’t do those things that I thought I needed to do. Owning that instead of saying: it was my teammate’s fault”… it is important to own that. I have to expect more out of my teammate, it’s my job to communicate with my teammate and push him to do the same, so we can be better. This concept again draws a parallel in business. I over-valued this more so than I valued this. I need to go back to the drawing board and own that and say, ”Hey, that was on me, I am going to do a better job in pushing you to be a better version of yourself, so you can be a better version for me and our team. Those are the kinds of things that I think you can learn while being an athlete, that translate into entrepreneurship.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?

Well Chase Chats would obviously be one. I was excited to join forces with Chase earlier this summer and offer my voice and perspective on how we can work together to weather this storm. Navigating real-life personal and financial challenges are real issues that we have to talk about openly and honestly. I am hosting the Chase Chats webcast series for the rest of the year, which is designed to offer Americans open conversations and tangible advice about money. It’s been pretty inspiring so far — I’ve been able to talk with motivating changemakers like Serena Williams to inspire Americans and help them navigate challenging times. From how to get financially fit, to how to prepare for life’s unexpected expenses, these conversations are meant to be real, honest and transparent.

For instance, in talking to Serena Williams, we get into the mindset of someone who has won so many grand slams and is so successful. However, she is obviously playing a sport with a socioeconomic background that isn’t conducive to playing that sport, and it is what gravitated her to that sport and how she ultimately deemed success. It’s equally fascinating talking to her about personal finance, as we have similarities in how finance was described to us growing up.

Speaking with Stephanie Ruhle was also insightful, as she was able to seamlessly dumb it down for me and our listeners with non-financial backgrounds, outlining the lessons she learned about saving, about how to navigate finances and budget through COVID-19, and how to face your own financial troops. We talk about watching tape and facing your troops on the court, but how do you actually face your troops financially? How do you call your credit card companies that you’re maybe in debt with, to talk about how you develop a payment plan on a monthly basis, and actually own what your bad habits with clear plans to change them by building good habits? I think that’s really important.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

Definitely. As a professional athlete, I was in an environment where I was being pushed constantly to perform at extraordinary levels. There was always stiff competition and I had to find ways to push myself to new heights. Many skills I gained as an athlete can translate into my entrepreneurship abilities.

Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.

No always means yes. That is rule number one. Whenever someone says no, they are giving me a reason to eventually say yes or someone else to say it.

In order to be great or anything in life, there has to be a relentless pursuit of excellence. That pursuit translates to everything you do in your life. I always talk about how to create the right habits that are conducive to an environment you need to succeed in sports, and it’s the same thing in life. The everyday habits you decide to be relentless about that translate to you being successful in your business.

Seeing the game differently. Are you studying the game, and paying attention to details in a way that other people don’t? How are you seeing the matrix at a different degree than somebody else? Are you taking different vantage points or angles of attack? How am I making you look at me differently, if I am the product? Look at things from a multidimensional perspective, going beyond the surface level.

From a leadership perspective, it is important to focus on your team and helping people become better versions of themselves, in order to make your team better. The game isn’t just about you. So you can wake up with all the drive and all the relentless energy in the world, but how are you leading people? And there’s no one leadership tactic for your entire team. Even with your C-level executives, it is vital to create an environment where relationships are transformative not transactional. It’s not just saying “you didn’t hit your quota,” — it’s “why didn’t you hit your quota and how can we work on this?” There could be a good reason. Perhaps there was a family situation or other issue that caused this. Once you understand that unique situation, you can speak with that person with the right tonality and expectations. Imagine what that does for that individual. All of the sudden, they’re not coming into work saying, “I am going to punch in and I’m going to punch out”, they are coming into work thinking, “my boss actually cares about me. He wants me to be successful in life, not just work.” This will make them want to work harder for you, and it’s going to make them buy into something bigger than just themselves or the company. It’s going to get them into that pursuit of excellence state of mind.

What would you advise a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

Who is on your board? How are you creating connectivity by using vulnerability to get the right people once you’ve properly targeted who they are to get them on your board? I never come from a position where I am talking to you, I always come from a position that I am talking with you. So if I use my vulnerability by telling you what I don’t know, but also give you my goal of what I want to achieve, and then being transparent by saying I need your help to help me achieve that, I am empowering multiple great minds to advance my goals.

I have then created an environment that is inducive for collaboration. The more you can create an environment that is collaborative, the more you can create an environment that is conducive to help you get you where you want to be.

And also being fluid enough to adapt your goals and be flexible so you can navigate through volatile landscapes. If you’re still trying to achieve what you were trying to achieve two years ago, then you are not evolving with the times. The one thing that is so important to where we are, is that you have to be adaptive. You have to be willing to change with the times.

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yes, I am not afraid to talk about when I’m wrong on-air. I think it’s humanizing. I heard Laura Rutledge say this one time and it stuck with me: “How do you humanize sports instead of analyzing sports?”

We’re all out here trying to navigate this uncharted territory, but how you navigate it is very important and I think the more you can be vulnerable, the more you can own. Kevin Warren is a great example of this — he is the Big 10 Commissioner, who wrote an open letter to the public 45 days ago saying that the Big 10 was not going to play sports and this issue will not be revisited. Now, how they communicated was kind of a problem because now the Big 10 is playing football. But if he had been open and just said “Hey look we’re not going to play sports as of right now, but I am not sure what the future holds for our league.” Think about how that would have been met so differently instead of people chastising him. Now there are lessons to be learned for all of this stuff, but I think how you convey your message and if you can do it from a place of vulnerability, if you can do it from a place of “hey I was wrong, I have learned these lessons amidst this journey,” I think the public would look at you differently. And you’re providing yourself with room to grow.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Before you go to social media with a knee-jerk reaction, try to understand a little more about where that person is coming from. I think we lost a lot of our ability to try to relate to people these days because we live in such a quick-decision type of reactionary world.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I have two:

“To err is human, to forgive is divine”

I had to learn it in a very challenging way, and I wouldn’t be able to move forward in my life if I wasn’t able to forgive myself and own my own past. So forgiveness was important for me to learn how to forgive myself.

“Strength does come from physical capacity, it comes from indomitable will.” — Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve learned that people can conceive somebody to be strong, people have physical strength or mental strength but the true testament to your strength comes from a deeper place, that comes from a place of reflection. Knowing who you are or knowing who you want to be and not losing sight of that, and I really do think that is indomitable will. As much as people can chastise you or criticize you, at the end of the day, who you deem yourself to be as a person should be held in an utmost regard. That relentless pursuit of excellence — if you’re not trying to live each day to be a better version of yourself, then why are you here?

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Barack Obama: From being on TV every single day, especially during a pandemic, with sports trying to be brought back, doing TV every single day for multiple hours in the midst of social injustice and George Floyd and the countless others that we have lost… As a black man who is talking to an ESPN audience that is predominantly Caucasian males in the Midwest is challenging. Especially living in today’s cancel culture, where if you speak out of bounds, you can lose your livelihood, and the stress that comes with that It makes measuring the words that you speak of paramount importance. To sit and talk with Barack Obama, who had to do that every single day of his life during his tenure in the White House and how he still needs to do that, learning how to navigate that and taking lessons from him would be an incredible opportunity.

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.