Is Success Really a Choice?

May 16, 1997

Last week, unexpectedly charged up over Rick Pitino, I ran out and bought - at markdown - his bestseller, "Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life."

"Give me a week," I told my editor, "I'm going to turn myself around. I'm making success a choice."

"I thought you were refusing to lose," she said, refusing to display the positive attitude of the kind of person I would henceforth be surrounding myself with (as recommended in Step 3, Always Be Positive).

Actually, she was confused. I had (ITAL) refused ("Refuse to Lose," by former UMASS Coach John Calipari), but most recently I was searching, with Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley's help, for "The Winner Within."

But Pitino's the highest paid coach in the game's history, and I wanted a piece of what he had. Except, perhaps, his hair piece, or hair weave, which, according to his longtime hairdresser, he does not have.

What he does have, according to the inquiring (Lexington, Ky.) Herald-Leader, is a seldom-photographed bald spot. "Is it Hair-in-a-Can?" the paper asked in a recent article. "The world's most amazing comb-over? Did he have, as one cynic alleged, a scalp reduction?"

All this attention to Pitino's pate would be pointless were it not for the basketball coach's own emphasis on looks, as demonstrated by his best-dressed-in-the-1997-NCAA-tourney award, and spelled out in Step 4 of his book (Establish Good Habits).

"Your appearance is important," he - or maybe his co-author, Bill Reynolds - wrote. "It's the old truth that people don't invest their money with someone who looks sloppy and undisciplined."

I interpreted this to mean I should go shopping, and decided my challenge for Day One would be to look, in my mother's word, "presentable." When my colleagues commented on my unusually kempt appearance, I responded: "Thank you, I'm making success a choice."

(Later in the day, at a trip to Jordan's Furniture to interview the brothers, I stained my jacket buckling into the Motion Odyssey Movie Ride (M.O.M.), a ride so unrelated to dining room sets one has to admire the mind that thought of putting it in a furniture store. Anyway, back at the paper, a lot of people pointed to the strange smear near my pocket and said, "You have something . . .")

Having exhausted my wardrobe and budget, I decided Day Two would best be spent on Step 1 (Build Self-Esteem); Step 7 (Thrive on Pressure); and Step 9 (Learn from Adversity).

I had to leave work a little early for another story, so my compressed schedule looked like this:

10 a.m. to noon: Learn to like me.

Noon to 2 p.m.: Learn to live in the moment.

2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Learn to dry clean.

By Day 3, word got out that I was writing this story, and co-workers started mocking. "How's the success going?" they'd ask sarcastically, eyeing my Diet Coke can-ridden domain. I gave Pitino's suggested answer, "I feel great," but they weren't buying.

Their attitude would have worn the old me down, but I now recognized them for what they are: "The Fellowship of the Miserable," in Pitino's words, the "killers of the dream."

No one was going to kill my dream. Which, at the moment was to interview Coach Pitino himself. But not on Days 4 or 5, as those were weekend days. (Making success a choice is one thing, belonging to a union is another.)

Day 6 was the day I'd allotted to A) interview Pitino, and B) work on Step 8 (Be Ferociously Persistent). I called two different Pitino publicists a total of four times, but apparently the coach was making silence a choice.

Or perhaps he was just following his own Step 5 (Master the Art of Communication), which dictates that one listen four times more than one talk. Maybe he'd already hit his speaking quota for the day.

Yesterday, Day 7, I arose early as Pitino suggests.  Unfortunately I didn't hustle to work, but rather took the opportunity to wolf down some leftover strawberry rhubarb pie. I was up, but I was eating.

When I finally arrived at the office, I took stock. I had not won a Pulitzer. I had not been promoted. I was back to sloppy. But you should see my hook shot.

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