He shot his shot joined the pantheon of sports metaphors and pop culture memes only recently.
But the idea of taking your shot at something goes back much further. Sports metaphors have always been popular, even for people who aren’t sports fans.
When you set goals for yourself, thinking about them in the sense of taking your shot—and practicing your shot ahead of time—can help you get there.
Metaphors open doors in the mind.
Although I stepped away from basketball this year, the sport still runs through my mind frequently, if only in metaphor.
It was the strategy and metaphor, after all, that seduced me the most when I was in it. The games themselves often took a backseat role in my thoughts.
So I say this…
We all have shots we want to take
Conventional wisdom tells us what matters most is that we practice our shot so that when the time comes, we’ll be ready.
We’re told that’s enough.
But that’s wrong.
Practicing our shot is necessary, but not sufficient.
Yes, if we don’t practice our shot, we won’t make it.
Preparation matters. We have to do the work.
We can’t find a substitute for actually doing the work we need to do in order to succeed—both the work we have to do now, where we currently are, and the work we’ll do later, when we’re closer to achieving our goal.
But there’s another part that frequently goes overlooked when advice gets thrown around.
What if our shot never comes?
Maybe it’s because this thought is a scary one that most of us dismiss it out of hand.
We don’t have full control over whether we ever get to take our shot. Too much in life sits outside our control for us to be able to ensure that it happens.
And in basketball, too, so much comes down to circumstance. Who are our teammates? Who is the opponent? What is the situation?
Regardless of the game we’re playing, we have a limited amount of control over those variables.
But let’s not be defeatist about not having full control.
We have some control—more than we usually consider or give ourselves credit for.
We can set the stage to a meaningful extent. It might mean learning other skills, developing a better understanding of our environment, or taking a slightly different path there than we otherwise would have.
Before we can do those things, we need to know what shot we’re trying to take.
It’s up to us to decide what our shot is.
What goal do we set for ourselves?
Regardless of context, we can exercise control over that part. We’re the only people who get to decide.
We want to think carefully about what shot we choose.
We’re going to put a lot of time and energy into it. Perhaps years.
For a particularly ambitious goal, maybe we’ll even put everything that matters in our lives on the line.
Not all shots are created equal.
The difficulty of a shot becomes an obvious distinguishing factor.
How ambitious is our goal?
Almost everyone considers this piece of information when setting a goal for themselves.
But many people fail to account for the full context of the shot—the ones I mentioned earlier, like the situation and our teammates.
Let’s break these down.
Some shots only get taken in specific circumstances.
Many basketball players grow up dreaming of hitting last-second, championship-winning shots as the buzzer sounds. It might end up being the shot they practice most as kids.
But by definition, those shots only present themselves in rare circumstances.
Most games aren’t the championship. And even if we do play for a championship, there might not be the opportunity for such a shot. When the score sits at 110-97 with ten seconds left, there will be no game-winner at the buzzer.
If we know that game-winner is our shot, we can practice it for years, waiting for our moment, when we have the ball and the stakes are there.
We’ll be remembered if we take it and make it. Kris Jenkins would tell us that.
Whether or not we get that opportunity won’t be entirely up to us. There are too many factors.
Chances are that we have more control than we know.
We can do something about it.
When we recognize that our shot can only be taken in a narrow set of circumstances that we can influence, we have important information to consider, and make decisions—one way or another.
Maybe we redefine what our shot is, so that it’s more universal, or one we can take in a situation we have more control over.
Or we decide it’s just not the right shot for us, and we go in a different direction entirely.
Or perhaps we put more thought and work into maximizing the chances of having the ball in our hands with the championship hanging in the balance, as the clock ticks down toward zero.
How much help do we need?
DeAndre Jordan is the most efficient scorer to play at the highest level of professional basketball. As of this writing, he’s made 67% of his shots, far and away ahead of anyone else.
But both players’ shots come with an important caveat.
The overwhelming majority of Korver’s shots result from the passing and ingenuity of his teammates. Jordan, meanwhile, essentially only shoots when he’s standing within arm’s length of the basket, and a skilled passing teammate gets him the ball in a particular spot.
While Korver and Jordan provide immense value to a team, they’re both near useless without teammates who can put them in position to make their shots.
The same principles hold true for us.
We need the right teammates.
If our shot hinges on having the right team around us, that’s not a bad thing.
But it is something we need to be aware of.
We’ll need to do the work to make sure we’re playing for the right team.
Failing to put in the time and effort on that front means we might never get our chance to shoot.
Some teams are harder to assemble than others.
We might have to learn new skills, such as networking or marketing, in order to get the right team together, or expand our search area beyond our previous expectations.
When we set an ambitious goal for ourselves—a really, truly gigantic one that makes us feel excited and also on the verge of vomiting on our new Nikes—it will be the case that we need help. We can’t go it alone.
But at the same time, we can think about exactly how much help we need, and what kind.
Is our shot largely dependent on others, like Korver’s or Jordan’s, or are we more like Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard, able to create the circumstances largely on our own?
When we recognize what kind of help we need and come up with a plan for getting it, we’ll not only have positioned ourselves to make the shot, but we’ll have improved our chances of getting to take it in the first place.
DeAndre Jordan can’t make Damian Lillard’s shot, but Lillard can’t make Jordan’s, either.
We have to know who we are and what we need.
I can’t tell you what your shot is. That’s up to you and you alone.
I know for me that when I set my sights high, I want to be all in.
If you want to take the fucking island, burn your fucking boats.
It means tapping into all the resources we have.
Our most overlooked resource is the capacity to set the stage for achieving our goal.
Any halfway serious person knows to practice their shot.
It’s not enough.
More than just practicing our shot, we can work to orchestrate the circumstances so that we’ll have the opportunity to take that shot in the first place.
Practice will help us make our shot, but what’s the point if the shot never comes?
When we make our plans and do the work, let’s not forget to take care of that part, too.