Your Michael Jordan Year: Why 23 Is One of the Most Defining Years of Your Life
At 23, Michael Jordan scored sixty-three points versus the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs of nineteen-eighty-six. He would go on to win six NBA championships, and ultimately he would go down in history as the greatest basketball player to ever play professionally. The number 23 is synonymous with Michael Jordan, and many players wear that 23 to emulate him in some form or another. However, as enticing as it is to make this completely about the greatness of the number 23, it isn’t. Instead, it is about another 23, the age, and how ultimately your 23rd year will go on to define the person you become through the prime of your life.
“We all fly. Once you leave the ground, you fly. Some people fly longer than others.” — Michael Jordan
Scientist’s have long believed that your body evolves and recycles itself in cycles every seven to ten years. This means by 23, your body has rejuvenated from its most completion or update so to speak and is actually very much not who you were as a child or a teenager. For the first time in your life, your body — organs, cells, the works, is no longer a kid in any regard. You are officially a full-grown adult. Congratulations…
Now not everybody, at 23, has their triple-double yet like Michael Jordan was putting down game-after-game, but 23 is the ultimate year to begin thinking in that context. A Triple-Double, in basketball, is when a player scores double-digit totals in three of five statistical categories (assists, blocks, points, rebounds, and steals) over the course of a single game. Starting at 23, our triple-double days are those days we walk away feeling like we broke through the wall, made headway, and really grew personally. Double-digit phone calls to give advice or sell a client, knocking out that first half-marathon, donating a dozen items that have been housing silverfish in your closet, and so on. There are many ways to, essentially, triple-double in your day-to-day, but it really isn’t until we are 23 where it matters.
But why 23? You are probably asking why you can’t just do these same things at nineteen, twenty, or twenty-one, right? You can. However, lets back up for a second before dive into that. The age of 23 is looking over that wall into adulthood for the first time. It is when the majority of people graduate from their years of rebelling through their undergrad, and it is when we often get booted out of the family home by parents. 23 is the median age where scientist believe the brain is fully developed, and for the first time, you find yourself understanding abstracts in ways you never thought. You are now completely beyond any concept that drinking Natty Ice from a bordeaux glass is sophisticated. You’re old now, so welcome to the Old Club where everybody picks up shifts on Saturdays and has at least two rewards club membership cards in their car. Okay, okay — I am kidding, adulthood isn’t and doesn’t have to be that, but 23 is the year the seemingly mundane, adulting, begins to make sense. Let it.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 23.” — Said Me. Not Taylor Swift.
You have to first understand the impact this year will have on your life, and then take a deep breath, and ultimately exploit the opportunities that abound from embracing this age. Live this year, but nowhere near the same way you “lived” in twenty-one or even your eighteen. We aren’t using 23 to drink more, date more, rage more, or all-around get lit brighter. If we prepare, we can use our 23rd to set-up the next 23 years with the ultimate chance to pay you back in personal growth dividends. Where do we start? What do we focus on? Where’s the PDF download to a list of stuff I got to do at 23, so I can stop reading? All great questions, so let’s begin.
23 should be about you. It shouldn’t be about experiences, bucket list breakthroughs, or anything of the outward nature. 23 needs to become an internal voyage that you make, which will allow you to live many years in an outward perspective, and at peace with who you are becoming — or at least at peace with adapting to the picks and screens that life throws you on the way to that lay-up (and you thought I forgot our basketball theme here, pssh). 23 is about defining who you want to be, so you can go be it. Not the whole, When I grow up I wanna be a… stuff, but the real heart and soul of what you want to do. For me, it started at around seven, when I was still battling with the concept that I would never be as good of a ball player like MJ or a great soccer goalkeeper, like Tony Meola — Look at me now, mom, still not either. Anyways, I wanted to work for Pixar as a writer, yet that dream would soon change, and change, and change again. I went from writer through into game designer, drummer, constitutional lawyer, and everywhere in-between. However, no matter what career path I took, tour I went on, Second City improv class I took, or political campaign I volunteered for — I never felt closer to a career that was mine. Then I hit 23, and for the first time in my life I stopped looking at the mechanisms and occupational titles, and instead looked at the attributes of the disparate interests that I had. Why did I like what I liked? I whittled it down to a few common attributes, and in my case I found that I enjoyed entertaining, educating, and leading people. I found the abstracts, and they set me free.
No longer was I confined to job titles, industries, or other standard requirements. Instead, I looked into careers and jobs that could fulfill the qualities I wanted in a fulfilling, passionate working day for me. I found myself, and it has helped me since find how money gets dropped into my checking account before private school tuition is due. I have a terrible habit of micro-managing my reflections on my own life. I tend to find myself stepping aside to view who I am compared to who I was year-to-year, in a very meditative, new-agey, break out the essential oils and Tibetan singing bowls type of way. However, in these moments I could see, so clearly, that how I was critically analyzing life and my path was all-together different at 23 then any other time in the past. Let’s be honest, at eighteen, I was not thinking about teaching anyone anything unless it was teaching them how to watch my band perform downtown by buying pre-sale tickets. 23 taught me to reassess and recycle what I learned to solve the problems of the future.
The next important part of your 23rd-year journey is learning how time really moves, in the context of adulthood. Let’s not kid ourselves, those first twenty-two years really 23 skidoo’d on us, and now we’re faced with cleaning up after the tornado of youth or trying to get drafted, as a fourth-round pick to the majors. When we are growing up, summers seem to last decades, elementary school feels like thirty-five to life, and weekend parties in high-school often feel sublime. Time used to move slow, while our brains were actively under construction is the point. No, we are adults, the big 23, and time is going to start shooting back-and-forth down the court here without any concern for if you have gotten yourself back into position or not. Time has its own scoreline to consider, so do not let it score sixty-three points on you in one lifetime. Understanding that your perception of time folds as you age is important. You can read in detail why scientist believe this occurs [here], but to distill the essence here it is all about creating new memories and building new connections. 23 then becomes this defining year where you can make a conscious effort to slow down time through constantly pushing yourself out of habit loops, throwing yourself into new experiences, and trying out the various ideas to exploit real life time-outs. Check out the concept of mini-retirements, popularized by Time Ferris in The 4-Hour Workweek [here]. Don’t just care about the fourth-quarter, and instead prepare now to elongate your time before the referee blows her whistle for halftime.
“23 is about defining who you want to be, so you can go be it.” — I said this, like two paragraphs ago. Highlight it though, because quoted or not, it’s true.
The last and most important step of fully living your 23rd year, is understanding that adaptability is one of the most important traits you can learn. Adjusting readily to any given situation, going with the flow, rolling with the punches, taking it as it comes — There’s many ways to talk about adaptability that we have all heard time-and-time again. What does it really mean to you though, and how the hell are you supposed to be adaptable when you have yet to even land a job from your many LinkedIn Easy Apply sessions? Most basketball players from the eighties will cite Larry Bird as being one of the biggest trash-talking players in the league at that time. Bird would get on the court, and in a calm and condescending way explain exactly what he would be doing to beat you on the court, and then he would go a do exactly what he said. Even though his opponents were being told every move he was about to make off of a throw-in, they did not naturally adapt to the new information, and Larry Bird anticipated this inability and exploited it as a way for him to adapt to the game. He was not the fastest, did not have the most finesse on the ball, nor did he have the greatest jump shot. However, Larry Bird was one of the greatest players in the NBA because he could adapt his abilities to take advantage of the weaknesses of his opponents, and it would take players, like Michael Jordan who were equally capable of adapting to stand toe-to-toe with him.
Adaptability is something we practice unconsciously, and something that can naturally stretch yourself when you apply it to what we have already discussed. Let’s take the previous concept of applying for jobs through LinkedIn. If we comb through and apply for every Easy Apply job available in our specific field of qualifications — for the sake of this, let’s say we, as a unit, are trying to be a Human Resources Manager. Well, after about an hour of a localized searched we’ve been able to apply to over one hundred jobs on the first day of looking. Day two, we find sixty. Day seven, forty-two. Day fourteen, we only find five, and by day thirty, we see one or two that we might have already applied for. At this point, we either call it a life early and give up entirely on a career, or we use relook at our attributes to discover that our interest in HR can be expanded to management and helping people. Now we can be adaptable, and look beyond what we thought were our limitations to other job sectors — Non-profits, educational programs, artist development, and so on. All these sectors and occupations require the same skill-sets and experiences you probably already have, but they have been untapped by you because you had yet to adapt. Knowing how to adapt to find your ultimate happiness (which is not a specific job title), or at least a realistic pathway to it is the major first step to living fully the rest of your twenties and beyond.
Adaptability, time-management, and defining your attributes are what being 23 should be about for everyone who hits this pivotal age. Seventeen was for hand-stuff, eighteen was for thinking beer tastes yucky, twenty-one was for dealing with your first major life-scare, whether it was an unprotected endeavor, family health issues, or almost failing Classical Political Theory class. When we really step back and think about it, what we do every year matters — sure, but when Michael Jordan won those six titles with the Chicago Bulls, it was not just about what he did year-to-year, but how he prepared for them — and that preparation began at 26. Just kidding everybody, it started at 23. That was the entire point of the analogy. Go watch The Number 23 with Jim Carey and stop reading this. I know that’s what you’ve been thinking about since you started reading this.
“Adaptability, time-management, and defining your attributes are what being 23 should be about…”