John Wooden

Posted: September 8, 2015
By: Clay Cerny

The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

I agree with Wooden 100%. Many clients come to me almost paralyzed with areas of weakness and career obstacles. In almost every case, these people have been successful in their careers or just completed a new degree. My job, one I greatly enjoy, is helping them see what they have to offer. Most people have made great contributions to their employers. Their problem is telling the story. They think too much about what “they cannot do.” Instead, as Wooden recommended, the secret to know is what you do best. Play your strengths.

Posted: August 1, 2015
By: Clay Cerny


In our careers and personal lives, we all face challenges.  The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden captured this problem and how to face it:  "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."

A few of my clients cannot move on on their career because they spend too much time and energy looking back on lost opportunities or mistakes.  I try to motivate them to look forward rather than backward.  Living in the past is never a good solution.  As Coach Wooden said, we are all capable of change.

Posted: June 6, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling examines life and work beyond career and jobs – today it admires a great human being.]

John Wooden 1910-2010

A great man has passed.  I’ve written before about John Wooden, one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.  He held himself and his players to the highest standards.  In his nineties, Wooden wrote several books on leadership and life. John Wooden might be gone, but his life and philosophy will endure for generations to come.

Wooden’s seven-point creed:

1.  Be true to yourself.

2.  Make each day your masterpiece.

3.  Help others.

4.  Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

5.  Make friendship a fine art.

6.  Build a shelter against a rainy day.

7.  Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Whatever religion one follows (or does not follow), we would all do well to consider these words.  They served John Wooden well for 99 years.

Rick Telander devoted his entire column in today’s Sun-Times to Wooden.  He talks a little about basketball (You have to – Wooden’s teams went 205-5 between 1966 and 1973).  But mostly Telander focuses on the man, the teacher whose players never stopped looking to him as a guide for how to live.  Telander quotes a couple of gems that reflect Wooden’s respect for learning and humility.  One his favorite lessons came from his father Joshua, who said: “There is nothing you know that you have not learned from someone else.”  Wooden took these words and used them to capture his own philosophy of service: “It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others.  It is why you get up every day – to teach and be taught.”

Bill Walton, always a rebel, who was once suspended by Wooden for having long hair, revered his former coach.  He would take his children to see Wooden so they could learn the same lessons he did in practice and on the court.  The Los Angeles Times quotes Walton on his coach and mentor:  “Coach Wooden taught by example. He never asked or expected anyone to do anything that he hadn’t already done himself. He gave us the ability to learn how to learn, and to compete. His keen knowledge and foresight to always be about what’s next, always about the future, enabled him to lead an incredibly active, constructive, positive and contributing life."

In an age when coaches and athletes are driven by fame and ego, we can look to John Wooden as a model of how to be a champion.  He worked hard and demanded that his players do the same.  At the same time, he understood that sports was not bigger than life.  His greatest victory was not on the basketball court, but in the lives he influenced and will continue to influence through his writings, his gift to generations that will never know him.

Sunday Extra Helpings

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

A Timeline of John Wooden’s Life & Career 




Posted: November 26, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

The subject of my 100th post is a man who is nearly 100 years old, the great basketball coach John Wooden.  Wooden established records that will never be broken.  In 10 of the last 12 years he coached, his UCLA teams won the NCAA title.  During one stretch, they won a remarkable 88 games.

In his 80s, long after retiring, Coach Wooden took on a new trade, author.  He has written books on his life, coaching, and a very important topic to job seekers and career managers:  success. 

The website TED features experts from many fields discussing their projects and passions.  Wooden is featured in a section on “inspiration” (click here for the video).  He often seems a throw back to the 19th century, citing poets who haven’t been taught in schools since he was a child in the 1920s.  Even so, behind words that sometimes sound dated, there is a very relevant plan that anyone can use to be successful (or more successful).

In the 1930s, Wooden crafted a one sentence definition of success that he still advocates today:  “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”

This sentence is not nearly as simple as it seems.  Wooden is not just saying, “Do your best.”  We all tell ourselves we have done our best.  But how many of us have “peace of mind?”  How many of us feel a “self satisfaction” from our work?  Wooden offers us a road map through his “pyramid of success.”  Here we see how this great man defined and practiced a way of life that not only let him be a great coach, but a great thinker.  Wooden wrote his first book in 1997.  Over the last 12 years, he has produced 10 books, including this year’s Coach Wooden’s Game Plan for Success.  Not bad for someone in his nineties.

For John Wooden, success does not mean always winning.  It means preparing to play the right way:  having values, practicing skills, and – most importantly – pursing goals with faith and patience. 

We as job seekers and career managers can learn much from this man and his passion for success.  I’ll close with my favorite saying from Coach Wooden:  “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”