Michael Jordan on Learning from Himself and Delegating Tasks

Michael Jordan tells our readers about the importance of attending all your classes as a college freshman, why he'd like to time travel, and what he learned about money and happiness from traveling internationally.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

As odd as it sounds, I would pick myself. I've often heard the question, "If you could give your 20-year-old self advice, what would it be?" and thought about how beneficial it would be to give my former self guidance based on my life experience. How much more valuable would it be to have my future 50-year-old self guide me through a year now?

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

"Do only the things that only you can do." As a Type A, socially-capable introvert, I've always had a nagging impulse to try to control everything around me. Even if someone else is perfectly capable of accomplishing something, I arrogantly assume that I could do it more efficiently or better. (I was not a happy camper in group projects!) During my student teaching, I had opportunities to observe master teachers and clinicians at work. John Whitwell, Director of Bands Emeritus, Michigan State University, was talking to students about balance, both in band and in life. His advice to "do only the things that only you can do" hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized I'd been putting time, effort, and worry into a lot of tasks that other people could be doing at the expense of valuable things that I'm uniquely suited for. I've injected Professor Whitwell's advice into as many facets of life as possible, which has allowed me to focus on my strengths and become a better leader, manager, and teacher.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Travel has a beautiful way of putting life in perspective. Each of us is so ingrained in our own cultural paradigm that we often forget about the rest of the world. We grumble about the top 1 percent earners in our own country, but forget that someone making just $34,000 a year puts her in the top 1 percent of earners worldwide. Traveling to Mexico, Argentina, and Japan has opened my eyes to both how blessed I am and how separate and distinct money and happiness are. I wouldn't send a student to see landmarks; I'd send her on an uncomfortable but eye-opening adventure to a less-privileged part of the world.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Freshman year of college is for getting your feet wet, isn't it? Don't worry too much about those early classes; it's the senior-level classes that really matter, right? When you enter college you need time to adjust, have fun, learn about yourself, and get accustomed to your new digs, right? Job applications for teachers require a copy of one's transcript. What classes are right smack on the front of your transcript? First semester freshman year. When did I get my only C in college? Enough questions — you get it. I was so busy getting used to living 500 miles from home, feeding and changing myself, and meeting girls that my first music theory class didn't get the attention (or attendance) it required. Lesson learned.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Many would assume that I got into ACT and SAT test prep because I was a good test taker. Granted, it'd be tough to tutor something I wasn't good at, but I didn't start test prep tutoring because of me. In my four years of teaching band in Texas I taught hundreds of students who weren't able to go on to college; test scores, family finances, or a lack of guidance kept deserving students out of higher education. I don't believe college is for everyone. I don't think it should be. But I do believe that doors shouldn't be shut simply because of one test on one Saturday morning. I started tutoring college admissions tests to open those doors for deserving students. I quickly found out that running a tutoring business is just as much about business as it is about tutoring, and I have to be just as proficient in the field of business as I am in the field of education.

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