Compensation vs Contentment

Yesterday I was practicing basketball, partly because I love the sport, and partly because I haven’t played in months but will be playing with a bunch of friends today :).  While shooting, I remembered something I realized long ago, that I do not have much in the way of “natural” basketball traits, in-fact I’m typically the smallest player on the court, and due to an injury as a kid, the cornea of my right eye was scratched, therefore my depth perception is quite poor. The previous effects rebounding, and the later shooting. Both of which are important in a sport like basketball. But, among those I usually play with, i’m typically… in the top 30%. Why is that? Even compared to my brother, who is well suited for basketball, he’s 6′, 210lbs with perfect vision, we match up fairly evenly. The answer is because of a human trait we all have called compensation.

Unconsciously I do things like pay more attentive defense, hustle more, or practice off the court (like yesterday). Without realizing, the compensation factor drives actions in these other areas so that my overall-play is on par with those around me, or the expectations unconsciously set by myself.

When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my dad, a doctor, and he said something that stuck with me long after, he said, “the human body has a wonderful way of adapting.” How right he is. You hear the stories all the time, ie blind people who leverage their hearing or touch to a heightened level, or the mother who juggles two kids, a full time job, and school, regularly sleeping 3-4 hours a day, etc.

Compensation explains those things, but there is also the other side of the coin. The person who has all the natural abilities for the game, the analytical math student in a classroom, or the person who needs only manage a part-time job. For those people, the other “c” word comes into play, contentment. They don’t need many other factors to compensate for doing what already comes easy for them, so their performance expectations are satisfied. This is a hidden problem, those people who have tremendous capability in an area, don’t unconsciously push themselves for more than is required.

We’ve see this type of thing before, and I reflect on something a friend told me a long time ago. It was after a basketball game, and I was joking to my friend, a much bigger guy who was about 6’4″. I said something like, “man, if I were your height, I’d dunk the ball every chance I got.” His response was, “yeah, but if you were my height you’d play the game differently.” What he alluded to was, that if I was his height, maybe I wouldn’t hustle as much or work on my shooting, because at that position, I wouldn’t need it as much but maybe my play would be focused on other areas.

“It’s hard to have the best of both worlds, because mother necessity needs drive only one.” But there are exceptions, superstars like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Those who combine their natural ability with development in other areas like court vision, hustle, practice shooting the ball, coaching, etc.  I think this overachievement is fostered by two factors, inner drive and environmental drive. The later is what I’ve focused on here. That unconscious ability to compensate with every resource at your disposal to be on par with those around you or the environment you are in.

Now you’re probably thinking, “well that explains a few things, but how can this enlightenment help me.” Here is the best part, a lot of it is unconscious. The key is to place yourselves in environments that challenge us to develop, or around people who increase our perceived baseline performance by their own accomplishments. You see this alot in larger group dynamics. Think about military boot camp, “if he can do it, than I can do it,” “If that squad can do it, than we can do it.” or, “we are all waking up at 5am every morning, that’s just how it is, we do it.”

Ok, you don’t want to go to boot camp but 1) do not be an isolationist/loner, try be spend time around others, hearing what they are doing, 2) pick people that you hang out with whose performance is a notch above your own and without knowing it, you will eventually adapt to an on-par level with them. “Birds of a feather, flock together.” 🙂

Last, realize the “natural” abilities you have and consciously leverage/foster them.


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