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The Psychology of Success


Regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Jordan's path to success was anything but linear, rather, it was marred with a series of psychological challenges stemming from a complex relationship with his father, and a burning desire for acceptance, belongingness and validation. His ability to transform rejection into intense motivation, provides us with a valuable insight into the psychology of success.


Childhood and the Need for Validation

Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. His childhood was scared by ridicule and failure to receive his father's approval and validation. James Jordan, Michael's father, had favoured Michael's older brother, Larry, and would often make fun of and berate Michael for his shortcomings. These early childhood experiences had a profound impact on Michael's psyche, instilling in him a drive to prove himself and attain the validation that he craved from his father,


The link to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who is renowned for his Hierarchy of Needs theory that provides a framework for understanding human motivation and personal development. At the core of this theory is the concept that people are driven by a series of physiological needs and in the context of Michael Jordan's life, two needs from Maslow's hierarchy stand out: belongingness and validation.

  1. Belongingness: The need for belongingness is a fundamental human requirement. From an early age, Michael yearned to belong, both within his family and later in the basketball world. His desire to fit in, be accepted, and be seen as the best, drove him to excel in the sport.

  2. Validation: Validation, in the form of recognition and approval, played a crucial role in Michael's psychological makeup. His longing for validation from his father, fueled his ambition and served as a powerful motivator throughout his life.

Failure and the Growth Mindset

One of the most significant setbacks in Michael Jordan's life came during his sophomore year in high school when he failed to make the varsity basketball team. This rejection could have crushed his spirit, but instead, it became a turning point in his journey. Jordan's growth mindset, a concept popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, came into play.


A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance. Instead of seeing his failure as a dead end, Jordan viewed this setback as the catalyst situation to grow and improve. He poured his energy into developing his skills and worked tirelessly to prove his worth on and off the court.


The Drive Toward Growth


According to Maslow, within the human condition, there are two primary drivers: one that leans toward safety and familiarity, and the other that propels us toward growth and self-improvement. Michael Jordan clearly embraced the latter. His determination to excel in basketball and earn the validation he craved drove him to push himself beyond his limits. Each rejection, each failure, served as fuel for his relentless pursuit of greatness.


Using the Drive for Validation to Fuel Growth


Michael Jordan's story teaches us a valuable lesson about harnessing our need for belongingness and validation to propel us toward growth. Rather than letting past disappointments define us or hold us back, we can use them as stepping stones to prove our worth to ourselves and others. Jordan's ability to turn rejection into motivation and his unwavering commitment to growth allowed him to achieve unparalleled success in the world of basketball.


Michael Jordan's journey from a child seeking validation to a global basketball icon is a remarkable testament to the power of the human psyche. His story highlights the importance of belongingness and validation in our lives, as well as the potential for transformation and growth that resides within all of us. By adopting a growth mindset and using our inner drive to overcome challenges, we can achieve greatness and, like Michael Jordan, leave a lasting legacy that inspires others to reach their full potential.



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