Be True to Yourself

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John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: ‘Be True to Yourself’

December 13, 2016

A core piece of Coach Wooden’s philosophy is based on a card that his father gave him and his brothers when they graduated from elementary school. On one side of the card was a verse by the Rev. Henry Van Dyke. The other side was titled “Seven Things to Do,” which Coach later dubbed his “Seven-Point Creed.”

“Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his life more true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow-man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and Heaven securely.” —Rev. Henry Van Dyke

7 Things to Do:

1. Be true to yourself.
2. Help others.
3. Make each day your masterpiece.
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 count and give thanks for your blessings every day.

One of the core values central to Coach’s father’s value and character was his gentleness with all living creatures, a trait that young Wooden grew up admiring. Coach often spoke about the gentle and loving way that his parents interacted, and the fact that his father’s favorite Abraham Lincoln quote was, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Coach also told many stories about his father’s gentleness in different situations on the farm. For example, the family kept two plowing mules named Jack and Kate, the latter of which had a tendency to lie down in the field and refuse to work. No matter how rough or frustrated young Wooden got with Kate, she would not budge. But his father would walk over until he was within earshot of the mule and simply say, “Kate.” This alone would be enough to spur the animal back into action. Over time, Coach learned that even an obstinate mule could be persuaded with gentleness.

As he grew older, Coach Wooden realized his father’s gentleness came from the peace of mind he achieved through confidence and contentment with himself. His serenity seemed to extend beyond himself and influence anyone and anything in his presence. Fierce dogs licked his father’s hand when he reached out to pet them; wild colts bucking in the barn became docile after his father spent just a few moments speaking to them in his firm but gentle voice. Coach learned from his father that one should never mistake gentleness for weakness; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Joshua Wooden proved the famous words of Han Suyin: “There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.”

Although such a calm approach to life is not a trait everyone possesses, the self-control to remain consistently assured and confident is something toward which we can all strive. Coach Wooden credited a large part of his own happiness and fulfillment to the fact that he tried every day to be true to his core values. The choices he made about how he spoke, the way he interacted with people, and the approach he took to coaching were all consistent with his deepest and dearest beliefs. As a result, people were naturally drawn to Coach in the same way that people and animals responded to his father’s contagious serenity.

That peace of mind stems directly from knowing that every decision is consistent with one’s own values. Being true to one’s self breeds confidence and is one of the fundamental traits of effective leadership.

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