Thursday, July 26, 2012

'Royal Jelly': The Stories of Udonis Haslem and Jim Butcher (Part 1)

How to Give Yourself 'Royal Jelly': The Stories of Udonis Haslem and Jim Butcher

Despite being a high-school basketball star and a Hall-of-Famer in the NCAA, Udonis Haslem couldn't get a job. While his game was fabulous in college, he was too heavy and too short to succeed professionally. He gave up on his dream to make the NBA, assuming he simply wasn't talented enough to make it - until he was introduced to coach David Thorpe, and his theory of Royal Jelly. Today, he's a two-time NBA champion.

Royal jelly is the food that turns a normal bee larva into a queen bee. Queen bees are not born - all bees in the same colony have the same DNA. Rather, they are made, as one bee is fed an exclusive diet of royal jelly, and the rest are condemned to drudgery. It's the diet and development of a queen bee that makes it unique, not the genes it was born with. Of course, I don't mean that you should literally douse yourself in the stuff.

Because I read too much sports literature, I stumbled upon David Thorpe's brilliant analogy on royal jelly and the development of athletes:

In most cases, players are largely the same. You've got your extraordinarily gifted players [...] guys like Kobe [Bryant] and Lebron [James], and then you've got players who just aren't very good. But most players are largely the same. And what separates them is the coaching aspect - where you get them to really believe they are able to accomplish whatever they believe in.
Thorpe goes on to describe how this theory of royal jelly can be practically applied:

I knew that he had a lot of things that the other NBA teams didn't see. And I had I had to get Udonis to believe that these things were enough to make it.
In other words, Thorpe knew Haslem wasn't going to be the best player in the league. But he also know that Haslem had strengths that, if emphasized and strengthened, would make him a valuable player in the NBA. So he focused purely on those.

I think the same thing applies to writers. Like it or not, not all of us have a Lord of the Rings in us. And while trying to build an epic fantasy that breaks down the established borders of fiction might be possible for you one day, it might not be what you're destined to do, even if it has always been your dream. Consider the story of Jim Butcher.

Jim Butcher wasn't always an urban fantasy writer
Jim Butcher wasn't always an urban fantasy writer
Butcher is most famous for his best selling Dresden Files series. It's a serial urban fantasy about Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, and his struggle to destroy everything from vampires to weregoats (yep, like werewolves, except with goat). It's a fantastic series that's carved a great niche for Butcher.

But that wasn't what Jim Butcher set out to acheive. The Dresden Files started out as a diversion from Butcher's true passion: swords-and-horses epic fantasy novels. Later in his career, wrote about how the Dresden Files actually came about.

When I set out to become a writer, I spent years writing swords-and-horses fantasy fantasy novels—ands seemed to have little innate talent for it. But I worked at my writing, branching into other areas as experiments, including SF, mystery, and contemporary fantasy. That's how the Dresden Files initially came about—as a happy accident while trying to accomplish something else.

What's the link between these two people, and what were the common keys to their successes? What can we learn from their failures, struggles and successes?

What they tried: Each started off trying to be something they weren't: Udonis Haslem an All-Star, Jim Butcher then next in line after JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Terry Brooks. And neither was suited for the task.

Why they failed: Haslem went undrafted and Butcher was unpublished.

What they changed: They abandoned their original dreams and tried different paths in their professions: Haslem lost weight, refocused his energy on defense and rebounding. Butcher started writing short stories in different genres.

How they succeeded: And finally, each reached the height of their target professions: Haslem is a two-time champion, and will likely win at least one more. Butcher became a best-selling author, and has established one of the most consistent brands in literature.

The difference between failure and success for Haslem and Butcher was how they gave themselves Royal jelly - how they chose to develop It's the key for anybody who feels like they're struggling to find their own path to success.

Part 2: How to Give Yourself 'Royal Jelly'


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