First Things

John Wooden

John Wooden, legendary coach for the UCLA Bruins, died yesterday at age 99. Beyond telling the story of a life well-lived, Wooden’s New York Times obituary briefly notes:

[Wooden] always carried a piece of paper with a message from his father that read: ‘Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day.’

These are awesome examples of what my family calls ‘First Things’.  First Things are what you value most (it’s taken from the the saying “Put first things first…”). First things are what you prioritize — the non-negotiable things that don’t bend when life gets hard or busy.  Some folks call them ‘guiding principles’ or ‘core values’; I call them ‘First Things’.

The thought of Wooden ‘carrying a piece of paper with a message from his father…’ is powerful imagery for me. I picture hand-lettered words on a tattered slip of paper in Wooden’s wallet. I picture the words in squiggly cursive, with shadows where the letters had been re-drawn after getting worn from a trip through the washing machine.

And it makes me wonder: after I’m dead and gone — when they ask my boys what my First Things were — how might they respond? More importantly could I respond if you asked me while I’m still here?

So I’m resolving to write down my First Things. And I’m going to take a lesson from Joshua Hugh Wooden (Wooden’s dad): My First Things must fit on a business card. That way my kids can carry them around for the next 100 or so years.

You can read John Wooden’s full obituary here.
photo credit: Rich Clarkson/Sports Illustrated, via Getty Images
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