Sometimes the most profound and terrifying changes that life can throw at us ultimately turn out to be fulfilling and lead to riches beyond our imagination. The riches may not be monetary, and they may not even be glamorous, but they may lead us to places that are unexpected and authentic.
Let me talk a little about a former NBA All-Star named Vin Baker. He is in his late forties now, and he once had a life we could only dream about. He played for 13 years, and in his career he earned more than $100 million. His friends were famous, and he had vast possessions and a 10,000-square-foot home that most of us only get to see in magazines. He had a good marriage and four children.
He also had a secret. Vin Baker was an alcoholic and substance abuser, and he was afraid to get help. He was afraid to change, afraid to give up his drinking “buddies” and afraid to imagine a life without substances. Vin threw away a tremendous career because of drug addiction. That is correct; he threw away $100 million on neverending parties and frivolous gifts to his entourage.
Several people and entire basketball organizations tried to help him, but he instead chose people who would party with him and enable him. Bankrupt— spiritually as well—he had hit rock bottom because he refused to change.
When he reached the end of his money, when the party-goers who were more than happy to ride the gravy train with him left for greener pastures, when no more teams or coaches wanted to come near him, he finally and fully realized what he had done to himself.
It is so very easy to judge Vin Baker. How many of us have refused to change because we could not face the perceived disaster that we thought the changes might bring? How many of us were afraid to say “No” or stuck it out in relationships or gave up on our dreams or spent years in dead-end jobs with terrible bosses? Many people, and I know this for a fact. Change can be a highly painful process.
At the very bottom, Vin Baker had no choice but to face his substance abuse and face his choices. His first choice was to get sober in all ways. He had the courage to ask for help. When you ask for help, there will be some who will judge you, and some may even mock you, but many more will reach out their arms to you, cry with you, cherish you and understand. Those are the people who will be your real friends.
A New Dawn
In finding his sobriety, Vin Baker returned to his home and to his father who is a minister. The father welcomed his son without judgment and with open arms. Vin is helping his father’s efforts to expand his church. Through his father’s ministry, he has been reaching out to people with his story. He views his story as one of redemption, and he genuinely wants to help others regain their dignity and faith.
A strange thing occurred to Vin Baker when he faced his demons. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, was the owner of the Seattle Supersonics when Baker was named as an All-Star back in 1998. Schultz always liked Baker and never forgot the fame the glory that he brought to the team.
Schultz unexpectedly reached out to Vin Baker, who now lives in the Providence, Rhode Island area. He wanted to give his former star a second chance. He wondered if Vin might not be interested in learning how to be a Barista, and if he liked it, to become a store manager. Store managers make a good salary plus benefits. It’s not the NBA, but it is kind, honest, respectable work. This goes back to my comment about people opening up their arms.
If you are in the New England area and see a 6’11” man managing a Starbucks, it could very well be Vin Baker. His changes led him to an unexpected place, and it may not include a mansion, but wherever he now lives, he lives his life with virtue and self-respect.
Don’t Be Afraid to Change
In 2003, I had a heart attack. My cardiologist put it bluntly. He said, “If you don’t want to stop the course of your heart disease before it kills you, then you have to switch to a healthier lifestyle. You have to drink judiciously, stop overeating, start exercising and relieve your stress. Even with the knowledge I have a dreadful disease, and I know I should change, I struggle. Sadly, I am not alone. While we would like to think that facts could convince people to change, and we believe people are inherently rational, the truth is that most people don’t change even when the right choice can improve their lives.
Knowledge may be power, and the truth may set you free, but for many people, it just doesn’t make a difference. The good news is that change is possible even in situations that seem hopeless. Whether you are struggling with a stressful life, or you have come up with an unexpected challenge, you can change the deep-rooted patterns of how you think, feel and act. Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change. Change can be intimidating, but allowing fear to stop you from growing and progressing is even more demoralizing. Change brings opportunity!