What Is Your Priority: Making a Living or Making a Life?

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 16, 2018

Coach John Wooden had a clear set of priorities: faith, family and friends. He strived to have a balance between his personal and professional life. He believed that imbalance in one or the other creates vulnerability in both.

This excerpt from How to be like Coach Wooden by Pat Williams depicts a clear picture of how this approach manifested itself for Coach on a day-to-day basis:

“During his years at UCLA, John Wooden saw to it that his wife, Nell, spent as much time with him as possible. ‘Nellie always went to games with me,’ he said, ‘and I wouldn’t leave her to go scouting or anything of that sort, unless she could go with me.’

“Coach made it a point ‘not to bring any problems home with me. I wanted to put my family before my career.’

“His wife Nell often said that she could never tell, by John’s demeanor at home, how things were going with the team. ‘I couldn’t tell if he had a good practice, a bad practice or if there were any problems at all,’ she said.”

So how did Coach respond when he was offered more money for a job that would have created an imbalance of his priorities? This excerpt from How to be like Coach Wooden answers that question:

“During the late 1960s, when the UCLA basketball program was at the height of its success, Jack Kent Cooke tried to hire John Wooden to coach his Los Angeles Lakers. Coach went to Cooke’s house at the invitation of Lakers’ general manager Fred Schaus, where he found Cooke sitting behind a huge desk in his study.

“They sat in silence, just looking at each other, for several minutes before Cooke finally said, ‘Why do you want to coach the Lakers?’  Wooden replied simply that he didn’t want to coach the Lakers. He had come to Cooke’s house because Schaus had asked him to.

“Cooke was incredulous. ‘Anyone would want to coach the Lakers.’ The Lakers’ owner thrust an offer sheet in Coach’s direction. ‘What do you think of that?’ ‘Nobody’s worth that kind of money,’ Coach said. But he still wouldn’t take the offer. ‘Well, then, how much do you want?’

“Coach tried to explain that it wasn’t about money. He didn’t want to coach the Lakers because he didn’t want to spend that much time on the road away from his wife, Nellie, and their children, Nan and Jim. Besides, he liked coaching and teaching on the college level. For John Wooden, coaching basketball had never been about money and never would be.

“When Coach was asked what his top priorities are, he replied, ‘Faith, family and friends.’ Then he smiled and added, ‘Sometimes I put family first. That’s not really the proper order, but I think the Lord understands.’”

Related: The 3 Most Important Things in Life

This article originally appeared on TheWoodenEffect.com and has been republished with permission.

Craig Impelman

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.