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Maintaining pace in the dead of winter

Can the Nuggets keep their hard work from freezing over?

The year I turned 30, one of my coworkers said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “Your thirties is the time where you really settle in to who you are as a person, and a professional.” At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but three years later, her comments are coming into focus.

You see, most of my twenties was spent on a giant learning curve. College was a great time, and I learned a lot about the world, but I didn’t necessarily learn a lot about how to be a professional in the business realm—a major problem I have with our education system, but I digress.

In my twenties I had lots of ups and downs professionally, and just like our Nuggets, I had to work hard at remaining consistent and establishing a mindset that would keep my success steady and growing. I don’t have a career where I am given work to complete. I create my own work so it all depends on me.

I found that my biggest challenge was focusing on getting right back to the grind after celebrating a success, and not resting on my laurels. There were busy times, slow times, times of excitement, and times of disappointment. I had to learn the ability to keep my efforts marching steady on each day of the year no matter how I felt, and no matter who was watching.

This actually proved the hardest in between major achievements—in the quiet moments when the effort you put in goes unnoticed by anyone, what I call the dead of winter. Maturity and experience (listed separately because they are not the same) allowed me to grasp how valuable this time was, and if I used it wisely, it could make all the difference when the busier times hit.

Through practice, and patience with myself, I was able to learn consistency. Consistency, for me, was not as much about effort as it was about mindset. I had to train my brain to sort out what was the most efficient path toward my goal, and focus each week on making progress toward that goal. I trained myself not to be distracted by things that might take up too much of my time, instead focusing on keeping the main thing the main thing.

Like anyone else, I would veer off course, but through constant self-reflection I am able to better recognize when I’ve gotten distracted. This is not to say that I’ve arrived by any means, but I’m certainly better than I used to be.

Looking at the Nuggets, it’s good for me to remind myself that most of them are still in their early twenties, and they’ve accomplished some major goals so far this season. They’re over .500 for the first season in a very long time, and the question about the team is no longer, “Will they make the playoffs?” But rather, “What spot will they take?” That amount of progress in one season’s time is noteworthy, and something the team should be proud of.

However, this is the time of year where the hard work begins. This is where freezing temperatures, changing time zones, constant travel, and lack of sleep begin to wear on a person. This is the dead of winter.

If the Nuggets want to maintain their position in the playoffs, and possibly improve, they’ll need to use this time to focus on their daily effort. They can’t let the promise of a playoff position be enough. Now that they’ve met this goal, what’s next and what daily effort needs to be put in to get them to the higher goal?

When can they work on improving their free throws (ahem, Mason Plumlee)? When can they work on improving their defense? What are the things that bring them rest so they can do that in their limited free time in order to come to each game recharged?

If the Nuggets are serious, and I think they are, they will hone these skills over time. I believe the improvements we’ve seen this season are proof that they’re working on it. Now is the time that we will see what they’re truly made of, and if they can go from win to loss to win without loss of enthusiasm or effort.

We have to be realistic and understand that we won’t see championship-level consistency, but rather, a marked improvement in steadiness. So far, we’ve seen that improvement, and while it’s not perfect, my expectation is that the Nuggets will maintain over the next couple of months.