Two girls standing in front of me, both very pissed off. Both with very good reason. Crap. Crappity crap crap.

It wasn’t about dates. I’d asked both of them to sing at an event I’d needed a partner for, but only one partner for. I had misunderstood the level of interest of the first person I’d asked, so I’d reached out to a backup, without telling either of them I’d asked the other. They were great friends, and immediately chatted with one another about their excitement, then realizing they’d both been asked on the same musical “date”. They were both thrilled. Ugh. Dumb dumb dumb sixteen-year-old Olson.

They had every right to be angry, I’d not even considered what I might do if both of them said yes, or their feelings in the matter in general. I’d been foolish, thoughtless, and selfish, and they both felt (rightfully) hurt. I understood when they collectively told me I’d not have the privilege of singing with either of them. Sadly, they were both the best singers I knew for the part, and the eventual outcome suffered because of my playing both ends against the middle.

I realized in the moment how little regard I’d shown for how either of them might have felt, finding out I’d also asked someone else. I took some time to reflect on how I might have done better. The situation wasn’t romantic, but it wasn’t hard to see how I’d still injured their pride, and to feel remorse for hurting a couple of friends. We worked it all out in the long run, but it taught me a valuable lesson, and I still remember it often when I am tempted to cover my bases in cases where people are involved. I’ll still do so when needed, but make sure everyone is clear on who’s been asked.

I only wish that was the worst thing on a list of thousands of things I’ve reflected upon in my life, but it sadly doesn’t even crack the top 20 percent. I’ll save that collection for a therapy session (or seven) someday.

There’s no better time for a little reset of sorts than at a new beginning. Happily, your Denver Nuggets find themselves less than a week away from a new beginning in an opening night in Utah. That leaves the boys in blue six days to take a peek at that reflective surface above their bathroom sink and ask a few questions. Remember, shore up strengths as well as weaknesses. Here’s a few ideas to get started…

Who am I as an individual/player/coach/contributor?

  • What’s my role in the world, or at least amongst this small group of guys?
  • Whether I like that role or not, am I up for making the best of what is available there?
  • How would I rate myself individually, on a level of 1-10, with 1 being poor and 10 being excellent? (do this for as many factors as you care to: defense, offense, dancing skills. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)
  • How do others rate me individually, on that same 1-10 score? (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)
  • No matter what those last two numbers are, how can I be better?
  • What’s the most important thing for me to improve on? What’s the easiest? The hardest?
  • What do I want from this situation, and is that acheivable?

Who am I as a teammate/team member?

  • What’s my role within the team?
  • Whether I like that role or not, am I up for making the best of what is available there?
  • How would I rate myself as a teammate, on a level of 1-10, with 1 being poor and 10 being excellent? (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)
  • How do others rate me, individually, on that same 1-10 score? (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.)
  • No matter what those last two numbers are, how can I be better?
  • What’s the most important thing for the team to improve on? How do I help with that effort?
  • Am I willing to be flexible in my thinking and performance to achieve the organization’s goals? (Coaches, pay particular attention here)

While questions like these can sometimes be painful to ask, nailing the answers can often prove to be key to long-term success, whether in a board room, living room, or basketball court. Michael Jordan is the apogee of that arc, finding improvements to his game season over season, long after he’d already nailed superstardom. The long-term difference between a LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will have as much to do with an insatiable desire to improve as it does with physical gifts. Denver has a great example of these practices in Gary Harris, who has parlayed some intense offseason improvements into a pretty sweet contract extension this year. Harris has been persistent and dogged in his efforts to improve, and it’s great to see him reaping the rewards. But as Harris well knows, even the great parts of his game can always use refinement. When I was lucky enough to interview him before last season, and asked where he could improve, he immediately recited his standing amongst league point guards, current and all-time. And then he made a solid leap in those current-player standings last year. I’d be interested to see the questions Gary asks of himself in being so driven coming into this season.

You could argue a similar methodology of improvement on the bench has been the hallmark of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and he is a leader amongst an organization driven to staying ahead of the game via that sort of continuous improvement. The Denver Nuggets organization has shown some flexibility in their thinking and approach as well, which seems to have landed them on a formula they think has potential. And they’re not the only ones, with a “keep an eye on these Nuggets” article recently surfacing on ESPN in comparing their recent building blocks to a little squad you may have heard of called the Golden State Warriors. No pressure, Nuggets.

But one of the great things about this year’s Denver Nuggets squad (and organization) is how many of them seem to be similarly driven in improving themselves. That drive has to be balanced with a sense of reality, as you don’t go from a 1 to a 10 overnight, if ever. But if you’re not shooting to get that 3 to a 4 or 5 this year, you’re not doing yourself or your team any favors.

Today’s news cycles seem to be filled with an unending stream of people who might benefit from a little self-reflection these days, taking the time to do a little reset and change of course. Whether the news, politics, entertainment, or sports, it seems as if large swaths of humanity look to be having a field day looking for the faults in others without much looking for opportunities to improve on their own. And after you’ve looked over all those questions for your Denver Nuggets, give them a spin yourself, if you’re interested. I’ve already realized I could be stepping it up a fair bit with my hardworking-and-talented fellow Stiffs staff upon initial inspection. How can each of the Nuggets players and coaches make changes to best serve the overall team needs and goals, Nuggets Nation? What could the key players best do to make a difference? Hell, how can YOU be better?

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