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Book Review: The Life You Imagine

Advice from Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter.
Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Last week, while on vacation visiting another Hawaiian island, I purchased The Life You Imagine at the Kona Bay used book store. Although I had zero expectations, with great joy I found the book extremely worthwhile. I highly recommend reading this book.

The Life You Imagine was written 23 years ago. It has many stories about Derek Jeter’s childhood and the early years of his career. The introduction concludes with, “I hope reading this book will also convince you that you can accomplish anything.” That idea resonates with my optimistic view of the world.

If you need another reason to read the book, you can look at similarities between Derek Jeter and Jordan Lawler, a Diamondbacks’ top prospect. Jordan Lawler will likely develop into an All-Star shortstop. You will not be the first to compare those two players. In 2021, Kiley McDaniel of ESPN pointed out their similar instincts and all-fields-approach. Coach Brian Jones mentioned poise beyond their years.

“You know it’s hard to put comps on guys [like Jordan Lawler]. I’ve heard the Derek Jeter comp, and maybe that’s not too far off. He’s just a really good athlete. He’s a gifted hitter who controls the zone well and uses the whole field, and he’s already got some power; I think he’s going to continue to grow into more power. …” — Josh Barfield, Diamondbacks Farm Director

Another similarity is they learn by watching. Derek Jeter learned how players like Mattingly and David Cone mentally recovered from losing a game.

“You can learn a lot from doing nothing but watching. I know I did.” — Derek Jeter

Similar to Derek Jeter, Jordan Lawler learned a lot by watching games when an injury happened.

“It’s definitely a surreal moment to be out here [Arizona Fall League] after everything I’ve been through with the shoulder. Sitting behind there watching so many games it’s amazing to be out here, just excited to play two more games out here.” — Jordan Lawler

Jordan Lawler expressed that Derek Jeter has positive attributes as a baseball player that are worth emulating.

“You know what you’re going to get when he [Derek Jeter] comes to the field every day. That’s really big for a team. They know what they’re gonna get, and then you’re just a good teammate and a good person overall.” — Jordan Lawler

The book was organized into 10 sections:

  • Set Your Goals High
  • Deal With Growing Pains
  • Find Role Models
  • The World Is Not Always Fair
  • Have a Strong Supporting Cast
  • Be Serious, but Have Fun
  • Be a Leader, Follow a Leader
  • Think Before You Act
  • Life is a Daily Challenge

The Life You Imagine might have been better if it had been shorter and organized around four ideas. Let’s look at the four ideas.

Keep Trying.

Despite my diligent efforts as a writer, mistakes happened. In my mind I have a step-by-step process to quickly recover and continue writing. The basic process is to confirm the mistake, quickly correct the mistake if possible, understand what led to the mistake and how can it be avoided in the future, re-energize myself with tried-and-true activities such as watch an I Love Lucy episode, and immediately continue writing my next article.

Although I could not find a full description of how Derek Jeter recovered from a lost game, his wisdom included understanding that baseball is difficult, understanding that sad emotions arise from wanting to achieve a dream, and keep trying.

“You never really know how difficult that next step is going to be.” — Derek Jeter

“I wanted to achieve my dream so badly that the rough moments I experienced just made me sadder.” — Derek Jeter

“Even if it takes 10 tries, you have to keep trying. If you think you’re good enough and stay persistent, you’ll eventually get the task done.” — Derek Jeter

As a writer for AZ Snake Pit, my two imperatives are: contribute worthwhile posts and improve my writing. That same idea was expressed by Derek Jeter.

“When I was trying to establish myself, I wanted to feel as though I was making progress and doing something worthwhile.” — Derek Jeter

Create Big Moments.

As a writer, a few articles are chances to contribute a broad and significant insight, with great mental satisfaction. Similarly, baseball players encounter situations that will decide the game, the season, or a World Series.

“I’d take that kind of situation, a chance to be a hero or a goat, in every game I play for the rest of my life. Those moments are what make sports so exhilarating…” — Derek Jeter

Accomplishing something difficult can be inspiring.

“Seriously, making the basketball team really inspired me to believe that I could do almost anything. It’s why I keep saying that it’s important to do things even if you think your chances of being successful are remote.” — Derek Jeter

Even a small success can motivate me to work harder. The same is true of baseball players.

“I think we all have moments or events in our lives where we gained more confidence in ourselves….It was only one at bat, one measly at bat. But I milked it for everything I could during the off-season. I ran harder, I lifted more, and I took more batting practice because I was juiced by the feeling that hit gave me. That’s something we all can do.” — Derek Jeter

Be an Optimist.

As you likely know, I am an optimist. For that reason, I like that Derek Jeter is an optimist. Nevertheless, my appreciation for his optimism is deeper than that.

Derek Jeter’s optimism was remarkable because of the context of his difficult challenges and because he felt the weight of his weaknesses playing baseball. Derek Jeter talked about how hard he worked on improving his weakness in fielding. And he agonized over his missed hitting opportunities. It’s very much remarkable that while doing that he kept clinging to optimism. Perhaps two reasons that he held on to that optimism were that he felt accepted as part of the Yankee family and that his coaches were optimistic about his eventual success.

“But when you’re really toiling, you need to find those shreds of optimism and cling to them.” — Derek Jeter

“Gil taught me a trick about how he took a positive out of every game. Even if you make two errors and botch a game, focus on that line-drive single you had; build on that hit.” — Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter considered himself lucky to have Gerald Williams as a friend. “He always finds positives and has told me that he doesn’t think he could ever overuse the word positive.” — Derek Jeter

“One of the best ways for dealing with any challenge is by always being positive. It might sound simple, but it’s hard for some people to simply focus on positives. Too many people focus on negative things and what’s gone wrong or what could go wrong….” — Derek Jeter

Achieve Mental Sustainability.

Jordan Lawler has a “controlled aggression” and a “ride the waves” mentally that helps him achieve mental sustainability.

“Basketball is a little easier to be a star and go out there and kind of do your star-like things. But in baseball, it’s really up and down and just riding those waves. You can’t let the highs or lows get too big. So I think attacking everything with that mentality helps handle the controlled aggression.” — Jordan Lawler

On a more general level, sustainability means competing with an attitude of mental satisfaction that you like what you are doing, being jazzed that you can do anything amazing, and having prepared so you are relaxed as you compete.

“You’ve got to like what you’re doing. One of the reasons I can work so fervently in the off-season is because I like the process. I like getting myself in better shape and doing things that are going to make me a better player….that’s why you have to find something you love doing and then be willing to devote yourself to it. If you really love it, it will show in your effort. …You have to want to get better. I know I do.” — Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter’s hard work led to him being relaxed, which was a great environment for success to happen.

“It’s monotonous, but it’s important, too. Repetition breeds familiarity. Familiarity breeds comfort. Comfort breeds relaxation, and the best environment for achieving success is when you’re relaxed.” — Derek Jeter

My view is that balance is the way to build on physical preparedness and good fundamentals/technique. Two forces that need balance are a sustained & consistent Yin force and an active & aggressive Yang force. Balanced Yin and Yang are needed to sustain high performance and mental sustainability.