“How people play the game shows something of their character. How they lose shows all of it.”
This quote reminds me of one of my most resonant theories about reaching our potential: American football is THE perfect metaphor for a successful career. Football? Not chess or something more sophisticated like Polo? Nope…..football; a game where fat, sweaty men and steroid-injected neanderthals beat the stuffiing out of each other for 60 minutes, then shower together afterwards. That’s the perfect metaphor for your career? Yes……well, on a deeper level it is. Allow me to elaborate:
1) Football, like your career, is about conquering opposing forces. In football, you have an opportunity to “take the ball and run with it” —but there isn’t always an open field in front of you. There is however, an opponent’s defense that is trying to slam you to the ground and flatten you like a pancake. Success in life and in your career is about how well you can outrun and outsmart the defense. How well can you maneuver around your opposition? How well can you avoid their grasps and attempts to bring you down?
In your place of employment, this “defense” that is against you might come in the form of a jealous co-worker, or an angry boss. As in football, you have to study the opposing defense, know who they are, know their strengths and weaknesses—avoiding the former and attacking the latter. That’s how you beat opposition to your attempts to move forward. As if running from people who want to flatten you wasn’t enough, the other major opposing factor in football and in your career is time. In both, the clock keeps ticking– and if you don’t manage the time you have efficiently and effectively, you will lose in both situations. In football, you’re given time to think about what you need to do before each play, you’re given time to rest at the half-way point and you’re given only 60 minutes to attain your ultimate objective—to win. The same is true with your career, you only have so much time to earn a degree, find a satisfying career, climb the ladder and —-win. COACH’S QUESTION #1: “Have you studied your opposition? Do you have the drive to beat them and the clock?”
2) Football, like your career, is won by those who have a plan. In order to outwit and outsmart the opposition that is trying to keep you from reaching your goals, you MUST have a game plan. In football, your game plan is a 1,000 page binder full of “if/then” scenarios, covering every conceivable situation. If you are faced with situation X, then you will respond with plan Y. If you are faced with situation B1, then you will respond with plan C8. It is all mapped out. Why? First, you can’t win a football game by just “winging it”–as mentioned, you need to study your opposing forces strengths, and avoid them; study their weaknesses, and attack them. In other words, if you fail to plan, you might as well plan to fail. Also, planning gives you confidence and a sense of security—you need both to win. COACH’S QUESTION #2: “Is your game plan for your career all mapped out? What will you do if you’re let go tomorrow? How will you earn a promotion within the next 18 months?”
3) Football, like your career, is endured by those who are sound of mind and body. In a 60 minute football game, the strong survive and the meek cannot thrive. Strength means having endurance—being able to run away from threats, being able to smash into enemies head on, being able to stand up to opposers and push them away from you, being able to flatten them like a pancake when needed, and having the strength to get up and try again when they flatten you like a pancake. In order to take all of this abuse, and in order to dish it out yourself, you not only need to be in top physical condition, you need to be mentally tough too.
Football, and successful careers, are not for cry babies. Football, and successful careers, are not for lazy couch potatoes. Condition yourself by running and lifting weights after work—the endorphins will improve your mood, your healthy physique will give you an elevated self-concept and you’ll have the endurance to wake up early and work late—giving you an edge on your lazy and flabby competition that lives off of potato chips and Snickers bars. Toughen-up your mental attitude, learn how to take insults, grow a thicker skin so every little piece of gossip and “smack-talking” doesn’t bother you. And learn how to play “mind games” with your opposition. Most battles in football and your career are won before the fight on the field even begins, and psychological toughness is where it all starts. COACH’S QUESTION #3: “Are you tough enough to win? And too legit to quit?”
4) Football, like your career, is most successful with the guidance of a knowledgeable coach. We all need a high-powered, knowledgeable coach to lead us to victory. There are hundreds of examples of football teams with great players that were lead by a poor coach, and the end result was that great assemblage of players wound up being a bunch of losers. Why? Because a great coach can mentally prepare a team for victory by giving them confidence, by making sure they are picked up when they are down and knocked down to reality when their heads get too big. A great coach knows how to develop a winning game plan, and is prepared for every negative scenario with a winning counter strategy. In football, the most astute players want to be lead by a great coach—they change teams just so they can live and learn under the guidance of “The Master.” COACH’S QUESTION #4: “Are you studying and working under the guidance of a Masterful Coach?”
5) Football, like your career, is mastered with the help of others. There’s no “I” in TEAM, but there is “ME” in TEAM. Teamwork begins and ends with ME–so are you willing to be a team member? Are you willing to cooperate and to contribute? If ME doesn’t want to contribute and cooperate, then ME won’t be a part of this TEAM, and ME won’t win. A great football team has 11 players on offense, 11 on defense and 11 on special teams (kick-offs and punts and field goals/extra points). Each person is a specialist and contributes to the TEAM and to the sub-team’s objectives. The the business world, a defensive sub-team holds the opponents at bay and keeps them from stealing customers or their advertising ideas. The offensive sub-team plans the new advertising campaign and works on taking over 50% of the market share with their great ideas. And each person on those sub-teams is working for the benefit of the company at large—they aren’t in it for personal glory, and they aren’t in it for individual praise. They don’t try to work their job and take over the jobs of the other specialists— just like the quarterback would never try to be the defense’s star linebacker. COACH’S QUESTION #5: “What’s your contribution to the team?”
6) Football, like your career, is managed by those who live by the rules. Football has a lot of rules, regulations and guidelines. How you reach your goals, how you manage your temper, where you are allowed to run and roam, when and how you move around, and even the way you dress is all regulated. Break a rule, and you’re penalized….just like the workplace. Conduct yourself professionally, with integrity and dignity and you won’t be penalized.. Penalties set you farther away from your goals, but not breaking the rules allows you to stay in the game. Get out of hand and become a disruption to the game or the team, and you might find yourself looking for a new job. COACH’S QUESTION #6: “Do you live by the rules?”
7) Football, like your career, is about emotional versatility. Competition, contrary to conventional wisdom, is about sportsmanship. It’s about respect. Football, like your career, is about driving your competition into the ground, to the point where they cannot get back up and compete with you any longer. It’s about physical and psychological advantages. But once the competition is over, the victors must be respectful of the vanquished. The victors must give a helpful hand and assist the vanquished to their collective feet. The victors must conduct themselves as winners should, with dignity. And, in football, as in your career, winning is never a guarantee—in fact, losing will most likely happen more often, and that is why knowing how to lose with dignity is more important than winning with class. COACH’S QUESTION #7: “Are you tough enough to compete to win, respecful enough to win with dignity and secure enough to lose with grace?”
And now, the Post Game Summary
The bottom line, in case you missed it, is this: All 7 of my points add up to character. If you can understand and master those 7 points (which by no coincidence is what you earn in football after each touchdown and extra point), then you’ll certainly know how to win, but more importantly you’ll know how to handle losing. Because in football, as in your successful career, character is king.