Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blocking Sleds & a Hard Head

It has been a good while since I’ve written an original blog, so I think I will begin this one with a little story?

When I was in junior high school, I tried out for tight-end on the football team. Now it might be important to acknowledge that any year that I played football, whether before or after that time, was done so under duress. I was not interested in the game, per se; I was only interested in appeasing my two fathers, both of whom, to this day, believe that football is God’s sport. I, on the other hand, harbored a far less favorable opinion. Honestly, I could have cared less about it.

We had two-a-day practices in the weeks before the classes started, and on one particularly hot afternoon in August, Coach Coleman took a group of us players to the backfield of the campus. There, he introduced us to the blocking sled, an intimidating piece of equipment on which two torso-shaped, high-density foam pads attached to the metal pedestals of a rugged chassis. The goal for us, Coach Coleman explained, was to learn to use our mass to power through the oncoming force of the man on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. He said, “When you hit this pad, you are going to keep your head up!” I remember those words well. Unfortunately, while I heard them, I really was not listening to them.

When it came to my turn, I was standing next to Clay Chauvin—a good guy, an ambitious guy, and much better football player. We both got down into a three-point stance, and the coach, standing on the chassis of the sled, shouted a snap count. At the second “hike”, Clay and I lunged forward. Having not listened, I went in helmet-first, but Clay plowed his arms and chest into the other pad. The laws of physics took over at that point. Because Clay applied more force to one side of the sled, when it moved, it did not do so evenly; it spun to the left, and I lost my footing quickly, falling between the pads and slamming my helmet into the sled’s metal crossbar. I did not get hurt, luckily enough, but that split second made for a lasting memory.
After practice, Coach Coleman took me aside. He studied the wide scratch on my helmet without a word for several moments, but when he returned the helmet to me, he had a lot to say. “Your problem is you are too smart. You think you don’t have to listen to anybody, but if you don’t want to get hurt, you better start.” Coach Coleman insisted, even though his tone was benign, “You don’t know everything already.” And shaking his head with disappointment, he walked away from me. If I am not mistaken, in fact, he actually never spoke to me again.

That stupid moment happened in the late 80’s, and I had not thought seriously about it in many years. Back then, I now concede, I was a dumb and prideful kid. I felt like I could do anything that I wanted, any way that I wanted, and for that, there would have been few, if any, real consequences. On the other hand, if I did not want to do something, I found every way to express my disinterest in it. Consequently, at the time, I did not even give much credence to the coach’s advice. But today, being a different man, I kind of wish that I had not just heard Coach Coleman’s last words to me, but that I had really understood what he was trying to tell me. It probably would have saved me a lot of trouble on the football field, back then, and later in life, as well.

                                                                 #             #             #             #

“Hey…I’m proud of you.”

That was how an exchange of text messages began between me and a colleague two nights ago. At first, I smiled, because it is always humbling to hear an affirmation, now and then, that I am doing something right, but then, I sat back for a moment, realizing that I was unsure of what this person was talking about. And so, I asked. As it turned out, the text message was prompted by my response to a long email that he sent me several days before that. My colleague went on to write the following: “[For] being you and being willing and open to options. Thought you should hear it.”

Without going into too much detail, several days ago, the colleague took serious exception to how I was handling a situation in my little sphere of influence. Though the matter did not affect or involve him, and though he knew his unsolicited opinion really should not have carried any significant influence, he penned a rather long missive to me, wherein he took great pains to point out how wrong I was and, at the same time, to suggest a different approach. Had it not been for that email—well, let’s just say that this exchange of text messages and this subsequent blog post, along with a more improved handling of the matter in question, would not have happened.

It is no secret to most people who know me well enough that I can be painfully stubborn person, particularly when I assume that I am right about something, or particularly when I have it in my mind to do a thing my own way. In fact, I can remember that my mom would always have to tell me that “[a] hard head will make for a hard fall on a soft ass.” Looking back, it seems funny just how those words turned out to be so right, and they run parallel to the ominous warning that the coach gave me.  Unfortunately, as I got older, I did not heed the wisdom being imparted on me by those people. To be sure, I did not turn out too badly, I must confess. After all, I am at a prime moment in my life, and I have done some awesome things that—well, to be honest—even leave me, as the doer, pretty impressed. But I cannot help but to wonder, today, if the path to all of these good things would have been smoother, had I just listened once in a while. Though it is not a bad one, for example, would I have a better relationship with my Creator? Would I have seen some business opportunities a lot sooner, and acted on them with a clearer mind? Could I have prevented damage to some friendships and relationships? Could have avoided some of life’s other blocking sleds, or at least have been better prepared to meet them? And even better than any of that, should I have made some choices that would have changed my life a lot sooner rather than later?

Of course, I will never know those answers to those questions, but I guess there really is no better time than the present to start contemplating and doing the right thing.

If I am sounding unusually contrite, it’s because I am, honestly…I guess if you are proven wrong in your handling of one thing, then you are poised to study your handling of almost everything. Not to determine if you are wrong about everything else—but it is definitely to make sure that you are still right, as well as to devise ways to do things that will ensure you remain right in the future.

So have I learned anything for this moment of introspection? Actually, I have. For starters, I am a bit of control freak. That is unsurprising, I know, but that is probably the single, greatest reason for my stubborn nature. I want things my way, and I usually believe that most others are genuinely incapable of looking out for my interests.  The other big problem is this penchant for dictating outcomes. Eight years of being the guy who defined results for businesses, and who structured the roadmaps to get to those results, has made me a little bit jaded. I have largely operate under the assumption that I could easily do the same things in so many other facets of my life, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships, where I’ve admittedly given little regard to other people’s feelings or expectations. Consequently, all of that has culminated into a stubborn attitude that sets an expectation that Gary should always get everything his way…Yeah, even I will admit that that’s probably not a good attitude.

For me, life has been pretty good—no, pretty blessed. I have built a good business and a solid reputation as “one of the smartest guys in the room”. I have been blessed with the ability to written articles and books, the talent to build businesses and change lives, the gift to teach and speak before hordes of strangers, the opportunities to meet some of the most interesting and notable people of our times, and the luxury to travel to very cool places. But I have had to learn a few things along the way. Chief among them is the fact that none of this comes easily. It has taken a lot of work to build this life, and I fully believe that my Creator has shown me favor, even in times when I probably was far from worthy of it. What’s more, I have had to learn—and, yes, I am still trying to learn—that humility has a place, because I don’t know everything, and that the arrogant and prideful tendencies of my hard-headedness have certainly brought me into the path of some of life’s bigger blocking sleds. Fortunately, though, in every instance, I was wearing my helmet.
Being smart, I am beginning to accept, does not mean you know everything. To assume otherwise could be problematic, and I have proven that a few times. As Coach Coleman told me, if you don't want to get hurt, you have to admit that you do have limits, and you have to learn to listen to other people who know better than you. This really isn't a hard concept to grasp, but we will just say that it has not been my default mindset. Consequently, I am going to resolve to stick to the things that I know how to do well, and defer to the guidance and support of others in area that I do. That proclamation should please a few folks, particularly my texting colleague, and it would have probably pleased my old coach. Now the herculean part for me will actually be living up to it.

Popular Posts

The Invisible Hand: Management, Economics and Strategy for the Thinking Person (Audio only)