It’s amazing what you’ll learn in life if you stop and listen to others. I have always thought of myself as a reflective person that is able to separate my emotions from my actions. However, when my personal emotions are strained, but I am still in a position of leadership, it sometimes becomes difficult to fight the human nature to always react in the moment. My “Cool Cat” nature butts up against my instinct to always default to toughness and the “just do it” mentality.
I always look at life with the ‘next play’ mentality. No matter what you’re going through, don’t get caught up feeling bad about something that didn’t go your way because like in sports, life is always going to throw you a next play that you have to respond to. I get frustrated when people tell me how hard something is or that they don’t like what they have to do. I automatically default to the ‘next play’ mode. If it’s hard, then you should stop wasting time complaining and buckle down. If you don’t like what’s being asked of you, it won’t be the last time in life. If it is perpetual, it is on you to make a change. Just like in sports, nobody is going to stop and feel sorry for you. The next play is going to happen, and are you going to continue complaining and feeling sorry for yourself, or are you going to rise up and meet it head on? Like I have said to a number of my teams, “Are you going to sit around and take it, or are you going to respond? They’re not sitting over there feeling sorry for you. You signed up to play this game, so you can either quit and find something else to do, or you can stop feeling sorry for yourself and meet the challenge.”
Well, that mentality can be applied when it comes to sports and work. It is what separates the good teams from the great teams. It is what separates the good players from the great players. It is what separates the workers from the leaders. The good teams and players do just fine until adversity hits. However, when they reach a level where other teams are just as talented and the other kids work just as hard, the good players start looking for excuses or accept that the other team might be better than them. The great players see the bar and decide that they now have to raise their level of work and expectation for themselves. It’s why so many kids quit sports when they get to high school and college. In the workforce, leaders see problems and challenges as opportunities. Other workers see problems and challenges as reasons to seek other employment opportunities or blame others for their problems.
I have been in both roles. I have left and quit positions because I felt like the challenge was out of my control. When the hard work wasn’t being recognized or the expectations were not rational, I decided to move on to places where they were. I also left places because they were not pursuing excellence. It is hard for me to work someplace where average is acceptable. It is really easy for some people to look good because of the students or others they are surrounded by. It’s why I often come back to the quote above from my favorite book, “Toughness.” Hard work might seem like punishment, but it is required to be excellent.
However, recently I have been dealing with some things where toughness wasn’t going to fix a problem or make it better. Hard work wouldn’t resolve the issue or make it go away, but that is where the perspective of others comes in. My aunt, who recently defeated a cancer diagnosis, sent me a beautiful note on my birthday. She is a talented writer, and quite introspective like myself. She told me that her new word was, “pause.” These were the subsequent words she shared with me:
“If I’m under pressure, I’m going to pause for a few minutes and think of just TODAY – this one day – and what I can do with it. I believe that pausing at times, even for a few seconds, can be a major difference in how I react. I’m generally good at handling my emotions, but factors like added stress or a bad day, can change my ability to pause at any given time. But, if I work on pausing before I speak or act, I’ll create a habit of thinking first. Good habits are always key to any success I’ve ever had and I need to remember that!”
While I think that I am pretty good about doing this, her words and experience further resonated with me. I usually do a pretty good job of listening and thinking before I respond, but how often do I ‘pause?’ How often do I let my existing stress dictate a decision or a reaction without pausing? How often do I default to toughness and expect others around me to do the same, instead of pausing? I know I haven’t been as good in these areas as I would like to be recently. I have been defaulting to trying to tough things out and perpetuating that to others instead of pausing.
I am a flawed person and leader, everyone is. As a leader, I need to be tough when it is not easy. I need to be steadfast when others are uncertain. I need to be calm when others are emotional. I need to listen when others speak. I need to accept criticism when others voice concerns. However, the biggest thing I need to do as a leader, coach, and parent is pause and understand that I cannot control everything and being tough doesn’t make things go away. In fact, being tough often means you take on more than you’re capable of until you realize you’re at your breaking point. Lately, I have allowed personal and work stress to interfere with my ability to pause. I know I haven’t been myself, but I didn’t have anyone that could give me the words and advice I needed, until a few weeks ago when I received the well needed reminder in a birthday email.
What wonderful advice I was given by my aunt. We should all be so blessed to have someone like this in our lives that is not afraid to share such meaningful words with us. Can you imagine if we all were able to follow this philosophy with fidelity:
God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason – listen more & speak less!
“So to sum it all up, wisdom means doing NOW what I’ll be happy with later on. Be determined to discipline myself to do what’s right – no matter how I feel, what I think or what everybody else is doing. You know, taking a step back and realizing how lucky I am. My daily mental “To Do” list:
* Count my blessings
* Practice kindness
* Let go of what I can’t control (that’s a hard one)
* Listen to my heart
* Be productive, yet calm
* Just breathe
Such wonderful wisdom and words from a beautiful woman. These words and advice arrived at a time in my life when I really needed them personally. Professionally, I have always tried to model this; however, sometimes my toughness gets in the way. Thanks to this great reminder, I will continue to make sure I ‘pause’ and really reflect on my blessings before dwelling on my stressors and triggers. I need to remember that when people come to me with complaints or hardships, it is because they see me as a person they can trust to resolve them, not necessarily as the source of the problem. I think if we all did that, this world would be a much more beautiful place.
I always pause and take in a great sunset or an inspirational moment at work. Yet, I don’t always pause to give thanks for the things I take for granted; we rarely do. The reason we take them for granted is because we have never to had step back and realize how lucky you are in the first place. Do we pause and appreciate good health, or do we wait until something goes wrong to look back and think how good we had it? Do we pause after we’ve had a good day at work, or do we only dwell on the things and days that cause us stress? Do we pause while we’re enjoying an experience with friends and family, or do we only lament the times where finances or commitments keep us from doing something we want? Do we pause and enjoy when others around us are smiling and content, or do we only react when called upon in difficult times?
Part of being a leader, coach, and parent means that my decisions are always criticized and leave others displeased at times, but I promise it will never be for lack of thought on my part. I do in fact pause to take in the good moments at my job and with my family, because I am learning to never take them for granted. I am grateful for the advise and reminder to pause from my wise aunt. Hopefully this message resonates with you in the same way.