May 20, 2019

Starting a Streak

Filed under: Leadership,Life,Significance,Uncategorized — Nathan @ 5:51 am
Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Starting a Streak

A good friend just broke a long sobriety streak, one that was just shy of twenty years. To his credit, he immediately pushed through the emotion of it and owned up to the lapse, but I suspect he was crushed, breaking a streak that long. Feeling that he’d let down those who rely on and support him. Knowing he’d damaged the trust he’d built up.

Let’s face it – we love a good streak. We love numbers. The late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, a former professor of mine (for a class called Thinking About Thinking, one of my favorites of law school), wrote Questioning the Millennium, a little book that among other things delves into our obsession with numbers. Round numbers, big numbers…and streaks.

But rather than our focusing on the streak, and that it’s broken, I think the far better view is to look forward, to recognize that my friend now has the chance to start a new one. The reality is that the length of time isn’t really what matters. That’s all nice and well and good, but what really matters is this moment. Our past has shaped us, and maybe we’re living with the consequences. But the only thing we can control is right here, right now.

Jesus told the story of an employer hiring workers for a day’s work in the vineyard (Matthew chapter 20). The employer hired some workers in the morning, then another group during the day, and then finally another group was hired just before quitting time. The employer promised each the same pay, and everyone was fine with their deal until those who’d worked the full day found out about the latter groups and felt cheated. When they complained, the employer basically told them, Don’t worry about anybody else. I’m paying you what I promised.

I’ve always heard this in the context of salvation – that it doesn’t matter when we accept Christ, as long as we do at some point. The takeaway is getting there, whatever your age.

But I’m also struck that Jesus doesn’t bother asking what the late hires were doing all day. Maybe it was productive and worthwhile. Maybe not. All the story mentions is that eventually they went into the field for the harvest.

Similarly, Jesus turns the focus of the woman at the well to not sin any more. He didn’t dump on her with her past. Paul reminds us to forget what is behind. Wait! No guilt? No angst? Just…forget it?!

My point is this: tomorrow morning, you may be dragging not only yourself but also a bunch of baggage out of bed and into your day. It’s easy to do. Our actions, words, decisions, they have consequences. Regret is natural. Some of us carry guilt with pride.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Free yourself from what is behind. Look forward to what is ahead.

Start a new streak.

December 6, 2018

Playing Well

“I would rather play well and lose than play poorly and win.”

– Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, 4-time Super Bowl champion

“There’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

– Just about every other coach

I was pondering the other day – again – what do you do when nothing seems to be going your way? Or when you’re completely outmatched before you take the field?

The current basketball team at one of my alma maters, Duke, is ranked in the top five and seems pretty solid. They opened the season by hammering then-number-one Kentucky and has played well in not only their wins but also their single loss.

On the flip side, the Stetson Hatters (what a great mascot) traveled to Durham last week with a 1-7 record, having lost seven straight. One ranking put them at 348th out of 353 college basketball teams.

Hardly a fair fight.

So I was pondering, what are you thinking if you’re Stetson? Sure, you want to win the game. You put your best plan in place and look to win the game, as Herm Edwards said. I never took the court, gridiron or diamond unless I thought I was going to win, although looking back, sometimes it was more delusion than confidence.

Winning is the point of keeping score. We never lost sight of that when I played college sports, or when I worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

But as you may have guessed, despite good intentions Stetson trailed 59-25 at half (including a 48-16 deficit at one point) on it’s way to losing by 64 points. Kind of had their hats handed to them, if you will.

Sounds a bit like a day I had last week.

So is there really no such thing as a moral victory? Is winning really the only thing?

I don’t think so.

Mike Young, the successful basketball coach at Wofford College, has an approach similar to Tony Dungy’s. Mike told me this fall that he doesn’t point the team toward particular fixed goals, but rather a standard based on several inquiries: Are we playing as well as we can? Are we growing and improving as individuals? As a team?

And finally, Did our performance this season demonstrate that we’d maximized our capabilities?

Sounds very similar to Tony Dungy. Tony measured his Colts teams not against other records in the league or even other Colts teams, but what were they capable of. His Super Bowl team was not nearly as talented as a couple of others that he had, but it maximized its potential by season’s end.

However, winning that championship wasn’t the measuring stick. Similar to that Super Bowl team, he had one team that exited in the first round of the playoffs that he felt was one of his most successful, since on paper it shouldn’t have been in the playoffs at all. It had maximized its potential.

We need to remember that. Every sales call won’t result in a sale. Every book won’t hit number one. (Unfortunately.) We won’t win every game.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re failures. Are we learning and growing? Better today than yesterday? That sales call may pay off later, or in some unexpected way. That book may deeply impact a few people.

Those are the measuring sticks we should be using.

Sure, we play to win the game. But as you do, remember that playing well and losing isn’t all bad, either.