I used to talk to my teams regularly about perception versus reality. Valuing style over substance happens in football a lot, just as it does in life. Certain players are perceived by fans and the media as different people than the ones their families and friends know. Certain teams are looked at in ways that may not be accurate. Analysts are always using terms like “a finesse team, a physical team, a dome team, an offensive team,” and so on.
But to win and be effective, I wanted our players to know what they were really dealing with, so we tried to dig beyond the perception and look at the reality. Perceptions are built by a lot of things: reputations, media portrayals, sometimes even past performance. Uncovering reality sometimes requires a little work. This is how to live a life of substance over style.
1. Know Who You Really Are
The first step in developing a good game plan is to determine who we really are-or should be-beyond the perceptions of the world and beyond the lure of who society says we should be. It’s important to know exactly who you are, both individually and as a team. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your opponent. That’s also a good first step in developing a solid game plan for becoming an uncommon man.
There are a lot of perceptions today about manhood, masculinity, and how to succeed in this world. I think we have to look deeper into things and use resources like the Bible to help define what manhood truly is. Some of the definitions that our young men are living by today don’t give them a chance to succeed.
2. Move Away From Distorted Perceptions
One of the most compelling and distorted perceptions is that respect comes from status. We tend to focus on what we do, how much we earn, what we look like, what we wear, and what we have. Therefore, it becomes important to us to have a job that will provide the type of status we want, as well as enough income to be able to buy the stuff that will add to that status. It’s important to dress a certain way and to go to certain schools. The media equates all these things with a certain level of respect. We see it in popular culture-played up in magazines, television shows, and movies. Such a constant onslaught perpetuates the perception that respect comes from status.
And then, all too often, we begin to view and evaluate other people that way as well. If they don’t have certain types of jobs, if they don’t dress a certain way, if they don’t have money or the material things that we equate with a certain level of status, we decide that they probably aren’t successful and don’t have significance, and therefore we don’t respect them.
3. Status Doesn’t Make A Man
With this mindset, status becomes one of the most important measures of a man’s masculinity. It’s style over substance, perception over reality-everywhere you look. Success, or at least the appearance of success, becomes more important than anything else. And we allow our feelings of personal significance and worth to be shaped by it. I think that’s why so many guys have trouble when they leave the game of football. They don’t feel they have the status they once enjoyed, so it’s hard for them to find significance in anything else they might do. Once the status they enjoyed on the football field has evaporated, they feel worthless. Of course, this quest for significance plagues men in all walks of life, not just in football.
Many young men (and even some older men) are really into the kind of car they drive and the brand of clothes they wear. Again, it’s the idea that we somehow derive status from these things, with style being the key. Somewhere we’ve lost the concept that respect comes from appreciating who a person is inside and what he is truly all about. We don’t respect the man; we respect what he does or what he has.
4. Value The Things That Have Real Worth
The real danger here is that choosing style over substance keeps us from valuing those things that truly do have worth. Being a good parent, being a loyal and committed spouse, modeling proper behavior for others, mentoring the less fortunate-these things may not give us status in today’s world, but they are important to God.
It was refreshing for me to see a guy like Franco Harris ride his bicycle to work when I played with the Steelers. Or to watch so many of our guys who volunteered at the local high schools as tutors or assistant coaches. These guys aren’t concerned about image, but instead, focus on significance and making a difference.
Substance or style-the choice is clear if we want to live the significant lives we were meant to live.