“Insist upon yourself. Be original.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I never once heard Chuck Noll say that his value as a person was lessened because we were losing games. When he retired from football, he didn’t lose his identity—because his job didn’t define who he was.
In our society, this struggle between being and doing starts early and is often innocently encouraged. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up, which really means what they want to do. If they love animals, we’re not surprised when they tell us they want to be veterinarians.
Some children aspire to be bankers, or professional athletes, or the next American Idol, or an Olympic gold-medal winner. Maybe they want to make lots of money, or live in a big house, or have more cars than they can drive at one time. Great dreams—but they are all related to doing, not being. Those dreams tell us nothing about who our children are, or want to be, inside—what their values and priorities are—those things that will guide them through all of the things they will do.
I believe we all struggle with this, but it seems to me that it may even be a greater challenge for men. That may simply be because I am a man and have struggled with this trap as much as any. That’s my disclaimer.
Men feel pressured to tie their personal value to their career. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Yet we rarely embrace these inner qualities because they don’t seem to fit within the world of competitive sports or business. Too often, we believe that a man’s value is determined solely by his achievements and measured against the standards of a world that pays homage to winning.
Unfortunately, many of our players feel this pressure as well—deriving their value from what they do and what they accomplish. They confuse what they do for a living with who they really are inside. Once they’re done with football, they aren’t sure who they are. For better or worse, they have the rest of their lives to figure it out.
Sadly, for better or worse doesn’t always apply to their marriages. A staggering number end in divorce. My guess is that many of the players don’t have that clear sense of self when they’re done playing football, compounded by the fact that their wives may have fallen in love with their husband’s high profile role and lifestyle. Whatever the case, their careers have come to define them, and when they are no longer involved in football, they simply don’t know who they are deep down inside.
A negative job review, or worse yet, getting fired, can be devastating. I’ve been there. Though it is understandably traumatic, it doesn’t have to be defining. I hope you’ll never go through it, but the odds are that you will.
If you do, take a step back and remember that you’re not the first person to experience this. Your career is not you. It should not, and does not, define who you are as a person.
Every day in my line of work, I receive performance evaluations, often by people completely unqualified to give them. Though I must admit that I don’t listen to much talk radio, I decided long ago that I would analyze the criticisms from my superiors, players, assistant coaches, and even sportswriters for things that might be helpful. Trying to constantly improve means being open to learning throughout your life.
I also realize that I can’t control what is said, and I will not let harsh criticism affect my sense of who I am. People are free to criticize all they like (sometimes they seem to like it too much, especially when I had done something questionable in a loss), but I don’t let it negatively impact me. I know that I was created by God with all of my strengths and limitations. Somebody pointing out my limitations, real or otherwise, doesn’t change my strengths or the truth that I am and will always remain a child of God.
Being versus doing—distinguishing between them will make all the difference in the lives we live.