style over substance

4 Essential Ways to Be a Person of Substance Over Style

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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 either. Analysts are always using terms like “a finesse team, a physical team, a dome team, an offensive team,” and so on.

But in order to win and be effective, I wanted our players to know what they were really dealing with—to look past the style and find the substance. I also wanted them to become people of substance instead of just people of style. We all should. Here’s how.

1. Know who you 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 wants us to 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.

Some definitions of manhood that young men embrace don’t give them a chance to succeed.

There are a lot of perceptions today about manhood and how to succeed in this world. I think we have to look deeper into ourselves, beyond the surface, and use resources like the Bible to help define what manhood truly is. Some definitions of manhood that young men embrace don’t give them a chance to succeed.

2. Reject distorted perceptions.

One of the most compelling but distorted perceptions is that we deserve respect when we have status. We actually all deserve respect. But when we embrace the distorted perception that says we earn it with our status, we tend to focus on what we do, how much we earn, what we look like, what we wear, and what we have. It becomes important to have a job that provides status and an income that allows us to buy the stuff that will add to that status. It’s important to dress a certain way and to go to certain schools.

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. This is just the sort of distorted perception to reject in order to be a person of substance.

3. Stop seeking status.

If we treat status like it’s one of the most important measures of a man’s masculinity, we choose style over substance, perception over reality. 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 football. They don’t feel like they have the status they once enjoyed, so it’s hard for them to feel significant in anything else they might do. Once the status they enjoyed on the football field evaporates, 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) are really into the kind of car they drive and the brand of clothes they wear. And those interests are fueled by the idea that we somehow derive status from style. Somewhere, we’ve lost sight of the concept that we’re supposed to respect others by appreciating who they are inside. Instead, we don’t really respect the man; we respect what he does or what he has.

4. Value whatever has 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.

Sound off: What would you say to a friend who pressures you to choose style over substance?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are three words you would use to describe a man?”