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Success Is Measured Between the Lines

Growing up, I often heard from my parents, teachers, and coaches, that I could be anything that I wanted to be, that success was within my grasp if I put my mind to it, worked and studied hard. “THINK BIG,” they said. I could be an accountant, lawyer, CEO, doctor, pilot, professional football player (my idea), __ (you fill in the blank).

Magazines, newspapers, radio and television screamed out and reinforced the idea that to be successful I had to own a big home, live in the best neighbourhood, drive a big car(s), eat at the best restaurants, join the best clubs, have season tickets to the theatre, travel to exotic climates.

Although I did not really think about it at the time, this philosophy, this idea that success was a destination that came with a box full of toys, trappings really, was hammered into my head as a young man and I bought it, “hook line and sinker.” So, of course when I did not become any one of those aforementioned professionals or acquire any of those trappings, I pretty much considered myself an underachiever, and to some extent, even a failure. Come to think about it, I bet I was in very good company with a whole lot of other so-called underachieving baby boomers. However, knowing that didn’t really seem to help. My self-esteem took a huge hit!

The Life of a Football Coach

Enter football, the great teacher.

Given my earlier education and life experiences, it was fitting that when I began my long journey as an amateur football coach in 1973, I had been taught and understood that my success as a coach would be measured by the number of games I won versus lost. If I was really good and won a championship, I would be considered truly successful by my football peers and the community at large. What was lost on me at the time was that the vast majority of coaches do not win championships – some even lose more games than they win. Does that mean they are failures? I never considered the question.

At the time, it didn’t help either, that inside the amateur football fraternity, success continued to be defined by wins. The only good information available had to do with the technical aspects of the game. So I looked to the pros and what did I get? “Vince.”

What Vince Had to Say

Vince Lombardi, the famous Head Football Coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967, is known among other things as a man you could always count on for a “quote.”

He caused quite a stir with one quotation that was attributed to him; “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” Although the quotation did not in fact originate with him, he was known to have said it on more than one occasion, in spite of his denials.

He claimed to have actually said, “Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.”

There has been many a coach, myself included, who modeled their coaching philosophies after Vince Lombardi’s inspirational quotations. Some still do!

Unfortunately, the aforementioned quote just served to reinforce what I had been taught and experienced up until that time in football: that winning was the only real definition of success.

The irony is that too many people have and continue to use the quotation in their personal lives, amateur sporting lives, and even in the workplace in a way that actually leads away from success.

When the Light Came On

For the first few years that I coached, I just didn’t get it. And although the end of those early seasons brought with them some level of success and satisfaction, I was always left with a nagging feeling – the thought that there was something missing from my coaching, something more, but what was it?

It took a few years, but when the light finally came on one dark and stormy winter night in the off-season, I realized that success in coaching had very little to do with me and how many football games I won. It had everything to do with the boys and our efforts as coaches to use football as a vehicle to grow young men. Success was about our contribution to the overall development and performance of the individual athletes we influenced, and the way we approached that responsibility.

It was about focusing our efforts to guide and support players in becoming the very best that they could be as individual players and contributing team members. And a part of that was to instill in them the kind of values and way of operating that would carry them well beyond their football playing days.

Of course, it made perfect sense! I kicked myself for not comprehending this simple but profound truth sooner; “Success is measured between the lines.” It is, in fact, defined by the sum total of all the little things we do, both spontaneous and strategic, along the way. I shook my head in disbelief for having bought into the societal norm that too often judges our success, even our worth, by our wins and losses.

Remarkably, it all fell into place.

What I learned on the football field during those early years, created a shift that dramatically influenced the rest of my life, and taught me to truly understand that life is really much more about the process of living. That it is a journey of discovery, a collection or series of life experiences that accumulate over time defining us. Here is something else I learned:

“Measuring ourselves against others has been an all too common practice between the generations and in society generally, and given way too much importance in defining what each of us believes we must do or be in order to be successful.”

For all of us, it really means getting down to a values question. I say this because I know that some in my audience may not agree with part or a lot of what I am saying. I think someone might ask, “What’s wrong with the big job, the toys and the winning?” Without contradicting myself, let me say that these things in and of themselves mean nothing really. Unless we keep them in perspective and balanced with the rest of what life has to offer.

It’s a Question of Values

And that’s it, isn’t it? Life has much to offer us and, depending upon what each of us sees as valuable, largely influences our motivation to behave in a certain manner.

Look around and you will find all kinds of examples of what I am saying. There are people who put all their energy into going for that one thing, going for the big prize at the expense of everything else. For them it equates as something more valuable than anything else at that moment in their lives.

Others value a more balanced approach to living their lives, no matter what the circumstances. That might include an emphasis on; family, friends, work-business, community, mankind, environment, material possessions, emotional-spiritual growth, with all of it framed by ethical behaviour ( integrity, responsibility, commitment, teamwork, service, excellence, etc.).

Success Defined

Before I get into a definition of success, I ask you to bear with me and allow me just a bit of self-indulgence. I think it’s appropriate to let the skeptics in the audience know how it all turned out, since my football coaching days are long behind me now. When my staff and I applied this philosophy to our work as football coaches – with its emphasis on the little things to help the boys become the best that they could be and, at the same time, never losing sight of the process and the journey – an unanticipated outcome of our actions turned out to be winning on the field. During a nine-year span, our teams appeared in nine championships, and won five of them. Our teams and I received numerous awards over those years, in 2010, I was inducted into the Football Manitoba Hall of Fame.

Certainly, the results we experienced strongly reinforce the philosophy that success is all about taking the time to cover the little things. And when added together, these little things produced the kind of effort on the part of the boys that carried them to numerous championships. Remember that the goal or standard of success was not measured by championships won, but rather the boys’ level of individual and collective performance on the field.

The definition of success that I like and, one that certainly applied during our coaching days, states that success should be measured as “the positive impact one’s life has on the lives of others” – not championships won which, in our case, turned out to be “symptomatic” of our efforts.

When you backdrop the definition of success with the more balanced approach mentioned and place an emphasis on; family, friends, work-business, community, mankind, environment, material possessions, emotional-spiritual growth, with all of it framed by ethical behaviour ( integrity, responsibility, commitment, teamwork, service, excellence, etc.), you get a template or road map to success. To be truly successful, each area needs to be properly nurtured and cared for. At the same time, you need to make every effort to keep them balanced.

Obviously not all of them will carry the same weight, so you must set priorities, without ignoring anyone area listed. Just try not to ignore any of them.

Now we know and understand that money and financial independence, power, recognition, and a feeling of pride in our accomplishments equate with success. These are the desires that drive many to what can be called material success, and which, often dominate their lives. And unfortunately, they are also society’s measurement of success.

But success is more than that. There are as many definitions of success as there are people on this planet. We all have our passion. If you are an athlete, your goal is to perform better than your competition. If you are a musician, your ambition may be to record a number-one hit. And if your passion is business, your goal may be to reach the very top of your industry.

Personal success comes in many different forms and your concept of being successful (your values) might not be the same as mine. Given that, if you want to be successful in your life, then the very first thing you should do is to take the time to decide exactly what that means to you. Never mind what it means to anyone else. What does it mean to you?

Be Successful!

JAMES LADD B.A., C.H.R.P., C.P.I.R. Life & Business Coach, author and speaker, who has without a doubt been down the “Road Less Traveled,” having survived and thrived after a double lung transplant in August of 2003. Jim comes to this place in his incredible life journey with a dynamic combination of work and life experience. Jim worked as an Organizational & Human Resource Development Specialist for over 35 years in the private, public & non-profit sectors and also managed a provincial government employee assistance program serving over 15,000 employees. He has authored and facilitated a wide variety of training programs covering such diverse topics as; managing organizational change, conflict resolution, performance management, managing and/or coping with stress, interviewing & counseling skills, supervisory & management skills. His most recent publication titled; “THE PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION GUIDE: Raising Awareness of Self to Slay the Dragon,” is used in conjunction with his personal coaching. In the community he became an award winning football coach over the course of 25 years (Coach of the Year 3M of Canada, Coach of the Year, Developmental Category, Coaches Assoc. of Manitoba). In 2010 Jim was inducted into the Football Manitoba Hall of Fame in the category of ‘coach.’

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