The school where I work has a pretty standard private school dress code: jacket, tie, khakis and nice shoes. During COVID times, we’ve loosened it up quite a bit in due to masks and other things that needed policing. It just didn’t make sense to keep a strict dress code at the moment. As we start to look forward toward the coming school year, there is some debate about “getting that horse back into the barn.” Is our traditional dress code representative of the modern business culture? Is the tradition worth keeping? These are important questions to ask because as a school, we are a teaching/learning institution. Is our dress code teaching anything? Are our students learning anything from it?
In one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, Neo is first introduced to the idea of his being trapped in a computer program. His clothes, hair and overall appearance is something that Morpheus calls “Residual self-image.” While I’m not going to try to convince you that you’re stuck in a virtual simulation (YET), there is a lot of power in the way that we see ourselves or fail to see ourselves. As a pretty standard jeans and t-shirt kind of person, I am sending a message out into the world and to myself. The world’s perception of me is beyond my control, I can influence it but cannot do much to change other than by changing myself.
Therein lies the problem or more accurately: the opportunity. The world is fickle. It changes its likes and dislikes regularly. Fifty years ago walking down the street with bell-bottom pants sent a message about you. Now it sends a totally different message to the world. Since the world is going to change the way that it feels about you based on arbitrary rules of fashion that are environmental, season and person specific; perhaps the best that anyone can do is send signals to themselves because at least those can be consistent and understood.
The opportunities within this space are infinite. Clothes, hair, accessories, facial expressions and so many other components can be added to your “dress code.” This does not have to take extra money, effort or time. It is a simple alignment between who you want to project into the world and the ingredients that you use. For example: I wear mismatched socks on purpose. Some people would consider this a faux pas but it has been a powerful self-signaling tool that I’ve used for years. I stole it from Seth Godin but the idea behind it is this. A company called Little Miss Matched sold millions (possibly billions) of dollars of socks by doing something that no one else would have considered. They sold socks in a pack of three and none of them matched. This unorthodox but brilliant strategy was able to make them stand out and succeed. Doing the standard thing would have probably led to mediocrity or failure. No I don’t wear the actual “Little Miss Matched” socks. I don’t have to. The only person who needs to understand is me.
Can you undermine your outward signaling through your self-signaling? Abso-fricking-lutely! So it is up to you to decide where and when you need to signal to others while signaling to yourself. Since you set up the rules in the internal world in which you live (or at least you should), it’s completely possible to send yourself signals while meeting all of the arbitrary requirements of the fickle outside world. A special pair of boxer shorts can act like Superman’s cape whenever you need it to. The message is yours to choose! “I am confident in who I am!” “My creativity is inexhaustible!” “I am capable of stepping up to the next level!” “I’m sexy and I know it!” Wear it wherever you go! Even if you’re not particularly wearing anything different, put in your face, walk and posture. The only one who is usually stopping you is you! So send the message to yourself that you’re going places!
It’s definitely an oversimplification but in essence there are two ways to play a game: playing to your strengths or stifling the strengths of your opponents. The beauty of this oversimplification is that it brings to light a few things. Stifling ones opponent takes the art out of the game and makes it a pragmatic results focused exercise. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. It is inherently a means to an end. However it does not inspire or capture the imagination.
I’ve written many times about the fact that sports are a metaphor for life. The question then becomes do we live with this same amount of pragmatism? How often? And why? What is a result that is worth subduing our natural talents? Perhaps I did oversimplify a bit too much because within a game it is possible to self-express and stifle. Eventually one becomes the dominant strategy though.
Make your life an inspired performance rather than stifled slog.
If I had been born about ten years later than I was, I’m quite sure that I would have been tested for and found as dyslexic. However due to my age and a few other factors, there was no diagnosis. It’s never been a major issue, numbers are my biggest problem. So it made perfect sense for me to start out as a math major in college. For the most part, I’ve just had to police myself throughout my academic career. Now I’m not sure if my recent typing issues are related or if my fingers have just gotten fumbled up. I’ve been having a lot more instances of typos where I only switch two letters in the middle of the word. From time to time, results turn into resluts! Despite the obvious error, I gave some thought to my error and its possible uses. My fear is that far too many people are going for resluts!
The thing about resluts is that anyone can get them. They are readily available with little effort. Like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the resources needed to make that result happen are available to most people. It’s nothing special but it is still something. If they are needed in order to build confidence, habit or a streak of some kind, then by all means! Go get those resluts! Just don’t celebrate too much.
Results are what should be desired and chased. They inject enthusiasm and motivation into our lives. Although they are within our reach, they are elusive, coy or possibly aloof. They act as if they are too good for us and if we’ve lowered our standards drastically, they might be right. However it’s more than likely that we are more than good enough. It might take some extra effort, a bit more primping or charm but there’s no reason to let that stop us. Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it!
So as you go through your day, recognize whether you’re chasing real results or not. Are the things that you’re after worth pursuing? If you’re only after them because they are easy, then it might be time to move on to better things. You deserve the top level prizes in this carnival game we call life. But first you need to realize that you do! Don’t settle for the participation trophy because you can do more than just show up!
One of my favorite places to eat in the entire world is called “The Sub Shack” in Hackettstown, NJ. As a kid, we would go there from time to time and as an adult I make it a point to go whenever visiting home. They had a barrel of pickles soaking in brine that were sold for one dollar a piece. As a child, I didn’t realize initially that pickles were cucumbers (or other vegetables). Traditionally it was done to prevent spoilage. In modern times, it seems to principally be done for taste. Once pickled, it is almost impossible to turn a pickle back into a cucumber. By soaking the cucumber in brine, that liquid permeates the entirety of the cucumber. Even if it is soaked in water for a long period of time, it can’t go back. Luckily humans are not pickles but we may be “pickled” to a certain extent.
This discussion of brining and pickles was brought about as I was thinking about my own mindset and habits. Much of who I am today is due to being immersed in a particular set of circumstances. My upbringing, education, friends, experiences, etc. form the brine that my mind has been soaking in for these forty-five years. Some components have been thrust upon me while others have been deliberately chosen. All of the “flavors” that I am can be changed on some level by “re-brining.” My American flavor would be affected to some degree by living in England for a decade. However it is almost impossible to completely “unpickle the cucumber.”
Just because you can’t start over, doesn’t mean that you need to continue on your present path. It is completely possible to change the you that people see everyday. However it takes more than an inspirational Instagram post or a week’s worth of discipline. You need to become immersed in the change that you want to create. People, location, media, schedules, etc. can all help to “brine” you in one way or another. The key is to figure out exactly what you want to taste like (did I take the analogy too far? That felt like a bit too far.) REGARDLESS the person that you are is who you will stay unless you immerse yourself in something different. You’ve already been pickled. Now it’s up to you to decide if you like the recipe that was used!
Six weeks…..That’s all she was. This was not part of the plan. Or the standard operating procedure. It was fear, anxiety and an entire host of emotions that coalesced into waves that could not be stopped but also could not be indulged. The fever had spiked for no apparent reason. And we, as new parents to a peanut of a little girl, took her to the hospital without delay. After a few attempts to lower her fever were unsuccessful, the doctors asked which one of us was going to stay with her. My wife had to leave. It was written on her face. I had to stay. Not because I wanted to and not for some macho reason that “I can handle anything.” I had to stay because my daughter would not be in a room of strangers as she had a spinal tap. My right hand clasped her little legs and feet. Under her head went my left palm. Gently but deliberately I folded her legs above her head, so the doctor could insert the needle into her back. Never before or since have I been so aware of my every motion and trying to subdue even my heartbeat as much as possible. The fever broke the next day and the spinal tap came back clear.
There are times when we get to choose to be a leader. Other times, leadership is thrust upon us. When we sign up for roles like coach, spouse, parent, teacher, etc., we tend to imagine the circumstances that we’ll face in terms of best case scenarios. Events that we not only can deal with, but that we want to. Life does not let the best case scenarios last for very long. At that point we must choose who we are going to be and the example that we set for those around us. It is our choices that define who we are.
One of my favorite comparisons to make is between Darth Vader and Teddy Roosevelt. They have something crucial in common. Both lost their mother and wife tragically. Roosevelt’s wife and mother actually died less than twenty-four hours apart. One chose to become the evil henchman to a diabolical tyrant. The other chose to become one of our greatest presidents.
Leadership is a choice that we make. Over and over again, we are confronted with circumstances. Our choices define us and the example that we set for others which is the strongest way to lead. Every single one of us is a leader, even if we are only leading ourselves.
Your life will have milestones! There is no doubt about that. However at only one point in your life will you reach any sense of complete finality, at your death. In my estimation, that is not a goal to move toward as quickly as possible. So therefore the thing that is left is PROCESS. Even the games, matches and contests, that we compete in are steps along the path to becoming. Becoming what? That is up to you.
If you put in the requisite effort, then you are becoming better, stronger, faster, smarter, leaner, calmer and the other er’s in your life don’t ever have to stop. They are always capable of being improved based on your potential. Reaching milestones is not a reason to stop, unless that is what you want. If your appetite is satiated, then by all means, take a bow, revel in your success but don’t believe that it is all you have in you. That is not something that you will ever reach. For some people that is daunting. The endlessness of your own capability can intimidate because comfort can be drawn from familiarity.
In my belief it is liberating to believe in endless potential because no matter what level you’re at there is room to move. You are not boxed in by a ceiling. Bowling at the professional level gives me no excitement because it only allows for a certain level of performance, beyond that you can’t do any better. Perfection or bust is not anything I’m interested in. The pursuit of something beyond what is now known is interesting. The you of right now is a rung of a ladder for tomorrow’s version to climb upon. Give yourself sturdy shoulders to stand on by believing in the process of every day!
In the 1980’s, one of my favorite shows was “The Dukes of Hazzard.” A show about two cousins and their jumping car. Despite the fact that the overall plot was mildly ridiculous, it was an enjoyable watch. One of the more memorable episodes dealt with Bo Duke having amnesia. The villain of the show, Boss Hogg, takes advantage of the situation and convinces Bo that he is Boss Hogg’s son. In the end, Bo’s cousins are able to save him from the trouble that Boss Hogg has conjured up for him. The crazy thing is that amnesia episodes were relatively common in the 80’s. I actually thought it would be a much bigger part of my life than it has been but it seems to be coming around again.
Although it is not full on amnesia, it is a close cousin (haha) “fanmnesia.” This is a complete loss of a fan’s memory regarding past performances of their team or individuals. It’s not exceedingly dangerous to the fan. However it seems to be contagious. Players also seem to be more likely to forget their own abilities. It may be transmitted through the internet and specifically social media. I’m obviously being ridiculous but so is the situation.
Athletes (even top level professionals) have poor performances, great performances and anything in between. A player who has been in a slump of form can rebound. Others who have been performing well can have an off game. They are all people who are variables within a larger equation. Teams win, lose or tie based on the combination of these individual variables into a collective. Each player has a floor and a ceiling. Their ability to access their personal ceiling consistently is often the difference between the players who “make it” and those who don’t. The key for the players is to remember and forget.
Players need to be able to gain confidence from success while learning from failure. One of John C. Maxwell’s books has the perfect title for this situation, “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.” Often that process is short-circuited by the ego. Maintaining objectivity is difficult for everyone. Fans can get away with having “fanmnesia” but players need to believe in themselves. They need to believe in their ability to reach the ceiling or even raise it. That belief can’t be a variable. It needs to be as constant as possible. As the manager and the fans forget their past successes, it’s their job to remember. Remember who they are and their value on the field. It’s a difficult equation but it’s made more difficult if a player get “fanmnesia.”
Another word for a fan is a supporter, more than anything that’s what those who aren’t playing need to be. It just makes more sense. These players are wearing our colors. We should want them to do well. We’re part of that equation that helps them to reach and break through their ceiling.
A round of applause, a pat on the back, a few well placed “‘at a girls” or “‘at a boys” are what many of us are looking for from our performance. We want someone who is willing to acknowledge the effort that we just put into that thing. Whether it is a piece of art, a business proposal or a well played game, recognition is something that people crave. It’s not a selfish thing, it is a biological desire that manifests itself in a variety of ways. We are hierarchical animals who survival used to depend heavily on tribal dynamics. Doing something worthy of positive attention from the tribe created such strong bonds between our actions and the approval of others that many are driven principally by praise.
Praise is not the only motivator in the world. People are motivated by all kinds of stimuli. The issue is not really what motivators are behind the actions of a person. It is the need for the reward to come at the right time. In our distraction prone society, a premature prize could lead to a decrease in motivation. The applause of the crowd, the bonus check or better yet that feeling of self-satisfaction cannot be awarded too soon because the whole result is the important thing.
It seems silly but people do it all the time. They come up with a plan for that goal and give up. A week of clean eating and the diet is over. The championship season is over after three wins in a row. Signing up for the gym is enough of a step, why would you go? Goals and objectives are not particularly the aim. The trophy may feel good in the moment but that instant fades over time. The feeling that endures much longer is the way that we feel about ourselves when it’s over. Tasks that we leave half done for no reason weigh on our souls because we believe that we’re capable of more. Despite that belief, the proof is in the pudding or the half-made pudding.
No one else needs to hear the applause but you need to give it to yourself when you’re done. And only when you’re done. That doesn’t mean that you can’t hear the occasional clap along the way but save the applause for the end. The most important thing is how you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself. If you left something on the table that could have been, you’ll know it. Make yourself proud!
Ten years ago I created a very simplistic documentary film that I called “Identity Crisis: Where does soccer fit in the United States?” The goal was two-fold: enter a film in the Kicking and Screening Film Festival and answer my own question about where soccer was at the time. The film itself is a “no budget” first attempt that lacks polish and movie making chops. Despite all of its shortcomings, it does one thing relatively well. It represents the fact that at the time, soccer had a form of an identity crisis. This post is going to focus on the men’s side of the game because the women have well established world dominance already and I am looking to flashback to past struggles then flash-forward to the men’s world dominance. That’s right! I said it!
The following perspective on the past is my own and is not intended to be a 100% historical record of soccer’s last few decades in the US. Soccer could have been listed as deceased in many ways during the 1980’s. After the failure of the NASL, soccer had very little relevance at the professional level. The indoor and other professional leagues had their pockets of influence but largely it was the youth that had the greatest impact on keeping soccer in the national consciousness (very slightly). During the 1990’s, qualification for and then hosting the World Cup brought the “kids” game to the attention of the nation. The spectacle of the event and our strong performance in the competition brought a certain amount of pride and hope to the sport. With the introduction of Major League Soccer, it would seem that soccer was back in the US. The league did have a perception problem at the beginning. It felt slightly contrived as teams like Metrostars had no history and their names/logos seemed like they were developed by an ad agency rather than soccer people. Regardless, we had a professional league. Then in 1998, the hope and optimism were dashed by a dead last finish in the France World Cup.
The turn of the century did not bring an immediate turn of fate. MLS had to contract down to 10 teams and there was talk that it might not survive. At the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT did surprisingly well. The shock win against Portugal was an amazing start and the controversial loss to Germany was a gut-wrenching finish. A resurgence in MLS saw the league add teams and soccer specific stadiums. The 2006 World Cup was another disappointment with the US finishing at the bottom of their group. New MLS rules brought notable names to the league from abroad. Domestic stars were also being developed in Bradenton and elsewhere such as Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. Expectations for these players and the sport overall was probably higher than either could withstand. As the decade finished, the USMNT confused its American fan base by beating Spain in the Confederations Cup in 2009. Then at the World Cup, they luckily advanced to the knockout round only to lose to Ghana.
My film “Identity Crisis” was documenting of where three groups of people thought that soccer were at the time. Sports talk radio hosts, professional players from abroad and an MLS executive were all asked for their thoughts on where soccer was and was going. The sports talk hosts generally regarded it as irrelevant in the sports landscape. Conversely, the international players were complimentary of the state of the sport at the moment. Dan Courtemanche, the MLS executive, was optimistic but reserved in his assessment of the state of soccer in the country. My personal conclusion was that soccer’s fate in the US was based largely on people like myself. Our desire to continue supporting, playing, coaching, etc. was a crucial component to where the sport would go. Although I used it as a catch title, “Identity Crisis” was truly what the general perception of soccer was at that moment. Depending on how someone evaluated the state of soccer at that moment, there could have been a variety of different opinions. Progressing because MLS was expanding. Stalled because the National Team hadn’t performed well in the World Cup. Irrelevant because it wasn’t a top 4 sport. Any one of these evaluations could have been right.
That’s where I’m going to stop the retrospective and go in another direction by describing how soccer has a BOLD future. In their amazing book, BOLD, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler focus on how to leverage technology to create massive change. While I don’t believe they had soccer in mind when they wrote the book, I’m going to shoehorn some of the concepts in here because I truly believe that soccer is boldly moving forward here in the US. The authors discuss the “6 D’s of Exponential Organizations.” While soccer is not one organization and measuring the relative success of a sport using any one metric is extremely difficult, I am going to make my argument and leave it up to you the reader to decide for yourself. After that we need to watch and wait.
Digitized – While the sport itself has not become digitized, the access and consumption of the sport has largely been placed in the pockets of fans around the world. The World’s most popular sport used to available on a very limited basis here in the US. Now it as pervasive as any other sport, if not more so! The internationality of soccer gives the opportunity for a fan to be engaged 12 months per year by multiple leagues. The World Cup, UEFA Cup, Champions League and several other tournaments also mean that there is another big event on the horizon. The capability to take it all in has been DIGITIZED.
Deceptive – Soccer has been growing in a variety of ways that have gone largely unnoticed by people outside the game. The increase in the professional foothold within many regions of the country is happening more rapidly than many would recognize. The “kids” game has grown up and the adults who used to play it are now watching in greater numbers than in the past. The NFL, NBA and MLB may still boast big numbers but the gap is closing.
Disruptive – Although I’m following the Diamandis and Kotler model, the disruptive nature of exponential technologies is not the same as the disruption that I’m talking about. Soccer is not directly disrupting the more traditional sports in an overt way. However as the legacy of those sports have their own disruptions such as major concussion concern, the opportunity to break new ground exists. Also the cultural stigma of soccer being a “lesser” sport is all but gone. Nothing attracts a crowd, like a crowd.
Demonetized – Depending on the angle of view, this could be the hurdle that soccer is in the process of clearing. Soccer has been made expensive for participants. So the demonetization of soccer will take some work. HOWEVER, the pandemic has given many kids time to practice as an individual. The game has moved from the field to the basement, garage or backyard. In addition to that maneuver, kids have a phone and a social media account. Sharing their individual skills doesn’t cost them anything extra. Therefore the game is permeating parts of life that it didn’t before, sans cost. As we catch up to the rest of the world in our professional club infrastructure, more high level players are going to be training for free at academies while the general population will not pay high prices for recreation. Too many mothers and fathers will have experience with the game to keep ratchet of high priced trainers going.
Dematerialized – Although the physical game is not going anywhere, the way that it is consumed and engaged with will. The viewing experience is going to continue to improve as more leagues and teams will find ways to make their content available. Also the virtual reality space is going to give players and fans a different experience of the beautiful game. That might be a video game type experience or panoramic simulcasts of professional games where viewers at home can have the VR experience of being at the game.
Democratized – Even though it is the last step in this progression, it is actually the major advantage that most quality “footballing” nations have had over us. The game is one of the people. Almost anyone can play it because it is everyone and not expensive. In the US this last piece will be more of a perception and cultural progression. People will begin to view the sport as truly American rather than something that we need to have an inferiority complex about. Soccer can belong to anyone that wants it. It’s not just for the tall, the strong, or fast. Nor is it only for the people who grew up playing it. It can truly be for anyone.
After that long explanation of where we’ve been and the implications of the 6 D’s on the game, my suggestion is that soccer is about to explode. An exponential growth curve is not something that I can truly quantify. However I believe that all of the ingredients have been accumulating over the past decade or so. Perhaps the only metric that would convince people would be winning a World Cup. My assertion is still that 2026 will be our year. However I think that it is more likely to come in wave of realization. When the conversation about who the best player in the world is like happens with Messi vs. Ronaldo now, that at least one of those players will be in MLS. This and other milestones may get overlooked as they pass by but eventually will be seen as significant.
I’m sure many will disagree with what I’ve written here and that’s great! It’s one of the amazing things about this sport. The subjective nature of much of the action allows for many interpretations. Mine just happens to be that the US is going to dominate world soccer/football in the not so distant future.
“Life moves pretty fast! If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it!” – Ferris Bueller
Points are definitely king of the table. There’s no denying that results are the thing that win championships and get promotions. However as the season progresses, it’s often possible to identify a “sleeper” team when their goal difference is greater than those around them in the table. Usually this is an indicator that the team has lost close games and blown out a few teams. It’s not as good as points in the pocket. BUT if a team doesn’t lose heart due to their present position, a promotion push could be around the corner.
Most of us are not particularly in the position that we want: socially, financially, mentally, emotionally, etc. Your present position is not predictive of the future. Although that’s easy to think because it feels accurate. You’ve been in this same spot for a while. The thing that you need to do is focus on your goal difference. When you lose, don’t let it be a blowout. If you win, make it a big win! What are you talking about?
The experiences of your life are not inherently positive or negative. We put that slant to the situation. So if each instance has no determined value, we get to add it. When you are evaluating the results that you are getting, don’t turn negative situations into catastrophes. Use language that will put it down as a smaller loss. We get disappointed, not devastated and this is an evaluation after the fact. Be professional as we lose. Shake hands and move on. Don’t say those negative things out-loud (Trevor Moawad).
When you do get a win, make it big! Even if it means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, turn it into winning the FA Cup (for a small club, cause the top clubs barely care). We tend to undervalue our accomplishments because they are ours. If we can do, then anyone can do it. BULLSHIT! Some people couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag! Give some credit but don’t sit back and relax. It’s onto the next contest. A big win in isolation is nothing. Form matters! So take that momentum into the next thing and believe that a string of positive results is on the horizon. It’s the only way to climb up the table!
Most likely you’re the only one who is keeping score in your life. Tip the table in your favor. Stack up some little wins and then go for that title that you’ve been hoping for! It’s within your reach. All it takes is time and persistence. That combination is almost completely undefeated.