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You are what they say you are

January 26, 2011

Bill Parcells, NFL coaching legend, once said “you are what your record says you are”. It was his way of reminding his players, and others, it didn’t matter what you thought your record should be or could be, it only mattered what it was. If you had a losing record, you had a losing record. Sure, you can find excuses all day long if you look for them hard enough. Too many injuries. A bad call here and there. The weather did us in! We lost on a fluky play. They got lucky! Yeah, and they still won and you still lost. You are what your record says you are.

This was a lesson I almost learned too late. For large portions of my life, going back as long as I could remember, I was told I needed to listen more effectively, to partner with others better, to be more patient, to be less opinionated and to be more open to feedback. I can remember my mother telling me in my teen years to get rid of the chip I had on my shoulder. I wasn’t listening then. I wasn’t listening for a long time. It was too easy to believe it was always someone else’s problem. People were stupid. Or they acted inappropriately. They were the ones who needed to change. They were too soft. They were too immature. They were unprofessional. I was the one working hard to add value. I was the one who could see the problems we needed to fix. I, I, I ….

Yeah. There was a lot of “I” in that, except for the “I” that mattered. As in “I can change” or “I need to change” or “I’m to blame”. I was stupid. I was lazy. I was arrogant. How’s that for an “I” statement?

I did have a lot of value to add and some of the others I worked with didn’t always have the right stuff. They were naysayers. They were ladder climbers. They were self-preservationists. They were egotistical. But so was I. By pointing the finger at others I was no better than any of them. By blaming everyone but the one guy that mattered I couldn’t ever make the changes that needed to happen. That’s because the first change I had to make was in me. And that couldn’t happen until I accepted I was what my record says I was.

What was my record? I was a hard working guy who could get things done but too often at the expense of others. I was destructive as much as I was constructive. I would eagerly chew into a project, without little care some of the people became chewed up along the way. I’d tackle initiatives with fervour and if that meant someone was tackled along the way, so be it. I was right. They were wrong. I was all too willing to lead the charge, even if it meant a few casualties along the way. That was my record. A go-getter who would get you if you got in the way. The nicest thing people said about me? He’s “passionate”. Here’s a hint. If you ever hear you are “passionate”, it means you are an angry, ornery and excitable little prick. That’s what it means.

I saw none of that. What I saw was “go-getter”. I saw “leader”. I saw “superstar”. It frustrated me to hear otherwise and I reacted badly to it. I decided everyone else was to blame. I set out to prove my case. That only served to create even more destructive behaviours. It wasn’t until my coach asked me to consider what would happen if I just assumed I could change that I really started to pay attention to my record. What if they were right and I was wrong? Would I do anything differently? What changes would I make? Who would I reach out to?

The process started by accepting I was what they said I was, or I was what my record says I was. I was a 8 and 8 team, always full of promise but always just shy of fulfilling it. The process of change began by identifying what I wanted my record to be. I then systematically put in processes to ensure I achieved that record. It was maddeningly frustrating at first as I assumed in every interaction I was at fault or more kindly, I could make change. There were some heavy and dark moments, but with each one my coach would gently ask me “but if you could change, what would that change be”. I never failed to find something I could improve. And then bit by bit, I rebuilt my record. I’m still building it. In my lowest moments I am still impatient. I can still push too hard. I am still prone to lash out. But my record is improving. I’m starting to make the playoffs and soon I will win championships. Because it’s no longer about me. It’s all about them. I am better at building bridges and not tearing them down. I am better at seeing the big picture. I am better at helping others win. I am better at partnering. I am better. And I will continue to get better. That’s my new record.

I still hear I am passionate from time to time, but far less than I used to. I’m now hearing I have “energy” and I like that word a whole lot more. A couple of years back I described myself as lightening. Powerful, energetic, but destructive. Getting that down to powerful and energetic would be a great thing. I’m close. I know I will get there. My record says I will.


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