My youngest son had a busy weekend of hockey these past few days, on the ice four times in three days. I believe it fatigued all involved. Sunday’s game in particular got a little bit lively, more so than usual. The experience reminded me of just how easy it is to lose your perspective, and how much progress we’ve yet to make in responding versus reacting.
At that game, the parents from the other team were extremely vocal right from the start. And that’s fair enough. I can appreciate that they want to cheer for their kids. But those kids were also a little rougher out on the ice than what’s normal. There again, I experienced that as an anklebiter also. We used to call teams like that “chippy.” You learn to deal with it and move on.
Tasked with a tough job, the referees are usually selective as to whether to call penalties or not, particularly at this age. Unfortunately, they erred on the side of letting the kids sort it out themselves. In other words, there was a lot of hooking, holding and body contact, and the whistle wasn’t blowing. It escalated, and control of the game began to slip away. Or so it seemed.
As this happened, the kids continued to play, of course, under the supervision and “leadership” of the coaches, the referees, and the rest of the people in the arena (in other words, the parents). But the behaviour in the building quickly deteriorated to inappropriate levels. The energy rose, and tensions with it, and a number of people that I know to be very good, solid individuals, lost their cool and began shouting things which they almost immediately regretted. It was all unnecessary and uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing. As soon as the game was done, and the players came off the ice and sat down in the dressing room, helmets were removed to reveal … 9-year-old kids. And those kids, in my case, were the ones on the losing side of this particular game. But they were happy. The drama and anxiety was all being felt by the people who were projecting their expectations on to the event. But the participants, in this case, children, had not lost perspective. Sure, the game was “chippier” that it probably should have been. It would have been nice to have seen some leadership shown and order restored, but nobody got hurt. Overall, it was not really a big deal, and the kids knew it. But the coaches and parents were still wound up. Some apologized. The kids looked around like they didn’t know what the fuss was for. Meantime, many of the adults had allowed the uncomfortable energy to tell them things were not okay, and they had reacted. Poorly.
This phenomenon plays itself out over and over and over again in our society. People tend to react to a situation, rather than respond. When tension grows, your perspective narrows, and the “fight or flight” feelings kick in. It’s only later, when you’re calm enough to recognize the larger picture once again, that you realize the situation did not, in fact, merit the anxiety cast upon it.
How many times have you had a bad day at work, or have you received some unwelcome news and suddenly felt your world spinning out of control and all positive thought crashing down around you? What seemed so manageable, maybe even enjoyable, one moment, became unbearably bad the next.
What changed? The bad day at work? The news?
The refs at the hockey game?
The world didn’t fundamentally change in any of those cases. Only your choice of perspective did. Life is going to happen. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. It’s the perspective we choose – the choice we make – that tells us it’s positive or negative. But that’s our choice.
To react or to respond. That’s your choice. One involves taking a breath or two and giving the situation some space. The other does not.
The coach who yelled, “You’re ruining the f—king game” on Sunday for the benefit of a bunch of 9-year-olds is hurting himself a lot more than he may realize. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be hurting the kids much.
One of my favourite things to do is to watch my youngest son, Jaden, play hockey. In fact, I enjoy watching him do just about anything, but I’ll use hockey as the example for now. I recently realized that, in watching him play, I was also getting a great lesson in how I could better run my business, and my life.
Jaden, who is just turning 8, has a remarkable gift for going with the flow. He almost always seems to be happy in the present moment and, more often than not, he gets great results. Or at least, he seems to be consistently satisfied with the results he gets. But this isn’t about the results. It’s about how he gets them.
Jaden’s pretty good at hockey (or, as is currently the case, indoor ball hockey). But I sometimes wonder: Is he good at it because he loves it, or does he love it because he’s really good at it?
Consider that question for moment, as it relates to your business, or even your life in general.
Meantime, here are some of the things I’ve noticed from watching Jaden that got me thinking about how I might better conduct my own day-to-day work life:
He seems to take the ups and downs almost effortlessly. He enjoys, but does not boast over, his victories. He shrugs off losses as if they’re inconsequential, other than considering what he might be able to do differently next time. It’s as if he just doesn’t see any value in expending energy or thought on anything other than something positive. What a concept.
It’s as though he inherently understands that he’s going to win some and he’s going to lose some, so he may as well enjoy the experience of actually playing the game, regardless of the result.
Jaden encourages others and celebrates their successes as if they were his own. He observes his peers and competitors who are more skilled than he is and he picks up their good habits almost as if by osmosis. And yet, he never beats himself up for not being as strong a skater or stickhandler as someone else. He’ll just notice what the others are doing, he’ll work on it when he feels like it and the new skill will come along when it’s ready to. Or not. He seems content with who he is either way. He just learns through a natural sense of curiosity and always seems to be happily moving forward.
He always tries his best but does not become so competitive that it robs him of the joy of playing the game. Sometimes, he and I will be watching others play, and he’ll see someone become very upset, throw a tantrum or use some other kind of antics. When that happens, he’ll look at me, chuckle and shrug his shoulders, as if to suggest, “Why play if you’re not going to enjoy it? Why get so worked up?”
He has no aspirations of being a super competitive-level player, nor do I wish that for him. Life is going to place plenty of expectations on him as the years go by, so I see no need to start turning the screws on him now. But, perhaps, he’ll find that if the only expectations he places on himself are to show up, do his best and have fun doing it, things will almost always work out over time and life will take him wherever he needs to go. In fact, it seems he already understands this concept and is able to employ it more consistently than I do.
In business, as any entrepreneur can attest, we compete every day. We set goals, we train, we coach, and we hope to move forward. We have all known times when everything is flowing well, confidence is high and optimism reigns. And we each have experienced the intense frustration of wondering what went wrong as our competitors seem to be thriving while we struggle and flail about.
Do we do well because we like what we’re doing, or do we like what we’re doing only because we’re doing well?
Storms come and pass. Wins and losses will take their turns. Either way, we’re committed to play the game. We may as well compete with a sense of fairness, fun and flow.
That’s why I want to be more like my son when I grow up. He already seems to have this figured out. If I can too, I believe my business – and my life – will be better because of it.
Here’s a True Story …
In my days as Sales and Marketing Director at Delaware Speedway (a half-mile stock car racing track near London, Ontario, Canada), we were always looking for ways to expand our fan base and broaden our demographic.
And we wanted to appeal to kids. Future customers.
At one point, we came upon the notion that, perhaps, the track would benefit from the presence of a “mascot;” you know, like the San Diego Chicken, to whom the kids would relate. Armed with the knowledge that Charlotte Motor Speedway had such a mascot, named “Lugnut,” we decided to embark upon our own characterized adventure. After some deliberation, we settled upon the name “Dipstick,” for three main reasons:
- A dipstick was part of any vehicle’s engine. It’s how you checked the oil!
- “Dipstick” was what Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane often called Deputy Enos in the TV Show, “The Dukes of Hazzard”
- We wanted to poke a little bit of fun at ourselves
After agreeing on the name, I can well remember the discussions of character design: should he have a “T”-shaped head, or a “loop?”
We began examining the dipsticks of any nearby vehicle we could find and, in time, decided that a “T”-shaped head would make for a better character.
We also embarked upon the task of finding a company that could actually design and construct the costume for us (We eventually found a business based out of Edmonton, Alberta. The name escapes me, but they were the ones that made the costume).
In the preliminary drawings, Dipstick actually looked pretty cool, and somewhat agile.
In reality, he was shipped to us in a giant crate. And the costume inside ended up being one big, rigid, giant, heavy box that afforded the person inside almost no mobility, limited visibility and nothing for reach but the equivalent of little T-Rex arms.
In short, a lot of money later, Dipstick was a disaster.
Undaunted, we decided to unveil our new creation to the “world” (or, about 1500 people) at the race track’s annual appearance a London Knights Ontario Hockey League game (note: this was back in the day when the Knights played in a rinky-dink arena and few people followed them with much passion. Nowadays, the Knights pack around 9,000 people into almost every home game. This event pre-dated that trend).
Between periods, our new mascot was to take to the ice to wave to the fans and thereby represent the race track proudly and convert all in attendance at that hockey game into instant stock car racing fans. The plan was foolproof!
When the time came, the players left for their dressing rooms and the zamboni set about its duty, flooding one clean patch of ice down the middle of the rink to begin the task of cleaning the playing surface.
Dipstick stepped out in front of the fans and took a few tentative steps on the frozen stage. Gaining confidence with each step, he shuffled further into the center of the rink, only to come across the freshly flooded center spot where the Zamboni had just recently been.
As soon as Dipstick hit that flooded patch of ice, his feet went out from under him.
The box-like behemoth of a mascot landed with a resounding thud, and it quickly became apparent that the dimensions of the costume were going to make it a challenge for the person inside to get up and resume entertaining the crowd.
As if that were the only problem.
With Dipstick flat on his back, in front of the crowd during intermission of a hockey game at the old London Ice House, I walked over to him, along with young Stephen Richmond, a Delaware Speedway Junior Racing League competitor at the time. When we arrived at our fallen mascot, we both figured that we’d be able to take his hand and lift him back to his feet.
But that didn’t work.
We tried to raise him off the ice.
We tried again.
He didn’t budge.
It was then that I realized, with our newly minted mascot lying flat-out on our local hockey team’s playing surface, that we had a bigger problem on our hands.
Dipstick had frozen to the ice.
The “flood” left by the zamboni mixed with the fabric of Dipstick’s costume and, by the time he’d fallen, the water had frozen, taking Dipstick’s upper body with it.
He was stuck.
I can well remember it. People in the stands were howling. Tyler Anderson, who was inside the costume, was flat on his back and staring straight up at the ceiling. He commented that all he could see were, “bright lights.”
We eventually got him up and off the ice surface, and the game continued. I can’t recall who won.
But I can tell you this:
Next time you come up with the “next great idea,” take a few extra days and think it through. Once you’ve examined every angle, you may find it’ll work out fine.
Then again, you may end up with your Dipstick stuck to the ice.