My first Los Angeles Rams game came with a free helping of déjà vu when the crowd transformed its booing of starting quarterback Case Keenum into chants of “We want Goff” in reference to Jared Goff, the rookie backup quarterback hoped to be the future of the franchise. Goff never saw action, but the fans did their best to get him in the game.
I say déjà vu because my wife first gave me NFL tickets in 2006 for a Monday Night Football contest in old Texas Stadium with my great friend, Dave, which happened to be the game when Tony Romo replaced starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, after the crowd spent much of the first half chanting Romo’s name. It was a little awkward for Cowboy Nation that night, not to mention Romo, when his first pass was intercepted after he ran on the field to deafening cheers. Romo did go on to a great season, however, but I don’t think that would matter either way to the fans in Los Angeles chanting for change a decade later.
It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not always quiet.
Me, I’ve been a coach and a preacher and a dean, three professions that encounter a healthy share of critics, and I know well the convenient criticism that someone else would have made a different and better decision.
I once read that the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated are in some drawer tucked away in the bowels of the Smithsonian, and that among the assorted items is a newspaper clipping that complimented the sitting president, which is particularly interesting once you remember his unpopularity at the time. It seems that even a great leader like Lincoln needed to remember that his efforts were not entirely unappreciated.
As I sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a week ago with my lovely wife and listened to the disgruntled fans voice their disgruntled-ness, I thought about what poor Case Keenum should do. Backpacking across Europe is an option, as is a noise-canceling helmet. Instead, I suggest that Mr. Keenum keep an encouraging note in his pocket and continue to give everything he has to his work—I don’t think he has to go so far as to avoid the theater.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged abraham lincoln, case keenum, criticism, dallas cowboys, drew bledsoe, encouragement, football, jared goff, leadership, loneliness, los angeles rams, nfl, quarterback, tony romo
I returned from a difficult morning run and walked the neighborhood searching my brain for the department in charge of breathing. Eventually, after the wheezing subsided, I heard a strange shuffle-pop sound on repeat, which turned out to be a little bird perched on the passenger side mirror of a neighbor’s car having a little showdown with itself. It was a good fight, but my best estimate was that it was headed for a draw.
It cracked me up, the stupid little bird ignorant that the enemy in the stare-down was simply his/her/its own reflection. I admired the courage, what with the sudden beak attacks that were magically matched beak-on-beak, but repeatedly charging face-first into a piece of glass was pretty funny.
Until, that is, it occurred to me that in a sense I am that stupid little bird. The absolute biggest threat to my survival is that joker staring back at me in the mirror, and although (most days) I don’t slam my face repeatedly in the mirror, it is true that no one attacks me more than me.
An honest look in the mirror, sizing oneself up, noticing flaws and so on, seems not only healthy but also necessary to effect any real, lasting change. Beating yourself up, on the other hand, makes about as much sense as that goofy bird repeatedly catapulting itself into a mirror.
Well, I did it. On Saturday night, I sang a solo in public for the very first time. This caught me up to most of the world, so no grand accomplishment, but it sure was for me. Our church hosted a low- and at times off-key talent show to raise money for those of us traveling to Kenya this summer and somewhere between the expansive definition of “talent” and guilt for not doing much for the trip so far I decided that this was a fine time to break my forty-five year silence. I chose “Forever and Ever Amen” by Randy Travis, partly because I will love my wife forever and ever (amen) and partly because I have a bass voice and thought this song choice reduced the risk of total humiliation. My kind friend, Shelby, graciously agreed to accompany on guitar, and had she not, I totally would have chickened out.
My problem began in church at age six. I was sitting by my mother and belting out the chorus of a favorite song when a couple in the pew in front of us turned and gave me a dirty look as if to say, “Let us put this nicely—you are annoying the hell out of us, so shut up.” Setting aside the fact that annoying the hell out of someone is arguably a net spiritual benefit to the annoyed, I shut up. I shut up for a decade.
Fast forward to sophomore year of high school. While sitting in “chapel” at my small, Christian high school, I accidentally broke my sincere vow never to let anyone hear me sing and my friend, John Mark, said, “You have a good voice: Why don’t you sing more?” That one comment changed my world. Okay, I didn’t start a band or anything, but that one comment returned my voice, just like a single criticism took it away, and I started singing again, allowing my voice to blend into the music of the world.
It took another thirty years (I may be a slow learner), but two days ago, John Mark’s encouragement even allowed me to offer the world a song on my own.
You should never underestimate the power of a single act of criticism or encouragement.
My experiences as a coach and pastor and now administrator include public scrutiny and sharp critique of my words and actions. For my next trick, I think I will run for Pope. Pope Francis’s visit to the United States has rightfully garnered much attention, including strong banter about what he should or shouldn’t say (or now, what he should or should’ve said). I have a picture of how the private conversation between Pope Francis and President Obama might have gone last week:
Pope Francis: “I heard you aren’t really a Christian.”
President Obama: “I heard you aren’t really a Catholic.”
And then a belly laugh, followed by a conversation about the best recipe for macaroni salad or anything else as a relief from such intense scrutiny. I could be wrong.
Criticism comes with the job, but the responses are optional. For many, the choice is to avoid the job that receives heavy criticism. If I had a dollar for everyone who said they wouldn’t want to be president today because of the scrutiny, I could form a PAC. For others, the choice is a fretful attempt to please everyone, which is a recipe for long-term therapy. For still others, the choice is a condescending dismissal of critics as idiots, which makes for a dangerous leader.
Instead, I have four suggestions for responding to criticism:
1. Don’t avoid criticism or surround yourself with adoring fans. In fact, seek diverse feedback and hold loosely to your plans. Odds are that you will need to change every once in a while.
2. Maintain realistic expectations of your own abilities. You will fail and deserve criticism if you ever hope to accomplish anything worthwhile. That is (and has to be) okay.
3. Don’t let fear of criticism keep you from attempting to do something worthwhile. The only things worth doing in life are hard. (As Mellencamp sang, “No one said it’d be easy . . . . So suck it up and tough it out, and be the best you can.”)
4. Remember that your best is good enough. Because it is your best.