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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Power of the Written Word

My parents kept a lot of junk but they kept some pretty great things too. Both of them were deeply involved with people in their life work and thus generated praise and criticism from various directions. Well, my mom generated praise but my dad...well, both were certainly in full supply! One of the neat things I've found in my digging around their stuff were files that my father kept of letters, notes and even telegrams! that he received throughout his coaching career. It has been deeply meaningful for me to peruse these letters and see the deep impact he had made on so many people across so many years. The fact that I never knew any of these letters existed points to his humility. He never sought praise and always down played it but finding these files affirmed in my mind that even the toughest football coach needs a little positive feedback once in awhile! Because while the praise file was pretty thick, so was the file marked Letters: Problems. This file was equally enlightening because it revealed to me that all was not fun and games for him. While spectators enjoyed the fruit of the winning seasons, we were not privy to the disappointment and anger that parents, school administrators, other coaches, referees etc. expressed to him over one issue or another. Again, it shows his deep character that I also never knew of these struggles but I can now see how deep the burdens often were even in the midst of his winning seasons. It gives me a greater sense of how much pressure he felt to win, to please, to make the right decision about every player, to handle the parents and the school administration with kid gloves. It's a wonder he stayed in it for so many years.
But finding these files reminds me of a couple of things. First, it is important for all of us to be reminded of the good job that we are doing. And because we will also face deep criticism at some point (all who pursue excellence will face criticism), it's important to keep a "pull me up" file! In this day and age it's harder as we have to print out the messages that come via email, but even so, it's important to compile the compliments so you can return to them when you are mired in conflict or doubt. A counterpoint to this however is to become the one who writes the note or email that sends encouragement to one who is blessing you at any given moment. These notes matter, regardless of how successful or confident an individual seems.
I suppose not all of us would keep a Problems file and yet, there's value here as well for our story is never complete without the ways in which we have to confront criticism or adversity. I suppose now my dad would laugh about a lot of these issues, which is also good. Perspective is a good thing over time and good for us to remember in the heat of any moment. But I suppose he also took to heart many of the things stated and used them to sharpen even further his skill with coaching and handling people. A counterpoint to this however is to remember when launching critique at someone that it does matter and there's usually a back story or at least far more than meets the eye. It's not that we shouldn't critique those in leadership but when we do so, we should consider carefully what the intended goal of the critique really is.
It's a joy and a treasure to troll through these letters. I even found one from me back in 2003 on Father's Day. Here's a little excerpt because the words ring true even today.
Hi Dad. The one regret that I really have is that I never got to play for a coach like you. I never had anyone so dedicated, or who pushed me, or who knew so much about the game I was playing so that I would really learn and grow and have a chance to be on a championship team. It occurs to me that I should share that with you. We often things about the people we love to other people, but we never share them with the ones involved in the story. So, for whatever it's worth...I wish I could've played for a coach like you and enjoyed the experience that so many of your players did with you. That said however, I am glad I got to be a part of it as your daughter and I'm glad you're my dad. Love you.
I'm thankful I wrote those to words to him while we were still able to enjoy one another's company. If you have something you'd like to say to someone, get a card, pick up a pen, or sit down at the computer and write it out. They will appreciate the gesture so much and you will not regret sending the greeting.