Submit, Listen, Learn & Advance

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. – Hebrews 12:6

We live in society where people are often defensive when it comes to receiving correction. A common phrase folk tend to use when approached with feedback designed to reveal a personal or professional flaw is that the person giving the feedback is ‘hating.’ Their first reaction is to defend, place blame, deflect responsibility, or simply rise up against what may be helpful advice.  There is a common saying, “Only God can judge me.”  Often that’s psycho–babble for, “Don’t say nothing about my ignorant or destructive ways.”

Most of us don’t like being corrected. It’s in our nature.  That’s not always a negative depending on the context.

I remember working in a payroll position.  And for eleven years I made significant contributions day in and day out. My boss, a great man, occasionally questioned a project I worked on or corrected me in my processes. I would listen and adjust my practices when instructed, but there would often be an intense conversation along the way. He said he liked that I was that way because he knew that I really cared about doing a great job. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be better, but I took pride in excellence.  The thought of not being perfect peeved me in the worst way. My motivation had merit. But the pride that drove me was at times my worst enemy.  I’ll get back to that.

Seldom does correction ‘feel’ good. But it’s a valuable tool that’s totally essential for growth. There are always opportunities to be critiqued because none of us are perfect.  Of course not all criticisms are valid. However, the way in which we handle critique say a lot about whether we are fit for promotion.

I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by a veteran official of over 35 years. He has worked multiple high school state title games in three sports. Obviously an older gentleman, his words are not always politically correct. His had a tough and disciplined upbringing by two stern parents in the segregated South. And his straight forward approach seldom has nuance.

I originally knew this man growing up as a teacher and sports official when I attended high school.  He officiated many of my own games.  I doubt that he remembered me.  The first time he saw me on the ball field as a young umpire, he eyed me from head to toe pointing out what was wrong with my uniform, and how I held my ball/strike/out indicator in the wrong hand.  He also tore into me for wearing a shiny watch (not good as it reflects in the sun) and on and on.  Inside I felt like, “Well damn dude, nice to see you again too.”

For some reason, I had the presence of mind not to let him see me sweat. Instead, I hung around and allowed him to make fun of me in front of the other guys. I shook my head in the affirmative, smiled and thanked him for helping me out. I bought a non reflective watch, and made every other adjustment per his instructions.

He kept in touch and hired me for a few high school games. Sometimes I got to work directly with him as his on the field partner. This was scary because I didn’t know how I would stack up or if I would meet his expectations. Needless to say, my trepidation was clairvoyant. At the end of each half inning he summoned me and asked me various question about what I was doing and why. I remember being on the bases and when a runner was tagged out I belted, “HE’S OUT AT THIRD!” I was told by the cagy veteran, “Us umpires are dumb! We only speak in one word terms. We say ‘out’, ‘safe,’ ‘ball,’ ‘strike.’ We don’t announce the game. You’re not Harry Carey!”

He gave it to me every time he had a chance. But I took it in and learned. I focused on not making the same mistakes over and over again. These lessons continued as we worked together more in the later months.  I began to improve.  As I got better he started giving me respect.  Instead of rhetoric exclusively geared towards instructions he started to speak casually, even making jokes.  Sometimes he’d even ask me about my personal life to get to know me better.

Last year this mentor of mine was inducted into the Illinois High School Activities Hall of Fame. My wife and I drove to the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to share in his honor with many of his family, friends, and fellow officials.

Now when we work together he still quizzes me sometimes.  He still gives instructions as he is always the educator. I am still a bit nervous, more so out of respect. I always learn something new when work together.  But I also noticed that he is proud of me. When we used to meet in the parking lot for pre-game he would tell me whether I was working the plate or the field. Now he asks me what my preferences are. One time he even said, “It’s my turn to work the plate Chris. I gotcha.” Now he looks at me like a partner not as a scrub.

You see the ‘drill sergeant’ has long retired from the sport. He’s received all of the accolades one can get from his profession as a teacher and official. But his motivation for me was to see me advance and be one of the people to carry the torch of my generation. He merely hangs around now to assign guys like me games and expose us to people and places because this business is very political. There was a time when Black American officials didn’t get much work if any from Caucasian assignors. It’s still that way in a lot of places. So his entire aim was never to demean or embarrass me. (Though at times I’m telling you he did.) He simply wants me to be the best at my craft.  I have to be on top of my game to succeed and reach my potential.  He told me recently, “I want you to be a state finals official.”

I love him for that.

Now, if I would have been a knuckle head and rebelled, ignored his advice, thought to myself the man is old, out of touch or hating, where would that leave me?

I’ve always been a mentor myself so I get it.  When I see a person who consistently refuse the counsel I offer, I’ll keep my knowledge to myself. When people cease talking to us about our flaws and we are allowed to flail about aimlessly thinking that we are performing well when in reality we are not, that is actually a judgment upon our lives. It’s saying in effect, “There is no hope for you.  I will not waste my time, or my breath trying to dress a pig with pearls.”

As I said before every criticism is not necessarily valid. But listening never hurt anyone. The best thing to do, even if you initially disagree is to consider and reflect on what has been said first.  If you find it to be true, take heed and make change. If it’s not, keep it moving.

Unfortunately, pride keeps us from even contemplating and thus prevents us from promotion to our next level. But that great evangelist and teacher Marcellus Wallace said it best, “Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that shit.”

MW

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Good For The Soul, Great For The World ~ Mentorship

Point blank – there is no such thing as a “self-made man or woman.”   The world is comprised of the hook up  in some form or the other.  When I was laid off of my job of 11 years in July of 2007, I participated in a program that helped newly unemployed people with resume’ writing, interviewing skills and other essential items to help a person get back on his/her feet career wise.  One of the most astounding things I heard out of the several days of training, was the statistic that 85% of all jobs are given by reference or word of mouth.  In other words, only 15% of people are hired by way of having an outstanding or attractive resume’.  It only mattered 15% of the time how qualified I was per a job description.  Realistically it’s even lower than that because how silly would I be to assume that of the thousands of applicants that apply to any given position, that I would be the only or the most qualified?  Of the hundreds of jobs that I applied for in the first few months alone, how many recruiters actually saw my resume’?  And job fairs… they are really a joke to be honest about it.  But I digress.

The point is the world goes around via nepotism.  That is something we all should understand.  Everyday someone is playing golf, and one guy says to the other on the back 9, “Hey, so and so is graduating from college in a couple months, or is looking to leave his firm.  What can you do for him?”  Then BAM!  It’s done.  To a lower degree its like being a “made man” in the mafia.  None of that budget stuff matters.  Folks make room where they want, and deal with the how and why later.  This is very natural to human nature.  People like to be around folk they are comfortable with – and they hire on the basis thereof.

This is why we all need to take an active role in mentoring someone.  Those of us who have been around a little bit, have valuable experience to lend to the generation that is behind us.  And if you are blessed to be making a living, or living at least a portion of the life that you desire, no doubt you have received some help and favor along the way.  Somewhere someone liked you, said something good about you, pointed you in the right direction, or simply threw you a bone to get started.  It happens more than you know if you just take a look to count your blessings.

Not too many things are uglier in life than to see someone who received help, only to reach a certain level and act as if he/she made it on their own.  All of a sudden this person is not compassionate and doesn’t have time to give someone a break.  We all have made mistakes.  Every last one of us working any job have at some point done something to deserve getting fired.  Everyone of us who has a business have done something that could have put that business in jeopardy.  Rules and laws only matter in the whole scheme of things at the discretion of those enforcing them.  Sometimes our actions have caused us to suffer the consequences.  And sometimes we have received some grace that allowed us to move past a potentially costly indiscretion. 

So take the time to be a blessing to someone.  Grant an opportunity.  Give an apprenticeshipof some sort.  Take someone under your wing.  There are people who I know will look out for me.  And will dial me up if there are certain opportunities to be had.  In turn there are also others I look out for.  I let them know to ask me any questions or come to me at any time with concerns.  I hold nothing back.  There is enough out here for everyone to survive and even thrive when we are truly wise enough to understand the laws of nepotism and are unselfish enough to give as much as we receive on an ongoing basis.

Mentoring and giving back are good for the soul, and great for the world.

A Salute To Coaches

One of the most important names a man/woman can be called is, “coach.”  At first glance a coach merely looks like a guide or a teacher of sporting fundamentals, teamwork, competition and sportsmanship.  But often they are so much more.  They are mentors, and are often looked upon by players as people who can help them accomplish something important. 

I’ve followed and participated in sports all of my life in some form.  I’ve played for some coaches I adored and some I abhorred.  This had nothing to do with whether a coach was a hard liner or an encourager in terms of style.  I am talking about other areas that make the difference.  These are the two questions I ask of my coaches.

“Does Coach know anything about the sport he/she is trying to teach me? ”

“Is Coach in this for me or for him?”

I could always tell on the first day of practice what the answer to these questions were.  And that determined my experience on the team. 

A coach can have a tremendous amount of influence on a kid.  The right coach can get a player to do things he never imagined he could.  He can help the player to learn some terriffic lessons in navigating in life through sports.  On the other hand a coach can be a horrible influence and teach young people the total opposite of how to handle situations or themselves.  I have seen both sides of these.  And one thing I cannot tolerate to see is a coach who works with young people for the sake of his/her own ego and sense of glory.  One of the coolest thing to see is a coach who loves the kids he/she works with. 

As a basketball official, I see coaches all the time.  Many of them I’ve worked often. 

A case of knowing a coach is in it for the right reasons is one that I ran into recently at a tournement.  This guy is a two time Missouri High School Coach of the Year and won a state championship.  Certainly he is one of the most respected basketball coaches in the state.  His players go to Division 1 universities and some have gone to the NBA.  When I officiated one of his games recently I would have expected to see high school teens getting ready for the upcoming season.  What I saw instead was a group of 5th graders learn at the hands of one of the best.  From the tip off to the final buzzer this guy taught, instructed and encouraged his players to an easy victory.  His team was calm, seem to feel no pressure and really enjoyed themselves.  This wasn’t the first time I saw a coach who could coach pretty much anywhere he wanted take time for younger underdeveloped players.  Though I don’t care who wins the games I officiate, it felt good to see adults who understand the importance of taking time out for our youth – and who can handle this great responsibility correctly.  Some of these coaches are nuts and shouldn’t be around young people at all.  Most of them (even the ones that don’t seem to know anything about the game) are caring and compassionate towards our future leaders of society.

For everyone who takes time to coach and guide our youth the right way… I salute you!