Scoring Your Career “Touchdown”

We’ve all heard it before, the inevitable sports jargon in the workplace. Phrases like “Bill just hit a home run on today’s sales call”, “This proposal is a slam dunk!” or “Let Janet quarterback this meeting” permeate our work environment on a daily basis. Despite the fact that these lines are spoken by some people who look like they’re allergic to physical exertion, it feels good to compete and win in a workplace setting. And as a former college athlete, I’m here to tell you that the sports comparisons aren’t as far fetched as you might think.

I was fortunate enough to play fullback on my college’s football team. What’s interesting is that many of the concepts I learned on the gridiron are equally as helpful in the workplace. In fact, some of these tips may help you score your career “touchdown” (if only making puns was as easy as lifting weights).

Call an Audible-In football, after a play is called in the huddle, when a quarterback goes to the line of scrimmage, they will often take a few seconds to survey the field and the defense. If the defense is lined up in a way that will prevent the original play from being successful, the quarterback will call out a new play, also known as an “audible”.

A more elegant way to say this in the workplace is “mitigating risk”. If you foresee a certain strategic direction not working, change the direction. If you feel like a certain career trajectory is not getting you where you want to be, stop and consider a new trajectory. Life is too short and time/resources are too precious to continue doing something that has a low probability of success. Read your professional/industry landscape, assess the situation, and make the winning decision.

Slow to, Fast Through-A coach of mine once said when talking about running with the football, “slow to, fast through”. A casual observer, when watching a running back take a handoff and run to get yards, they assume that the whole time, the running back is running full speed. But, running backs are actually trained to start running at 70% of their full speed until they find a hole. If you start running too fast, your blockers can’t block for you and you run into a wall. But if you’re patient and slow down, waiting for the holes in the defense to open up, you can accelerate through an open hole on the way to scoring a touchdown.

This is a difficult thing for me to emulate professionally. I am naturally impatient and think that slowing down is admitting weakness or missing opportunities. I’m learning that “slow to, fast through” is most applicable to career development. Opportunities aren’t always readily available. Sometimes, they take time to develop properly. If you keep trying to take advantage of an opportunity that isn’t there, you’ll hit a proverbial wall and find yourself not making any progress. But if you’re patient and wait for the right opportunity and work hard to prepare for it, once the opportunity comes, you’ll accelerate through that open door and be better equipped to handle what’s on the other side.

Do Your “1/11”-One of our offensive line coaches always preached the importance of “doing your 1/11”. He meant that out of 11 players on the field, each person has to execute their job to perfection. If each person does that, the play is likely to succeed in a major way.¬†However, if one person does their job wrong, it could mean catastrophe for the team’s chances of success.

In the workplace, we are all guilty, myself included, of trying to do someone else’s job. It doesn’t matter how much school the other person went through or how qualified they are. For some reason, we think that because we watched a few Netflix documentaries and read a few LinkedIn pulse articles, that all of a sudden we are experts at this person’s job. It’s funny because we don’t get paid extra for that, the company’s success isn’t tied to that, nor is our promotion tied to that.

We were hired for one position, not two, three, or four. If we’re able to focus on executing our job to perfection, guess what? We get better at our jobs. If we get better at our jobs, it makes it easier for the people around us. When that happens, your group/company succeeds and you move up the ladder. And that’s way easier than trying to do someone else’s job for them. Not to mention, it makes it way easier to work your way towards your career aspirations!

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