Earlier this week…
I’m sitting at the kitchen table trying to get some work done. In the distance, a disturbance. Voices raise. Someone yells. Wrestling. A loud bang. I close my laptop, clear my throat, and bellow “BOYS!”.
Silence. The dog looks at me. A door opens. Footsteps in the hallway and angry mumbling. They emerge from the hall, faces flush. I point to two chairs across the table and offer an invitation “SIT”. They both quietly find a seat.
Me: “Ok. What’s going on.”
Of course, they both jump to tell their side of the story. I put a hand up motioning stop. Silence. I point at the youngest – “GO”. He says a lot of things but basically it boils down to losing a game of pig. He hates losing, and life sucks. Also, his brother is a jerk because he “goes all sweaty on him”. If you’re not familiar with the term “goes all sweaty”, the adult translation would be “his older brother can kick his ass at will”. Nothing new here. I’ve heard it before. I shift in my chair and look to the older brother – “GO”. His story is similar. Cable lost, got mad, they fought.
Me: Alright. Tell me why you play the game.
Cable: To win, dad. Come on. <he’s annoyed>
Gavin: To win… I guess? <old enough to know the obvious answer is not the right answer>
They know better. We talk about winning and losing all the time, but to be honest I’m glad they’re competitive. Much better than the alternative, that’s for sure. Yet it’s a slippery slope, for many of us, and it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. Not to mention that sometimes our desire to win is not aligned with reality – this being an example. Gavin is Cable’s measuring stick, nothing new. This scenario plays out in houses across the world every day. Younger sibling strives to beat older sibling. Older sibling dominates younger sibling. Occasionally he throws a game to give his brother hope, and the cycle repeats itself.
I look at Cable: “I get it. Your brother is your benchmark. You want to beat him. You give every game everything you got, and you come up short. It’s frustrating. He can beat you every game at will. If you do win, it’s likely because he let you, and you know that. We all know that. You’re playing mini-ball on a hoop that is maybe seven feet off the floor – all Gavin has to do is stand in front of the hoop and you’re done. He’s too big, too fast, too strong. You gotta change your goal.”
They were both listening.
“Play against Gavin to get better, so you can win down the road. Maybe you’ll never beat him, but playing against him makes you better, if you let it. You wanna win? You gotta pay the price. When you play against kids your age – all the time getting thrown around by your older brother will pay off. Do you want him to let you win? Will that make you better?”
Cable shook his head.
“Putting in the work is important, but so are setting proper expectations. Gavin is seven years older and outweighs you by seventy pounds. Not to mention he’s two feet taller too! Forget playing for the win, play to be better. If you show up every day and commit to the process it’s gonna work out. Even when it feels like there’s no hope in sight, and you’ve lost a buncha games, each of those losses is a step forward. Part of the problem with our world is young people thinking they’re gonna show up and win, get a promotion, or make a bunch of money – before they’ve earned it. When I was your age, you know how you got a promotion or made more money? You showed up and did more than they asked you to do. You did the job before you got the job, to get an opportunity to do it.”
My words are met with confused looks.
“My first promotion resulted in a ten-cent an hour CUT in pay.” I offered.
“WHAT?! That’s not fair!”, Gavin exclaimed.
Cable: “Life isn’t fair, Gavin.” Impeccable timing as always.
We had a good laugh followed by small talk. I offered one last piece of advice. “You need one skill – the ability to show up every day and give more than you, your boss, or I expect. Forget about winning or losing, your goal is to give 100% everyday in everything you do. Some days you’re gonna be at 80%… or less… you might have days at 50%… just show up and give 100% of it. No excuses. No expectations. Do good work for the sake of doing good work, because when you don’t you might be able to hide it, but you still know you didn’t give your best work, and that’s like poison. Forget the wins. They’ll come. If you put in the time.”
Gavin learned a lesson that day too. Power comes with responsibility. He has a choice – manipulate clear advantages to falsely inflate his ego, or be a teacher and mentor. True power is expressed with restraint and compassion. His skill, size, and speed can be leverage to teach, or demoralize. True leaders share power, to the betterment of those around them, while the insecure sit clutching it. His brother won’t get better at the hands of numerous whippings in a silly game of mini-ball, but his morale and confidence can most definitely suffer. Who wins then? No one. Certainly not Cable, and admittedly not Gavin either.
Maybe that’s the overarching lesson out of this whole thing – for my boys and us (assuming someone reads this) to be more intentional with our actions and how we influence the people and community around us.
The most powerful thing we can do is possess power – and restrain it.
My thoughts for the day… see you again Thursday.