Selfish Selflessness

Hard-nosed pride makes it all possible.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so how about a post on football?

I was an offensive lineman.  That fact has left physical and mental imprints on me that are hard to ignore.

The paradox of the great offensive lineman (and, to be clear, I make no claim of greatness…) is that he is able to take a fantastically selfless objective and make it selfish.

Yes, you heard that right. An offensive lineman, who toils ideally in anonymity (unless he’s doing it wrong), has to be at once selfless and selfish. He has to be able to work selfishly at a trade that is intensely individual–working for a win on every single play of a football game against another man–while at the same time doing all his work for the success of others and team.  He doesn’t carry the ball.  He doesn’t score.  He just puts in work in hopes that others will, too.

I played in 35 college football games and started 30 of them. In my college days, I officially touched a “live” football perhaps twice (on fumble recoveries), and never in a position other than on the ground.

That is twice that I actually had the football in my hands, out of perhaps 2200 total plays I was a part of in official collegiate football games.

Every single other play required absolute dedication to a job that resulted in somebody else’s ability to move the ball down the field.  It required dedication to playing within a unit of four other offensive linemen plying their trades at the same time, and dedication to doing whatever it took to help the ballcarrier get down the field.

The interesting reality of a lineman’s role is that the lineman can have a massive victory against his opponent on a play that goes nowhere, and he can get beaten on a play that results in a touchdown (ask me how I know). What matters is a commitment to the success of another person and an absolute commitment to getting the job done.  There is an odd sense of humility in knowing that you can be a dominant player and a failure at the same time.

There’s an odd selfishness that one must develop in the job. More importantly, there’s an odd selflessness that one must develop in the job.  It’s selfish selflessness, perhaps best described as pride.

It’s pride in doing what it takes to help the team.

The play called requires you to sprint on sprained ankles to hit a 320-pound defensive tackle with your left shoulder–the one you just sprained–to use your head (connected to your neck which has been sprained since that game three weeks ago) to cut off his path to the ballcarrier?

Get it done.  It’s your job.

It has been a long time since I’ve been on a football field as a player.  But, you know what?  I miss the simplicity of that sort of grinding pride.  The pride in being a key but anonymous part of moving the team forward.

And, I’ll tell you this: Finding people with the right combination of selfish selflessness is exceedingly difficult.

We live in a fantasy football age.  Everybody scores points. It just ain’t so in the real world.  When you find someone with a combination of true ability and pride in being able to help others that can be characterized as selfish selflessness, hold onto them.  Their less interesting counterparts–the ones more focused on their rights than their responsibilities–will pale in comparison to someone who can combine ability with personal pride.

As the proprietor of a now years old consulting firm, I get to apply my sense of selfish selflessness every day.  It’s embodied in the bar that I hold for myself and for my teams in delivering for clients.  We don’t carry the ball.  We don’t score touchdowns.  We work hard to prepare the ground and direction for the ballcarrier.

We hear words like “selfish” and “prideful” nowadays, and they sound very negative.  That’s because we impute some negative traits along with them like arrogance, stubbornness, and greed.

Those things don’t go along with the kind of selfish selflessness I’m writing about this morning.

I’m here to tell you that pride in a job well done, whether one is carrying the ball or wallowing in the mud in front of the ballcarrier, is one sports analogy that truly does convert to the business world.

Hard-nosed pride–combined with a selfless mindset of helping others–makes it all possible.

What do you think?

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