The Power of Your Past

The art of recalling, reclaiming, and recasting.

Tenderness in the NFL and the Lesson of Balance

Adding frame of awareness to the mental model of achievement

vintage football valentine
flickr: Some rights reserved by karen horton
This summer, at the end of some rugged negotiations for a most rugged game that has morphed into a mega business of modern warriors, the press provided us with a beautiful photo of human connection and caring.

Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday hugged Patriots owner Pat Kraft at a press conference after the settlement had been reached, and not long after the death of Kraft's wife. The NFL saved its season, and the world got to see a tender side of a sport sometimes devoid of tenderness.

 I was struck by the picture, found it moving, and contemplated its meaning.

 It is no secret that we carry around within us many frames of mind. As their executive coach, perhaps the most common frame I end up helping my high achievement clients with is 

This is what the picture is about: achievement balanced with human connection.

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The achievement lens is a hugely useful one that successful people master. It is the frame that allows us to focus, be precise with goals, and to move into work so we can accomplish things. It has many sub-frames of course, but is an overall frame of getting things done. In the NFL it makes winners.

Alongside this frame, most of us have noticed another one, also with many sub-frames, that is just as valuable, but is more subtle than the achievement frame and does not get enough of our attention. What I will call the awareness frame is where we go for connection, for creativity, for the many things that life offers that are not about achieving goals. Artists know this place well. We all know it when we love, of course. And Jeff Saturday used this frame in the negotiations and in his photo moment with Kraft.

I often illustrate in my writing (and hopefully evoke in my coaching work) how the awareness frame adds dimensions to our achievements and lives that enrich and broaden our experience.

Here are a few brief examples:

  • Executives who need to spend more time in awareness mode, deploying their emotional and social intelligence to build a functioning team and a company culture that people care about;
  • Teams that need to deeply listen, relate and celebrate versus yet again going over their projects. This holds for super athletes on NFL teams working on their chemistry and trust;
  • Couples that need to have a weekend away to refresh their romance instead of attending to the mulching and straightening the attic.

Here is the rub and the hard part. Through decades of goal-setting and building careers, we construct our lives through the rational structure of the achievement frame: set-a-goal/make-a-plan/execute-the plan. We do this and it works for a time until, one day, without our approval, life throws us a new set of challenges that don't follow the rational structure. Our mom dies unexpectedly, we get the worst boss in the world, our teenager breaks our hearts and gets into drugs, or we end up in sticky negotiations like the NFL players and owners did. The old rules only work partially, at best. We face a challenge we can't will and plan ourselves through. We face a question and challenge with spiritual and intellectual nuances that achievement frames can't touch. We need a new frame.

The achievement frame brings us a lot of goodies: bigger houses and titles and responsibility that challenges us. The result is that is gets over-valued, over-rewarded, and not balanced by the awareness frame, which adds meaning and connection to the achievements.

And if you are sensing a yin and yang thing here, that is indeed the case. The achievement/awareness frames are just that: poles of our being. But we are in the West and need our own language for our experience (although there is always a time to add the insights and nuances from other cultures).

So check yourself for balance in your own life and work. The following questions can take us from theory to life specifics:

  • How much time have you set aside for awareness this month, like done something for the sake of doing it? Gone to a museum, a garden, read a poem, called your sister to chat? (and achieving a new time on your bike route may not count-you had fun, maybe, but you had a goal)
  • How much connection have you made sure you experienced during the last week?
  • How much beauty have you pursued, like finding the name of the new song that grabbed you at Starbucks?
  • How much have you really listened to your partner this week, even through a conversation that has been similar to ones you have had in the past?

Achieve away. It's fun, and you and the world need it. If you read this you are most likely an achieving person. (And if you are not, learn how to set a goal, create a plan and execute a plan). But balance it with awareness. Be more subtle and passive and connecting, and less rational and targeted. Let life roll over you a bit more. It is the balance you and the world also need. And the next time I have coffee with Pat Kraft or Jeff Saturday or my other NFL friends I will ask them about that hug. 

John Schuster is the author of The Power of Your Past.

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