A Hard-Knock Phd

Apr 20th 2010

Ever have one of those seasons — of life — overflowing with defeats, disappointments, and less-than-stellar personal performances? Sometimes those seasons are internal games, not even obvious to those around you… winning on the outside when we are losing one heart battle after another.  Sometimes it isn’t even the losses, it’s just too many hard-fought, give-it-all-you-got-and-then-some victories. Victories that drain you so much it feels like a loss.

In generations past they called it “the school of hard knocks.” school_of_hard_knocks_2 Murray Warmath coached the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team from 1954-1971.  In 17 years he had a handful of amazing seasons sprinkled with two handfuls of awful seasons.  During one of the awful seasons, he said about his team’s pathetic win-loss record: “If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.”

I was talking with one of my kids yesterday, talking about some recent difficulties and the first — or maybe second — sentence out of my mouth was yeah but think about all you are learning, we learn most from the hard experiences.  The reply, “What am I learning?” Good question.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned on my way to a hard-knock Phd…

1) In any given season, there is always someone playing better than you — and someone playing worse.  Most leaders that I know compare — I’m not sure we can help it.  The lesson is this — choose wisely who gets your eye in the comparison game.   And choose how you will respond.  Look in one direction and choose encouragement over complacency.  Look in the other direction and choose challenge over discouragement.

2) Practice gratitude.  It is perhaps the single greatest attitude adjustment discipline that I know.  Prayer + Thanksgiving = hears and minds guarded by peace.  (Philippians 4:4-7)

3) Perseverance is the key to the development of character and hope.  Those who give the most hope lead.  Those with great character will develop our hearts as they lead us.

4) Wins and defeats — both — say less about us than we think.

5) Defeats and mistakes analyzed and evaluated develop skill.  Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher.”  Defeat is a lousy teacher too, unless we analyze and take steps to grow.

6) Life is a team sport.  That changes everything.  It means that getting better is a team responsibility, going through hard-knocks is a team event.  I learn best from my failures in the context a team that covers my weaknesses, encourages me in my defeats, and holds me accountable to learn from my mistakes.

7) Perseverance.  I know I already mentioned this one — but it’s a lesson learned well at least twice.  One of my favorite proverbs is Proverbs 24:16 — “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” In other words righteousness is defined — not as never falling but — as getting back up every time you fall.   Hope is a leadership function and as counter-intuitive (just another name for weird) as it might sound — defeat + perseverance = hope.

8) I will give God my best because He is worth it, not because He needs it.  Sometimes God works his good deeds  from what I think are my greatest failures.  He is not limited by my defeats and I am not the sole source of my successes.

So do you feel like you are aiming for a Phd. in hard-knocks?  Been there and done that.  Actually more like been there… doing that.  It’s an on-going process.   So which of those seven lessons do you need to linger on right now?  I need to push myself to analyze and evaluate my losses, near losses, mistakes and failures.  I have a tendency to move on to the next opportunity… a bit too quickly.

See you in class.